Hypocritical Parenting

I remember the first time I realized my parents didn’t always practice what they preached. We were at the ticket window of a museum, and I heard them ask for two Adult and two Child tickets–even though I was just over the clearly posted “child” age limit of nine. They had always instructed me to tell the truth, so I opened my mouth to protest. But then it dawned on me that my parents were simply trying to save a few bucks, and I was only a couple of weeks over nine anyway. No harm done.

I certainly wasn’t traumatized or  scandalized by that experience, but it did make me understand that there are two sets of rules: one that parents insist children follow, and an identical one that they themselves follow unless it is inconvenient or expensive. As a child, I resented this two-tier system; as a parent, I regularly exploit it. Just last weekend, I instructed my 16-year-old daughter–who has a junior driver’s license–to do something I never would have allowed if she’d suggested it: break the law by driving other children home. We were out to dinner with four other families, and some–but not all–of us planned to go see “The Artist” afterwards. Well, the restaurant service proved especially slow, and when it became clear that we would miss the previews if one of the adults drove the younger kids home as planned, I volunteered my daughter to do it. She complied, but reminded us that for another month, she was technically allowed to transport only her own siblings. Luckily, the parents of the other kids seemed completely comfortable with it, but I felt guilty and nervous until I knew everyone was home safely.

Thankfully, most of my parental hypocrisies don’t involve breaking the law. For instance, I encourage healthful eating, but am the first to skip the salad if I don’t feel like making it, or to drive through Burger King if I don’t want to mess up the kitchen. I forbid cell phones at the table–unless, of course, I am expecting an important call or am in the middle of a cutthroat Scrabble game. I admonish the kids not to swear, but occasionally let loose a barrage of expletives in their presence. I counsel them never to get in the car with someone who has had even one drink, but do it all the time. I have even lied about my children’s ages–though never at a museum. I am more likely to add years to their lives than to subtract, in an effort to make them eligible for such things as a solo trip on the Amtrak Acela or a particular summer program.

I can offer no compelling justification for this behavior, except that parenting is relentless and exhausting, and sometimes you just need to make it as easy on yourself as possible–even if it means breaking a few rules. I like to believe my children are capable of seeing the logic and good intentions behind my rules, in addition to my double standard in following them. Soon enough, they’ll be able to set high standards for their own children and then blatantly disregard them.

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About Susan H. Greenberg

Susan H. Greenberg spent 22 years as a journalist for Newsweek Magazine. She now works as a writer, editor, teacher, and parent of three children, with whom she strives always to maintain a varnish-free relationship.
This entry was posted in Family life, Kids, Parenting, Reality check, Teenagers and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Hypocritical Parenting

  1. debut dad says:

    Great post! I want to believe that when the time comes for me to sneak my 9 yr old son into the museum as a “child” that he will understand it’s to save a few bucks and not because I endorse lying 😛

  2. muddledmom says:

    Someone somewhere is coming to get you. ; ) I’ve tried so hard to get my kids to follow rules, that I’m not sure I can ever take that track. My kids know we don’t allow but one treat a day (if they have ice cream early in the day, they don’t get ice cream again later). When the grandparents were here this weekend, they took the kids out. They offered the kids ice cream after dinner and my kids said no, they had already had it that day (my son’s birthday party). My husband and I weren’t even there. We would have never known. Now I feel a bit guilty for all the double treats I’ve been having….

  3. Olivia says:

    “Do as I say, not as I do” is possibly the most aggravating thing my parents have ever said to me, haha. Stuff like museum entry and driving slightly outside of the rules of a provisional license (and having just gotten mine a few weeks ago, I’ll be the first to call them stupid-ha), sure. But when it’s a rule just within the house, that actually has a good and logical reason behind it? That drives me crazy. If the rule makes sense…everyone should follow it, and the same exceptions should apply to everyone. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t be a rule.

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