Parenting turns us all into hypocrites.
Throughout our lives, we all encounter situations in which it behooves us to disavow any and all association with certain… unsavory behaviors from our pasts. Like during a job interview, or upon meeting your girlfriend’s parents, or at church.
But those instances are short-lived, and you can go right back to being a rock star when they’re over. Unless you have kids.
Because parenting never ends.
Back in college, or when you lived together after college, he was the guy that got naked at parties, and randomly broke stuff, and would take any dare, and was just altogether out of control? And then, one day, it stopped. And now he denies ever having done any of that stuff and gets offended if you bring it up? God, he’s lame.
If you’re a parent, you’re lame too.
Let’s be clear, he’s not insufferable because he did those debaucherous, degenerate things. And he’s not insufferable because he grew up and no longer does those things. He’s insufferable because he denies ever having done them, pretends he didn’t enjoy doing them, and gets indignant when you suggest otherwise! Hey man, kudos to you for realizing getting naked at parties doesn’t fly in your late thirties; there’s nothing wrong with not being twenty or twenty-five anymore. But let’s not pretend it wasn’t funny at the time. (We were there! We all saw your dick. It was definitely funny.)
We parents live in that denial, at least when we’re around our kids. Which – unfortunately – is all the time. Parents are hypocrites because we have to be.
We become like that insufferable jerk above out of necessity. It’s part of the gig. If you don’t, you either don’t care about your kids or you’re on dangerous ground. (Because while it’s probably possible to be the 100% open and honest parent who tells their kids everything in the hopes that transparency and truth will trump all, I think that’s only ever worked on TV, and odds are it will backfire like a motherfucker.)
When you live in a house with impressionable children who (inexplicably) worship you and (inexplicably) look to you as the model for their behavior, you need to tone your rock star behavior down. Like, all the way down. Forget about whether the amp goes to 11 or not, it’s time to turn the amp OFF. None more black.
I don’t mean to say you have to change your lifestyle. Get a babysitter and go down to Hedonism, for all I care, just don’t tell your kids about it!
I lie to my son all the time, but most of that lying is self-serving. I lie to get him to eat dinner, to get him to go to bed, to get him to stop asking to go to the zoo, etc. But as he gets older, I’m going to have to start lying to him for his own benefit.
I’ll have to start lying to him about how fun it is to get drunk, about how important algebra is, about whether I’ve ever done anything illegal, etc. These are all things he doesn’t need to know about until he’s old enough to understand why I lied to him about that stuff. Because when you’re an adolescent, or an idiot teenager, the things you think you know always outnumber the things you actually understand. Information always outpaces experience, and knowledge without wisdom is dangerous. It’s why being young is so fun when you’re young, and so terrifying when you’re older.
So I’m also going to have to do a lot more lying by omission. When you have kids, you’d be wise to keep that stuff under wraps. Your kids weren’t there, and what they don’t know can’t hurt them. If we tell our kids we drank before we were 21, or that we smoked pot in college, or that we did something else that was seriously fun but may or may not have been slightly illegal, they’re likely to take it as permission. No thanks. I’ll be pleading ignorance so I don’t someday get called up to the stand and have to plead the fifth. I may be a hypocrite, but that’s a good thing.
Eventually, of course, as he matures, I’ll be honest with him. Growing up sheltered and ignorant can be just as dangerous as growing up without restrictions. But I’ll be sure to temper my honesty with real-talk, about consequences and permanent records and how your reputation ends up being more important than your report card. That will come when he’s in high school, and shit gets real.
The best part of this policy? When your kids get older and your relationship is on a more level playing field, coming clean – and hearing the come clean – about your youthful indiscretions are some of the best conversations you’ll ever have.
But until then? DENY DENY DENY. That way your kids grow up thinking I’m lame, and your non-parent friends (should you have any) think you’re an enormous hypocrite. It’s a win-win!