Edgy Mama: The slippery chute of parental hypocrisy

I’m a hypocrite. I do and say things that I don’t want my kids to emulate.

My parental hypocrisy includes stuff like slathering my children with sunscreen while neglecting to rub it on myself, drinking alcohol while lecturing them about its evil attributes, and yelling, “Stop yelling!”

It’s difficult to be a parent without being a hypocrite — at least some of the time. I want my kids to experience the world and learn from it, yet I want them to avoid making the same mistakes I made (and still make).

You may have heard the National Public Radio report last week parsing recent research on teens and drinking. Researchers say that, yes, parents drinking in front of their kids does increase their susceptibility to doing the same themselves when they become teens and young adults.

However, rules influence kids’ habits more than modeling. The stricter the parental rules about drinking alcohol, the less teens tend to drink (i.e., the European model of starting kids on wine with dinner at an early age can encourage rather than control future imbibing, say the researchers). This is good news because I’m not planning to stop drinking in front of my kids.

The report adds that a zero tolerance policy won’t necessarily prevent teens or older kids from drinking, but they will drink less.

So, the bottom line is that parents both need to model (as much as possible) the behavior they want to see in their kids and set tough rules. We need to figure how to be disciplinarians, not hypocrites. What the hell was I thinking when I signed up for this job? 

My parents were hardcore about me not drinking before I was legal, but I did it anyway. Back then, the drinking age in Georgia was 19, so I didn’t have time to engage in tons of illegal drinking. Plus I was caught and disciplined on a couple of occasions, which did dampen my enthusiasm for misbehavior — so these researchers might be right about that part of the equation.

My parents also regularly instructed me not to drink or to smoke while holding a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other (usually my mom just had the smoke — she rarely drank). Of course, that was when a nightly cocktail and an ever-present cigarette were de rigueur. If you don’t remember those days, go watch an episode of Mad Men — a little before my time, but similar in the amount of dangerous substances being sucked into lungs and livers. Those were the, “Do as I say, not as I do” days. Those days that won’t fly any more (sad face).

That never-ending parental hypocrisy keeps rearing its mottled and misshapen head. Yes, I’m using my cell phone while driving, but don’t you ever do it. Yes, I have a beer to wind down at the end of the day, but you shouldn’t drink. Yes, I cussed out the referee at your soccer game, but you need to be a good sport. And don’t use those effing words in public, OK?

My parenting goal is to walk that line between honesty and too much information — between setting rules and offering independence. I imagine it’ll continue to be a daily, nay, hourly, balancing act, which is, really, a pretty good definition of what it means to be a parent.

And, on this one, I’m willing to take advice — whether from NPR researchers, my readers or even my own parents. Uh-oh … did I just write that?

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5 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: The slippery chute of parental hypocrisy

  1. Mama

    Take advice !?! The rule is to listen to advice, say “thank you “, then do what suits you !! Also, drinking age was 18.

  2. No, it was 19 for me. They raised it once a year for three years to get it from 18 to 21 and grandfathered in those of us who aged with it. Must’ve been a nightmare for convenience store clerks.

  3. www.projecthappilyeverafter.com

    Since drinking is legal after a certain age and since alcohol can be healthy, I don’t care if my daughter is more likely to drink because she sees me doing it. I would imagine that keeping her from getting her stomach pumped (or worse) lies in teaching her the responsible way of doing it. Like you said. The French have it down.

    Neither of my parents smoked pot. All three of us kids have tried it. I’m not sure about this research. Just not sure about it.

  4. veebee

    Kids almost innately understand that there are certain activities that are for GROWNUPS (or near grownups ONLY) like driving, cooking, working. And that they have to be a certain age before they are allowed to do some stuff all by themselves (taking a bath, crossing the street). Kids also know that there are different rules for different places–things are different at school than at home than at soccer, etc.
    We have laws in place which govern the age of driving, drinking, working outside the home and legal sex, and there’s your guideline for those. As for the other stuff, I think the best method is for each child to be evaluated by his/her parents as to when they are ready for those responsibilities (when can you leave the baby [so to speak] in the bath water?).
    I don’t think you are being a hypocrite by drinking in front of your kids–if you’re moderate and don’t drive after, say, two regular drinks (or whatever is your limit) with a meal, you are setting an example of ADULT behavior that they can model. The most important thing is to keep the communication lines open, answer their questions, and tell them your values.

  5. Piffy!

    [b]Like you said. The French have it down.[/b]

    Except she did mention, I think, that that model actually leads to higher rates of alcoholism.

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