One thing I’ve tried to avoid as a parent is enforcing a double standard. I don’t mean what my children might consider a double standard, such as me watching an R rated movie but not allowing my six-year-old to. I mean real double standards. The kind any outside observer would point to as obviously unfair, non-sensical, or just plain silly.
A good example is one evening when I was in middle school. My mom, brother and I were returning home and we stopped for gas. My mom asked me to get out and pump (this was before the incident that made me nervous about such things). When I opened the door I hit it lightly on the concrete island around the gas pumps.
“What did you just do?” my mom asked as she glared at me. I quickly got out and surveyed where the door hit the concrete.
“I hit the door on the island,” obviously, I managed not to add.
“How could you be so irresponsible?”
“It was an accident. I’m sorry.”
“You should have been paying more attention.”
“I know, but it was an accident. There’s not even a scratch on the door.”
“That doesn’t make any difference. I’m going to tell your father.”
“Fine! Tell him I didn’t hurt the door though.”
I shut said door and went in to full on surly teenager mode as I pumped the gas. When mom got back from paying I was already back in the car with arms crossed.
Mom ignored me and then pulled forward, stopped, and backed up for a three-point turn. Then there was a loud crunch as our station wagon jarred and bounced. I couldn’t help but smile.
“Why are you looking so smug?” she asked.
“Because you just backed in to the gas pump.” I refrained from pointing out that I didn’t need to ask what just happened, but then pressed my luck with, “How could you be so irresponsible?”
“It was just an accident!” Now she was being surly.
“You should have been paying more attention.” I called after her as she got out to inspect the damage.
When she got back in she said, “It’s all right. The car’s not even scratched.”
“How does that make a difference? You backed in to the gas pump!”
“Don’t you dare tell your father.” I opened my mouth to reply, caught her expression, and thought better of it.
I never did verbally mention it to Dad, so let’s just assume I still haven’t told him about it (take that, “letter of the law”). To be fair, she didn’t mention that I knocked the door on the island.
Years later I was out on a school night with some friends from church. We went to a movie and decided to shoot some pool afterwards since I still had time before my curfew. We played for a while and then I looked up at the clock. I realized even if I left right then, I’d be over curfew by about five minutes. I found a phone and called home.
My mom answered and I quickly explained, “Hey, Mom, I’m sorry I lost track of time a bit. I’ll be a little late if I leave now. We’re playing pool, but we have just a couple of balls left on the table so is it okay if we finish the game, or do you want me to come on home right now?”
She answered with a long lecture on responsibility, paying attention, and the importance of curfew (which she kept me on the phone well past). I accepted my lumps. I had after all, lost track of time. Of course, I thought I showed responsibility by calling. She did not agree.
Later during the summer I was taking Driver’s Ed (even though I already had my license), but was dropped off by my mom one day instead of driving myself. When class was over, I came out of Clarksville Academy and looked for her car. It wasn’t there. This was in the days before ubiquitous cell phones so I had little choice but to wait. So I waited. Then I waited a while longer. Finally I waited a bit more. All this waiting added up to almost two hours.
When she arrived. I asked where she had been.
“Well, I was shopping and I just lost track of time.”
“Lost track of time? You forgot your son!”
“I just lost track of time, that’s all”
“How is this okay for you, but not for me?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Shooting pool? Curfew? Ringing any bells?” She didn’t make the connection.
My dad isn’t immune from this either. His double standards are usually of the “do as I say, not as I do” variety and aren’t limited to before I moved out on my own and married.
Dad had once berated me for leaving a job I held for a short time for a different one.
“You shouldn’t leave. You have a good job and you don’t know of this other one will work out.”
“Well, I’ve already turned in my notice. Besides, it’s not like I have a contract or anything. I may not like the new one, but I have to try it. It may not work out, but I know I’ll kick myself later if I don’t find out.”
“I still don’t think you should do it. You’ve only been there a couple of months.” We went back and forth like that for a while.
About a year later I was reading through the memoirs I keep begging him to write. I read about when he began working at the University of Kentucky when I noticed something interesting.
“What’s this about leaving a job you had for two weeks to go work for UK?” He started laughing.
“I forgot that was in there.”
“You also wrote that you had a contract. So, you broke a contract on a job you only had two weeks to go work somewhere else?”
“Yeah. I guess I did.”
“Didn’t you get on to me for something like that? Isn’t that a bit of a double standard?” To his credit, he admitted that it was indeed a double standard.
I thought about these (and many incidents like them) as I drove down the driveway toward my home. I had stopped for the mail and didn’t bother putting my seatbelt back on since I was already in the driveway.
“Daddy?” called my daughter Autumn from the back set.
“Yes, Sweet Pea?”
“Didn’t you say we should always wear our seat belts when the car’s moving?”
We were about 500 feet from the house (it’s a long driveway) and it hardly seemed worth it. What could happen? Then I thought of backing into gas pumps, waiting til near dark, and changing jobs.
“Yes, I did say that.” I put my seat belt back on until we came to a complete stop. I don’t know if she learned anything that day, but I certainly did.