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Image / Editorial

Here’s why being mortified as a child has made you a better person


by Geraldine Carton
27th Mar 2019
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“Dad, you are SO embarrassing”

If you still feel embittered over the fact that your parents made you and your sibling hold hands and sing Barney’s “I love you, you love me” after a fight, then let it go. It’s thanks to those small (but frequent) snippets of embarrassment that you turned out to be the brilliant, funny, self-aware and compassionate person you are today.

Mortification at the hands of cringey parents help us recognise the likelihood that we will be knocked off said “horse” as soon as we get comfortable on the saddle. The people who experienced frequent bouts of embarrassment in their formative years won’t take themselves too seriously, and rarely get up on high horses about trivial matters. Embarrassed children become adults whose feet are firmly on the ground, making their way through life with a generous serving of humble pie in their back pocket at all times.

Related: This is why wearing granny pants is an act of self love

Thanks Mum, thanks Dad

But don’t praise the children for this, it’s the parents we should be thanking, what with their non-existent sense of shame or discretion, and their complete lack of concern for their child’s street cred. Because truly, children with “street cred” have no place in this world, they’re the ones who will grow up with an attitude problem, leading to a disproportional sense of self-worth and an ego the size of a small canoe. Fact.

Children should be geeky and awkward and they should know what it’s like to actively wish the ground would swallow you up as Mum starts an argument with the ref at the hockey match, or when Dad wears a cap backwards out in public. It’s the cringed caterpillars who grow up to be beautiful butterflies, while the cool kids become boring baboons.

It’s parents’ abrasive affection for socks-and-sandals, the open displays of affection, and the incorrect use of modern slang that contributes to the children’s ability to laugh at their own misfortune down the line.

Image via pleated-jeans.com

Childhood stories say a lot…

There’s just nothing interesting about someone whose childhood stories revolve around the array of cool possessions they owned, or memories of their parents being completely normal all the time. It’s impossible to identify with these people because they haven’t gone through the same character-building trauma that the rest of us have.

The stories I can identify with are the girl who’s mum made her wear a full ski outfit when taking snowless ski lessons up in on the Kilternan slopes on a mild summer’s afternoon when everyone else was wearing shorts and t-shirts. Or the guy whose dad always insisted on Simon and Garfunkel sing-a-longs in the car, even when in the company of visitors.

“Hey, world! I am actually not the loser my parents make me out to be!” is an important realisation for anyone to come to, but they’ll need mum and dad’s help to get there.

The traits that come with childhood mortification

It’s parents’ abrasive affection for socks-and-sandals, the open displays of affection, and the incorrect use of modern slang that contributes to the children’s ability to laugh at their own misfortune down the line. These children learn the power and relief that can come with injecting a bit of humour into the most embarrassing of situations, and understand from an early age how this can act as a protection mechanism. And so they laugh and laugh and laugh, forever safe in the knowledge that they have gone through worse before. *Shudders at memories of parent getting into a brawl with another parent at school sports day*

People who have experienced this kind of parental-charged embarrassment also tend to have more compassion and empathy on the whole. They too have felt the searing heat of scarlet cheeks that come with being dressed in a truly terrible costume for your first Halloween. They too have experienced the horror of your parents arriving early to collect you from the teenage disco; the brief pause of the music as your name is called out over the sound system and everyone jeers as you make the walk of shame out of the auditorium…

It’s no coincidence that all the best, funniest and most courageous people in my life are the ones who also have a vat of mortifying stories on tap

With time, the child might even learn to practice self-compassion as a way to overcome these embarrassing moments, which is a really important skill for later life. “Hey, world! I am actually not the loser my parents make me out to be!” is an important realisation for anyone to come to, but they’ll need mum and dad’s help to get there.

Related: Is over-parenting making the next generation fragile and too sensitive?

People may argue that subjecting your children to embarrassing behaviour makes them self-conscious. They act like being “self-conscious” is the worst affliction we can have in this modern day, but we beg to differ. Being conscious of one’s self makes us more aware of how our actions affect those around us, and while obviously too much of that isn’t desirable, a little sprinkling of it certainly does us no harm. We’d rather be a bit “self-conscious” then a bit of a complete psychopath any day.

Image via pleated-jeans.com 

So go forth and channel your inner cringe

As far as I’m concerned, it’s no coincidence that all the best, funniest and most courageous people in my life are the ones who also have a vat of mortifying stories on tap, stories which have been so heavily etched in their brains that they can relay them at the drop of a hat. These experiences have given individuals the grace of perspective in the face of future hardships because they can recognise that “this too will pass”.

In short, if you want your child to grow up funny, compassionate, humble and with a touch of self-consciousness, then be sure to expose them to a healthy dose of embarrassment every now and again. They’ll hate you for it at the time, but trust me, when they grow up to be legends with kind dispositions and the ability to crack jokes when it’s needed, and they might even thank you for it.


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