Share this story

 | Dr. Cathleen McGreal

My Kids Are Embarrassed When I Show Up at School

The Acts of the Apostles on the sixth Sunday of Easter describes Cornelius falling at Peter’s feet and offering homage. Peter says, “Get up. I myself am also a human being.” Few individuals experience this admiration from other adults. But many of us know what it is like to be put on a pedestal by a young child. Parents are more than just human beings. They are stronger, smarter and able to do more things than anybody else! Children ask for instruction: Where does the sun go at night? What is it like at the edge of the rain? As parents, we continue to know many answers throughout childhood and it is exciting to help out in our children’s grade-school classrooms. But, as puberty approaches for our children, that parental pedestal shows gradual wear. Older kids’ advice to parents may be, “Please don’t volunteer.” What’s happening?

Letting go of their “ideal” parents and getting to know YOU!

As children get older, they become capable of abstract thought and are able to assess situations from different perspectives. They discover that parents make mistakes just like everybody else. Children may be disappointed to realize that parents don’t match up to their childish images of perfection, but this is actually one of the first steps of emotional maturity. It is not until early adulthood that children truly see their parents as unique individuals.

Who let that parent on my stage?

The peer group becomes more and more central to the lives of children as they get older, and parents can become unmanageable liabilities. The term “imaginary audience” was proposed by psychologist David Elkind to indicate the extreme self-consciousness that teens sometimes feel. They are concerned about minute details of appearance. Sometimes, there are real concerns about being different, and a parent who is a constant source of embarrassment may add to the discomfort.

So, you should keep connected with the schools – it benefits the school and your children. But listen to your children’s concerns and balance your volunteering with their needs. Remind them that if all the parents pulled out, many of their favorite activities would disappear! Rotate helping in the “spotlight” (chaperoning a dance) with unobtrusive work (assisting in a mailing). Pray for guidance: “The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:21)

Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.