“That’s different.” These are two of the most frequently uttered words in the defensive lexicon of the frustrated, perplexed, at-the-end-of-your-rope parent. Dad, you’ve reached for this phrase and pulled it out at the showdown around the kitchen table. You’ve grabbed those two words just as frantically as a man would a rope to keep from drowning. You’ve reached into that depleted reservoir of comebacks and let those feeble words roll off your lips just so you had something—anything—to say within the bounds of civility.
“Hey, Dad, you tell us to hang our coat in the closet. Yours is on the arm of the sofa.” “That’s different, honey—Daddy’s in a hurry.”
“You’re going over the speed limit, Dad. You always tell me to watch my speed.” “That’s different—Dad has a lot on his mind—I’ve got a busy day tomorrow—I’m a lot older than you—and watch your tone.”
It’s amazing and amusing to hear how silly we sound sometimes. But what if our hypocrisies yield more serious consequences?
What if your teenager reels off a string of obscenities, echoing your own obscene rant at the ballgame a few days ago? What if you hear your son bragging about how he cheated on his time sheet at work because he heard you boasting about fudging on your taxes? What if your daughter starts smoking because you smoke? What if your teenager slaps or punches someone at school because that’s how you get their attention and demand their obedience at home?
Parents Plant the Seeds
We parents really need to monitor our own behavior as much as we think we need to monitor the ways our kids behave. We will sow what we reap. The seeds we plant today will bear fruit sooner or later—and that fruit may be good or rotten.
We parents can think our kids are deaf and blind to things we do or say. Not true. They are processing their experiences and filing them away for future reference. They may discard some things over time, but they will more than likely assimilate most of what they see and hear. We decry the negative influences that pervade our children’s lives and rightfully so in many cases. Those influences can be overpowered by parents who understand their responsibility to model good behavior.
It’s Not Different
In order for well-meaning parents to have that kind of impact, the phrase “That’s different” needs to be laid to rest. It’s much harder but nobler to respond with “You’re right and I was wrong” or “I should practice what I preach.” Young people are incredibly intuitive and insightful. They live in a world full of hypocrisy. They see and hear it in the news, at school, in church, at work and in their social circles. The one place where they need to trust that the rules are fair and apply to everyone is at home.