As parents, our job is often complicated. We do our best to teach our kids how to have a better life than we've had, but what goes unspoken are the ways in which we confuse them along the way.
Me: "Get over here right now and sit down. Yes, you. I never said you were excused, so why on earth would you be waltzing around the kitchen with pancakes still in your mouth, dropping crumbs all over the floor I just cleaned?!"
My child: "But daddy, you're eating and standing up, too."
(7-8 seconds of silent soul-searching ensue)
You see, I hadn't planned for this. When I started having kids, I didn't exactly have a handbook to follow, but I did have a mental list of actions I wouldn't stand for—lying, spitting, watching TV shows that employed a laugh track—to name a few. But I simply hadn't planned for my children, once they developed the ability to speak, to call me out on my hypocrisy. I expected defiance, of course. I just hadn't accounted for the holes that my children would constantly poke in my logic.
Here are just a few examples of the confusion that occur in my household:
1. Don't trust strangers.
Lesson: I teach my children never to trust someone they don't know. I instill in them a thorough understanding of the dangers of the outside world, relaying to them the same information that was taught to me via a fifth-grade safety video: Don't talk to and/or take candy from strangers.
Hypocrisy: Except, of course, for one night a year, when I'll dress them like fictional characters and send them directly to the houses of said strangers to collect, you guessed it, free candy.
2. Never, ever steal.
Lesson: Few things infuriate me more than seeing my children grabbing a toy out of another child's (or each other's) hand. But they're kids; it's going to happen. It's our job as parents to show them the error of their ways, which I have no problem doing. So I've imparted on them a respect for other people's belongings and have forbidden them from ever laying their hands on anything that isn't theirs without asking first.
Hypocrisy: Except for when they're playing soccer, of course. Then I want them to forget absolutely everything I've said and take that ball away to leave their opponent confused and blubbering in their wake. It's go time, baby!
3. Violence isn't funny.
Lesson: Violence is a serious issue in this world. And it's a parent's nightmare when their child develops aggressive tendencies and emerges as the school bully. So, whenever my sons fight, I make sure to separate them and explain the importance of respecting each other, and I teach them that physical violence solves nothing and certainly isn't anything to laugh about.
Hypocrisy: Then, we'll all sit down and watch "Tom and Jerry" chase each other around a kitchen and collectively chuckle as Tom gets flattened by a falling anvil. Apparently, while actual violence is deplorable, fictional violence is a laugh riot.
4. Police officers should intimidate you.
Lesson: As parents, I think most of us use scare tactics to keep our kids in line. For instance, when my son takes off his seatbelt while I'm driving, I threaten to pull the car over and report him to the nearest police officer, who will give him an earful about car safety.
Hypocrisy: But if you're ever lost, son, find a police officer. They're very compassionate people who are there to help.
5. Know your surroundings.
Lesson: As our kids get older, they're going to find themselves in more and more situations where they're left to their own devices. Whether it be for a field trip, a playdate or bike ride, they aren't always going to be under our thumbs. With that in mind, I do my absolute best to teach my children how to remain "grounded" wherever they are, keeping in mind the potential dangers around them.
Hypocrisy: And then we watch this show called "Dora the Explorer," the story of a young girl who roams the woods with a stray jaguar, without her parents or GPS.
All things considered, the vast majority of the phrases we say to our children have some element of hypocrisy within. We shout at them—while telling them to be quiet. We tell them they should respect the opinions of others—while arguing with our spouses over something silly.
It all comes down to consistency in messaging. It's important for large corporations, and it's equally important with impressionable children. The only difference is, when it happens in an office setting, employees have the option of filing a complaint with Human Resources. Your child's version of filing a complaint with HR involves yelling, crying, and the refusal to put on shoes. And they typically don't fill out the necessary documentation.
So, if you're a parent like me who occasionally contradicts yourself when doling out advice to your children, I see that you have two options: 1) recognize the hypocrisy and change your approach, or 2) resign yourself to the fact that someday one of your children will try to talk to a map or smash you in the face with a frying pan.
How do you send mixed messages to your kids? Enter it in the comments section and continue the conversation! Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.