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Sometimes Parenting With a Little Shame is a Good Thing

Apparently shame is no longer residing in society’s approved toolbox. This is not a good thing.

When I was teen everyone suddenly worried about our self esteem. No one was particularly concerned about behavior or excellence. There was little discussion about giving kids the opportunity to excel, or obstacles to overcome. There was only talk of self esteem. It didn’t end well.

Self esteem in a vacuum is bullshit and now we have a new load of crap that will do nothing but keep our children from performing. It’s the anti-shaming people who now want you to feel good about everything.

Like the self esteem movement it began with good intentions. Isn’t the path to hell lined with good intentions?

The no shaming seems to have begun with victims of sex crimes and then moved onto the fat movement. Obviously people who have been sexually assaulted should not be shamed. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, it doesn’t matter who slept with/made out with/dated/groped, you (men, women and children) don’t bring about abuse. The No Shame movement as it relates to victims of sexual abuse makes a lot of sense.

It starts getting murky when we discuss shame and fat. Do I think that people should be shamed for being fat? As in telling them, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”? Of course not. Do I think that feeling ashamed of yourself is a natural consequence of being very fat? Yes, we all know that to be true. Recently there was an outcry about billboards in Georgia “fat shaming” kids. Anyone sensible can see that they weren’t bringing shame to children, they simply acknowledged the fact that children were feeling ashamed and that one of the many side effects of obesity is that your (get ready for it) self esteem takes a dive.

Bad grades? Don’t be ashamed. Bad behavior? Don’t be ashamed.

What then is the purpose of shame? If there’s one thing I learned from the grifter mom it is that shame can play a wonderful role in a civilized society. Shame keeps us from behaving badly (some of us). The absence of shame is often seen around criminal and immoral activity. The opposite of shame is not goodness, the opposite of shame is shamelessness and the connotation there is not a pretty thing.

My girlfriend Katie has a daughter who was tantrum prone and I remember when I met her the four year old was flinging herself on the floor and screeching about some injustice. Katie looked at her and said, “My gawd, aren’t you a little bit ashamed of yourself?” I knew then and there that we’d be friends.

It’s not a bad thing, a little shame.

7 thoughts on “Sometimes Parenting With a Little Shame is a Good Thing”

  1. I think shame can be a powerful motivator, although we need to be careful when invoking it. I’m half Jewish, half Japanese so I’ve definitely grown up with some inbred guilt. Making sure it’s about specific behaviors (respect, responsibility, integrity) and not about something the kids can’t change is really, really important.

  2. Jessica,
    Your posts have become a treat to read!  Not just or so much for the info in them, but for the way in which you write them.  

  3. Absenceofalternatives


    At the risk of further stereotyping Chinese parents/society (back in Asia), “Shame” seems to be the main parenting motif, at least, where I grew up. It’s amazing how we have sustained the whole social order built on “what would other people say” for thousands of years. Imagine what would happen if one day all of the young people respond, “Who cares?” Chaos then?

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