Long before we have teenagers who are proudly willing to hold a mirror to our parental hypocrisy, our young children subtly reflect our double-standards every day.
My 3-year-old loves to make cookies with me. I let him taste a few ingredients when we begin mixing, but when the eggs are added, I tell him, “We don’t eat cookie dough with eggs in it.” Because salmonella, right?
Once he leaves the room, I begin to nibble while glancing over my shoulder so I don’t get caught in the act.
At the dinner table, he asks us for more of what’s already on his plate as if we are going to run out before he’s done. When we tell him to eat what he has first, he says, “But I want more of it.”
How often do I get something I’ve asked or prayed for, and when I finally get it, I ask for more? More money, more comfort, more time, more control, more sleep. It never quite feels like enough.
On a recent evening, I had just started thinking about preparing dinner when I walked into the kitchen. My son said, “I’m hungry. Where’s my dinner? I don’t see it.” My husband’s eyes grew two sizes and he could barely contain his laughter. I shot them both a look and asked my son if he was wearing his patient pants. He said he wasn’t. No kidding.
Yet, my impatience soars when the car in front of me is going under the speed limit. Or when there is a line at the gas station. Or when I’m waiting as he tries over and again to thread a piece of yarn through a punched hole. I need days-of-the-week patient pants.
His preschool class had a Zoom call at the end of the school year so they could each speak and share a toy or story with the group. For the entirety of the call, each child presented while nine other muted children talked and performed for the group, oblivious to their own silence.
Upon reflection, I am too often guilty of listening to respond and share a personal anecdote instead of listening to understand what the person is saying.
And don’t even get me started on the classic “We don’t YELL in the HOUSE!” delivered to my child in lofty decibels. Or the “Try telling me again when you’re done chewing,” spoken from my mouth full of pizza.
Sometimes they are too young to notice our hypocrisy. Sometimes they call us out. And there will still be double standards between parents and children: we have more privileges as adults than kids who need boundaries as they develop.
But when we catch ourselves in these moments, we have the opportunity for growth through humility. We can correct our own behavior for the next time. We can acknowledge and explain our mistake to our children and ask for forgiveness with the hope they will someday do the same for others.
We can give them grace as they’re learning how to be the kind, merciful humans we are still trying, over and again, to be.
Though in the case of the cookie dough, my best advice is just to not get caught.