Does it—and must it—happen in every generation and age that parents and children embarrass each other? Turbulent feelings arise because of it, so it is something to be seriously considered, in order to find ways of dealing with or lessening this distressing emotion.

These days, parents usually decide to have children, rather than having them uncontrollably; with multiple means of birth-control available, it is their choice, but it is still a tremendous gamble, as there is just no way of knowing how children will turn out, even with the best of nurturing. Children, however—as far as we can tell—have no choice about being born, although some people who subscribe to the concept of reincarnation believe that we do choose, in order to learn certain lessons in a particular family and environment; but the realities of life do not support this idea, as many people appear to learn very little from their experiences, and when people are so poor and suffering, it is hard to imagine them considering the lessons to be learned from their situation when they can think of little else than how to survive. Other people believe that at a certain level of development, we can choose where we will be reborn, into what kind of family, and for what purpose. They maintain that the majority of people are like coconuts falling from their trees: it cannot be predicted where they will come to rest; others, however, who have cultivated and developed their minds to a high degree (very few people, obviously), do have some control over where they will be reborn, much like a bird flying from one tree to another. (Tibetan tulkus or ‘incarnate lamas’ would slot into this category, if it is true, though I’ve often wondered why we hear only of Tibetans reincarnating like this, when all Buddhists, of whatever sect or school, accept the concept of reincarnation or rebirth). However, who knows about this for sure? For most of us it is just a matter of speculation.

Obviously, most parents derive a great deal of joy and pleasure from their children, and willingly put up with the expense and unpleasant aspects of taking care of them such as changing dirty diapers, getting up in the middle of the night to tend them, nursing them through sickness, and so on; crying is also something that parents must learn to deal with, as a baby’s cry can be quite nerve-grating, especially if kept up for long periods; it is almost like a weapon that children soon learn how to use effectively to get what they want.

From early years, children begin to display their personalities, each one different. Some children are inexplicably hyperactive and naughty, and this causes anguish to their parents, who must often try to explain it away to others and make excuses and apologies; it is both exhausting and embarrassing. Everyone would like to have polite and well-mannered kids, but why some kids are naturally better-behaved than others, we don’t know; it is not always a result of nurture, as naughty children are sometimes born to cultured and sensitive people, while well-behaved kids are sometimes found to have rough and careless parents.

There must be many embarrassing moments in the lives of parents caused by their children, directly or indirectly, as parents are responsible for their kids, of course. But it is not one-sided. As children grow up and their personalities develop, they become more sensitive about what other people—and especially their peers—think and, just as parents want to be proud of their children, so children want to be proud of their parents and hate to be embarrassed by or because of them.

Now, embarrassment happens; it’s part of life. But much of it could be avoided if we understood that, just as it is abhorrent to us, so others also dislike it, and therefore there are good reasons for not deliberately embarrassing others; also, if we thought a little bit ahead and used our imagination, we might be able to avoid causing embarrassment unintentionally.

Dialogue between parents and children is absolutely indispensable if there is to be understanding. They might ask each other what embarrasses them and try, thereafter, to avoid doing or saying anything that causes this horrible feeling. Family secrets—and all families have them—should not be brought out into the open, for one thing; embarrassing incidents should be, as far as possible, left to die natural deaths, and should not be resurrected for the sake of amusing others, unless with the consent of all concerned.

Can parents and children respect—for that what it comes down to: respect—each other’s sensitivities enough to want to avoid causing them the pain of embarrassment? Let them try treating each other responsibly and consulting each other about it in a mature and open manner; much good might come of it. If people find it hard to talk about things face-to-face, important matters could be ‘discussed’ by writing, and if the point is expressed by one party and understood by the other in this way, that kind of embarrassment might be avoided. All possible things should be tried for the sake of better communication.

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