I remember being laughed at as a kid and I hated it. To this day relatives will bring up funny things I did when I was five and giggle hysterically. It seems like they expect me to join in but I rarely do because the truth is that it was embarrassing to be made fun of. It felt almost like ridicule when they thought my genuine attempts at expressing my tiny self were funny.
I think a lot of parents have those “I swear I will NEVER do that to my child” rules and this has always been one of those concerns for me. My experience of exclusion and embarrassment has made me want to treat every child I come in contact with as an equal. This isn’t to say they should necessarily be exposed to everything in the world at age four, just that I should take care to ensure they feel respected and included by me. I don’t want to be condescending to anyone regardless of their age and I certainly don’t want to make children experience the embarrassment I did when adults (probably unconsciously) made me feel so far beneath them that I became a joke.
This brings me to a sticky situation with my own daughter. While I understand she may not be as sensitive as I was, I still feel a strong need to encourage her confidence and sense of belonging in my life. However, I now realize this may be harder to enact than I anticipated in my hypothetical pre-mother plans.
The other night we were sitting in my in-laws’ living room watching TV and relaxing after dinner while my nine-month-old daughter inched around the coffee table practicing what has become her very promising almost-walk. A song started playing on TV and she stopped as she always does when she hears music, looked up and began to dance. Her little hips were swinging back and forth so fast that it threatened her balance and she bounced up and down as high as she could without falling.
I was so devastatingly charmed by her adorable little dance I couldn’t help but laugh. We all laughed and the longer she danced, the cuter it became. I was overjoyed at seeing her engage with the music and it took a while for my smile to fade. But as it did I felt guilty. She may not feel embarrassment yet but I realized I was laughing at her and in the future that kind of reaction could potentially cause feelings of exclusion, difference and shame.
It will be a challenge but I am determined to somehow learn how to:
- Demonstrate my pure joy at seeing her express herself without making her feel like the “other,”
- Make sure she knows my laughter comes from a place that is full of love and happiness in her, or how to not laugh at all in order to avoid confusion, and
- Convey that her perceptions are meaningful to me.
I never ever ever want her to be embarrassed because of the way she feels things or expresses them. Her comfort with the adults around her is important and I want her to know she is an equal member of our life rather than a miniature joke that sometimes entertains us.