Why sharing funny stories about your kids can end up being hurtful

Why sharing funny stories about your kids can end up being hurtful
A few weeks ago, I told my family a cute and funny story about my toddler—and ended up feeling terrible.

With my toddler out of earshot, I had recounted an episode where he said an English word—”puddle”—but in perfect Filipino accent. He was so cute and so funny… except he wasn’t exactly making a joke, and probably wouldn’t appreciate it if my family suddenly approached him about it. After realizing my gaffe, I quickly followed up the story with, “Oh, but don’t mention it because I don’t want him to get embarrassed or think that I’m making fun of him.” The disclaimer may have saved LO public embarrassment, but the damage was done: I was laughing at my toddler’s expense.

“I don’t know why I felt so bad about telling something so cute about LO,” I told my husband later that night. “Should parents not tell others the cute and funny things their kids do?” After all, I adore kid stories, especially when they use incorrect grammar, mispronounce words or reveal their limited knowledge about the world, a lá Kids Say the Darnest Things. But then I thought, “Just because it’s funny to us, does that make it okay to blab it to other people?”

When, then, would it be appropriate for parents to share their kids’ cuteness? I decided on two criteria:

  1. If my toddler himself finds the episode hilarious, then he’s likely not going to be bothered if I share it with others, or
  2. If he isn’t likely to feel hurt or embarrassed if he found out other people knew.

My toddler actually makes tons of jokes. For instance, when I hand him something and say, “Here you go,” he loves to respond with, “Here you stop,” with a mischievous grin on his face. He thinks he’s the most hilarious person everI’m pretty sure that not only would he mind if I recount that funny episode, he would actually love to say the joke himself in front of others. Still, what about the other times when he isn’t making a joke or trying to be funny?

I won’t be able to always consider these criteria each and every time I want to share a cute moment. That said, I’ll do my best to be mindful of what I share about my toddler, especially when it comes to stories about him that he wasn’t exactly making a joke about. I would hate for him to hesitate around me because he’s not sure if I’ll blab cute (to me) but embarrassing (to him) stories.

As with most cases when considering children’s feelings, I try to picture how I would feel if I were in his shoes. A little background about me: I’m notorious for mispronouncing a ton of words. I know what words mean, I just mispronounce some of them. For instance, up until a month ago, I thought the word “sparse” was pronounced like “spears” instead of “spars.” If my husband all of a sudden addressed me in front of friends, “Tell them about how you pronounce ‘sparse’.” I might laugh, but I probably wouldn’t appreciate the attention much either.

I’m sure years from now, kids won’t think anything about being the subject of funny stories. A running joke in my family was when, as a child, I was rebukingly asked, “Who did it?” To which I claimed my innocence and answered, “I didn’t did it!” I laugh along with everybody about it now, so clearly no long-term damage was done (but who knows how I felt about it as a child).

Like I said, I won’t have a perfect record—what parent can, when kids are so darn cute? But I pledge to do my best to consider my toddler’s point of view and whether or not he’s comfortable being the subject of a funny story.

Have you considered how funny stories about your kids affect them? Have your kids let you know that they didn’t appreciate it, or are they okay with the attention?

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16 thoughts on “Why sharing funny stories about your kids can end up being hurtful

  1. Such a good subject matter, thank you for posting this. I write funny stories down, but don’t share them. If someone is there for the funny moment, great, but we find that it will always be lost in translation and my family tends to gossip and pass stories around and then get them wrong. Instead, I have been making a book and will pass it on to my son of all the funny things he said and did.

  2. I think you list two very well-written criteria for telling the cute story. Yes, we as parents think our kid’s actions are much cuter than what another person might think. If a child cracks up at the “cute” story he/she is going to relish in the fact that a parent can (verbatim) retell the story. This WILL be cute for the person the parent is telling the story to. No offense taken from the child and I can’t see there being any harm or embarrassment from this.

    Stepping in your toddler’s shoes is another great way to decide if you should share or not. Personally, I air on the side of caution. Why? My mother (whom I love tremendously) had the biggest mouth on the planet. Everyone on the block knew when my sister and I started our menstrual cycles and any other private info imaginable. Violated and Embarrassed! Growing up I just learned that there was nothing I could do about her diarrhea of the mouth and I finally stopped being embarrassed when I got to high school.

    I know I won’t be OVERLY cautious. However, hearing friends continually tell me daunting “cute” stories that are embarrassing to the child makes me not want to share anything about Oster with these people.

    I really look at any situation I want to share before I do it. He’s still at an age where he can’t fully comprehend if what we say is embarrassing, but I don’t want to get into the habit. So my yapper is shut (thanks to the experience of growing up 🙂 )

    Great post, as always!

  3. I think it’s a great idea to set up this precedent now so when your son is older he won’t have to worry about mom telling embarrassing stories. I don’t tell a ton of stories because like the ladies above I find most people just aren’t as interested in my kid as I am. And I don’t blame them. 🙂 Occasionally I’ll share something particularly cute but I try to keep it to a minimum.

