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.