By Paula Sirois
Parenting makes us all hypocrites and liars. It just does. Face it; you lie to your kids all the time. Call it stretching the truth or little white lies or whatever you wish, but the facts are the facts. How many times have you said, "Don't do that" and then promptly did whatever "that" is yourself? It's the old "Do as I say, not as I do" trick and it's not working.
Do you drink directly from the container while standing with the 'fridge door open? How about chewing your food while talking? Or maybe you didn't really give a good look both ways when you crossed the street? Have you talked on the phone or read a text while driving? Do you always drive the exact speed limit? Do you floss every single night and day? Are you getting the recommended amount of fruit and vegetable servings? And I'm guessing you haven't gone to bed at "bedtime" in years.
We call it good parenting when we tell our kids to do something, even if that something is something we don't actually do ourselves. But whom are we fooling? Won't they grow up, just like us, doing or not doing exactly what we do and don't do? Yes they will. Of course they will. Maybe instead of just laying down the rules of manners and life we try a new approach. Something that rings a bit more true.
Here are tips to becoming a less hypocritical parent:
1. Explain why: "Johnny, hold the door open for this lady" is really not enough. Sure your kid will stand there and hold the door while rolling his eyes, but you need to elaborate on the why of it all, so he'll do it again and again. Explain that it's polite and respectful to open doors for ladies (and gentlemen and kids and everyone really). Let them know it shows that you are not selfish and that you would appreciate it if someone held a door open for you too. Put it in today's terms; "The truth is that most boys and men don't hold doors open anymore. They used to, so you'll stand out in the crowd. Believe me the girls will remember it. That's how I met your dad. Plus, it's just a nice thing to do and only takes a few seconds."
2. Fess up: When your kid catches you breaking the rules or asks if you always follow every one, tell the truth (with a big caveat). "Yes, of course, I follow the rules. And the reason I know them is because my parents taught them to me too, just like I'm teaching you. I bend them sometimes (and break them sometimes) because I'm an adult who knows when it's okay to do that. Which isn't often and never in public or without serious precautions." The truth is that we all know the rules because they were drilled into our heads so often while growing up. Your kid is a kid and as such needs the constant reminders too. Once they get it completely they can also relax a bit.
3. Describe the benefits: "Did you brush your teeth?" you scream down the hall twice a day, but you shouldn't leave it at that. Why not talk benefits that they can see or relate to? "Mary, yes, it's important to have clean, healthy teeth, but it's also super important not to end up like your grandpa Joe, who can't eat anything and when he laughs we all sort of get scared." Nobody likes having to do what they're told, until they're told how it will benefit them in the end. Benefits that can be clearly understood are vital to explaining how some rules can be bent at times while others really shouldn't be unless you have years of experience. Take driving faster than the speed limit or skipping some vegetables here and there.
4. Parse the house rules: "Timmy, you know that this is your home and you can pretty much do whatever you want here, but out in the real world _ your friend's house, your school or anywhere outside these walls - you simply cannot do that ever because people will think you're rude (even though they all do it at home too)." Explaining the tricky dynamic of home manners versus everywhere-else manners and how social decorum is a group-think thing may help create a tighter bond and give them an inside joke when they practice their manners in public.
Parents don't have to be liars and hypocrites. Feel free to tell the truth to your kids - your truth, that is. The whole messy, inconsistent and blurry truth that we all live.