  4. I had a similar situation where I was speaking with our daycare provider about something funny my daughter did and didn’t think she was listening. Boy was I wrong! When it was time for us to leave, she became very quiet and when we got home she told me I hurt her feelings.
    At that moment I realized she had been embarrassed and I needed to be more cognizant of what I say to others in front of her.

    P.S. I also have a diary that I write down funny things my daughter says and it also includes how I was feeling each month before she was born and things I ate.

    Thanks for the great post 🙂

  5. Little ones can be hurt if they think they’re being made fun of, but, like you said, if they think it’s funny, it’s okay.
    My grown kids call the stories I tell about them “exaggerated nonfiction.” I’m careful to honor their memories, however, if they think something I say is way out of line.

  6. This is such a wisely written post. I still remember feeling mocked by my family retelling again and again certain things I would say as a young child. I’m sure they just thought it was cute, but I felt made fun of. I certainly don’t want my son to experience that.

  7. Thanks for the thoughtful and necessary post. This is something I think about a lot, and it’s a core issue in the creative nonfiction right now–but is a little different when we’re writing about our kids, who so often can’t defend themselves–can’t even read. I had second thoughts when mentioning all the pooping that surrounded Mbot’s birthday party, and still do. I do try to be sensitive and respectful, because my relationship with them is way more important than any story. Sometimes I probably fail. As they grow older, this becomes more of an issue. Thanks again for the reminder.

  8. I love you guys’ insights.

    Karen, that’s interesting that you remember the feeling as a kid; goes to show that sometimes petty things aren’t so petty just because they’re directed to kids.

    Mommy’s Organics, you described the scene that I’m hoping to avoid with my toddler, where he explicitly tells me that he got hurt or embarrassed because I made fun of him behind his back. Sometimes I think my little guy already does this based on a look he’ll give me, like, “Why are you laughing?” kind of look.

    Steph, I’m with you in that I don’t share too many things about my toddler to others. Just because I like my kid doesn’t mean others want to hear every detail about him haha. I save the play-by-play for my husband 🙂

    Betsy, thanks for chiming in and mentioning how our writing about our kids is a bit one-sided since they usually don’t even know what we’re doing or writing about and aren’t editing or approving what we say about them. I think it places even more responsibility and caution on our part to be mindful of how and what we say about them while balancing it with not taking ourselves too seriously and enjoying parenthood as well.

    Agreed, Oster’s Mom! I love Travel Lady with Baby’s idea of a journal of these funny incidents. I actually write down the funny episodes in my own personal journal but I never thought of having a designated book just for him. I might have to comb through my journal and start this project!

    And Teresa, I love “exaggerated nonfiction”! That will be the story of my toddler’s life with the way I retell it 😉

  9. Interesting post. Livi is still too little so I don’t have to worry about hUrting her feelings or her listening in – yet. That being said, from the day she was born, I have avoided taking embarrassing pictures or telling stories that might embarrass her later in life.
    Unfortunately, it’s what happened to me and my mom still knows no boundaries when showing my baby/kid pictures and telling stories. I am still mercilessly teased about a few pictures and stories in particular and I still cannot laugh about it.
    The only one I share most everything with is my husband but I also know that he does not go and blabb about it. Nonetheless, I’ll share your post with him tonight, just as a reminder.
    Your son is lucky to have a mom who is so conscious of his feelings. 🙂

  10. I am guilty of oversharing when it comes to family, but I try to be a little more discreet when it comes to social media. If it’s something I think a kid could tease Lane about ten years from now, I won’t post it. That being said, in our family, teasing each other is a large part of our dynamic. Like you said, as long as it doesn’t humiliate the child, the story is safe to tell.

  11. My little ones are very sensitive; if someone points out a mispronunciation of theirs they look so hurt, so I try to protect their feelings by not laughing at their language-learning process–and by glaring at anyone who does. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget that our toddlers and preschoolers are people, too.

    In the same vein, I’m very careful what I will post about my kids on Facebook. I might TAKE a photo of the kids doing something embarrassing (like my son wearing his sister’s barrette), but I don’t post anything I think might embarrass them when they’re older. I was pretty livid when my mother-in-law took a photo of my son with his finger up his nose and made it her profile picture. It’s cute for a one-year-old, but he won’t want people bringing it up when he’s ten.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  12. Uh-oh! I hope I’m not in trouble with my http:/parentingisfunny.wordpress.com blog! (You seem to like it, though!) 🙂 My oldest, at least, notices when I laugh at something she says and then laughs too and asks, “Are you going to put that on your blog?” I feel I’m cultivating a good attitude and perspective on life with her, anyway. (The other two are too young to know about it. Heh. Heh.)

    • I was wondering when I would hear from you Betsy! Hehe. It seems like you’ve got a good handle on your kidisms. For me I have to be mindful
      of what I say because I’m not yet sure how he would react to certain funny things but would bet that he wouldn’t like it. For the times when he’s laughing I think it’s safe to share.

  13. This reminds me of something I was just reading in The Natural Child by Jan Hunt. In one section she rephrases ways we commonly treat children as if we were behaving that way toward our spouse. It’s both funny and enlightening.

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