In Defense of Hypocrisy

I’m a hypocrite. There, I said it. I’ve heard it from my kids before (they’re 14, 11, and 9, and quick to point out the unfairness of different rules for different kids, and I too am included in this), and as I strive to be the perfect parent, always practicing what I preach, it’s a tough criticism to encounter.

But frankly, my kids and I are not equals, our lives are not to be viewed as being on a level playing field, and I refuse to feel guilty for it. In fact, I would argue that being a hypocrite makes me a better parent.

I tell the kids to get off their devices, to stop playing so much Subway Surfers, or Clash of Clans, or stop tinkering with their Fantasy Football teams. They respond by pointing out that I’m on Facebook anyhow, so how is that any different? I put away my phone, make them do the same, and we move on. Lessons learned all around, right?

I tell the kids to clean up their toys/dishes/clothes/whatever, and when they’re done, something is inevitably left behind un-put-away, with the explanation that ‘it’s not mine.’ Yet in all my attempts to instill generosity and helpfulness to them, is it not hypocritical of me to insist that they put away their own things?

If I clean up for them (to avoid the arguments and complaints), I am enabling them to whine their way out of chores. If I insist they clean up their own belongings, then I’m encouraging them to focus on the ‘each man for himself’ philosophy. I try to point out to the kids that within the house, it is not a democracy but rather a more Marxist structure (from each according to his abilities, to each according to his need), yet they get much more a voice than I ever had growing up.

This whole parenting thing is complicated, and as I work to raise independent, critical-thinking, capable kids, I am constantly challenged and made to question my decisions. The ‘Choose Kindness’ mantra may be a great default response to whatever disagreement I need to settle, but what helps me most is embracing my hypocrisy.

Because every time it is pointed out to me, every time I am forced to face my own faults—my stubbornness, my flawed logic—I am reminded that growing is a process. Every time I sneak a cookie as I make dinner while telling them not to ruin their appetites, I remember that if I expect them to forgive me my imperfections, I must forgive them theirs. My hypocrisy keeps me humble, which allows me to be open to change and growth.

Nivi Engineer is a novelist and playwright in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a mom of three boys, and escapes the never-ending sports calendar through reading. This month, she's learning that the capital of Tajikistan is Dushanbe. And now, so will you.