Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid!

Ordinary moms (and imperfect sisters) on raising children with disabilities

5 Signs Your Teen Is "Just Not That Into You"

Understanding the teenage passage of parental embarrassment.

It’s a childhood passage right up there wtth teething, talking back, bolting, and hitting puberty. It's that developmental milestone of a child's life that's not often discussed, but is so prevalent among today's teenagers—parental humiliation. You know it; that trying time when children are completely and utterly embarrassed of their parents.  I knew about this stage from my own childhood.

"Ma, why do you wear your hair so high? No one else's mother has hair like that."

Of course, my mother knew that my day to experience this would come. "Gina, what goes around, comes around!"

But as a mother of two special needs daughters who often don't follow the social milestones of their "typical" peers, I was sure this was something I wouldn't have to worry about. My children didn't think like that. They were used to standing out. And quite honestly, how could they possibly be embarassed of me?  Unlike my Mom, I'm a cool Mom. One who tweets,  wrote a book with the words “shut up” in it, and plays adult hoops. (NOTE: My mother's idea of hoops was earrings.)

Of course, as has been the case with so many of my parental predictions, I was wrong.

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Dead wrong.

When my oldest daughter Katie, who was diagnosed with Asperger's turned 13, I knew something was amiss. Almost overnight, she started making strange requests of me. 

“Mom can you not sing?”

“Mom can you not wear those stupid pants?"

"“Mom, can you not talk?”

At the time, I was fortunate to have her little sister, Emily, who has always  thought I, a unfashionable tomboy,  walked on water.

“Mommy, I love your new lipstick. What kind is it?"

"Thanks, Emmy. It's toothpaste."

But by the time she reached age 13, she too, had “turned,” making even more demanding requests of me.

“Mom can you not breathe? It’s annoying me.”

At first I was in denial that it was happening, but when I spoke with other parents, I realized my children were embarassed of me. I didn't realize it, but the signs were all right there, staring me in their horrified faces. Signs like:

1. The Eyeroll. It’s a bit ironic that my daughters, who both struggle with non-verbal communication and interpreting facial expressions, have mastered this method of showcasing their embarrassment of me. When they first started rolling their eyes at me, I thought it was a medical condition. “Honey, is there something in your eye? We should get that looked at.” When they cleared medically, I looked into other possibilities, asking my husband, “Mike, do you think the girls are possessed by Satan?” Somehow that was much easier to take than the fact that I was no longer perfect in their eyes.

2. Avoidance of Public Places. Most parents think that it's a sign of independence when their children tell them that they want to do things themselves. Wrong again. Their children are trying to get away from them. This, I know.

"Girls, time to go to social group in Newton."

"That's OK, Mom, we'll walk."

"But Katie, it's 25 miles away."

It's amazing how crafty our children become in avoiding us. For example,  I was shopping with my daughter, Katie, when I noticed she was lagging behind me. Concerned, I asked, “Honey, are your legs bothering you?”

“No, Mom, it’s not that. It’s just that I kinda don’t want to be seen in Forever 21 with you. No offense, but kids are staring at me because of you. You're kind of embarrassing."

Lucky me, honesty is a part of her disability. Give me a pathological liar any day of the week.

3. Fondness for parents of other kids. It’s hard not to take your child’s embarrassment of you personally, especially when they tell you how cool everyone else’s Mom is.

“We went shopping with Susie’s Mom. She’s so cool.”

“You think she’s cool? She has a pocket protector. Besides, I think I’m really cool.”

“Really, Mom? You had a mullet."

4. Clothing critiques. I’m always amazed when people get upset with Mr. Blackwell, the fashion guru, for his perceived "harsh" critiques of the fashion choices of Hollywood celebrities. The insults he dishes out are mild compared to what my daughters throw at me.

"Hey Mom, the 1970s called. They want their pants back."

"Hey Mom, why do you wear your pants up to your neck?"

"Nice underwear, Mom. Can we use them to go tenting?"

And they hate the thought of me being a public person.

"Mom, please don’t post pictures of you wearing a Snuggie on Facebook! Kids at school think you’re so weird."

5. Pre-scripted conversations. When I get the pleasure of driving my daughters and their friends places (or draw the short straw, depending on how you look at it), I am often given a list of guidelines about what I am not allowed to do:

  • Don't sing, dance, or play that stupid 70s music.
  • Don't talk to us or make eye contact.
  • Don’t call me sweetie, honey, or cutie.  My name is Emily.
  • Don't mention that I eat. Ever.
  • Don't make any physical contact or wipe my cheeks with your spit.
  • Don't laugh. It's so annoying.
  • Don't chew gum. You chew like a cow.
  • And whatever you do, don't bring Dad.

So I guess there's no point in denying it;  my children are embarrassed of me -- even with their special needs. In some way, I'm glad they're hitting another developmental milestone. I just feel a little silly that I didn't pick up on it sooner. In their own special way, they were trying to tell me.

"Wow! Duct tape! Thanks girls. I never expected that for a Mother's Day gift."

Gina Gallagher is an imperfect award-winning freelance copywriter, speaker and co-author of Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid: A Survival Guide for Ordinary Parents of Special Children. more...

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