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?