Opinion

Why do parents dress – and act – like their children?

While we amuse ourselves by playing video games with our sons and dressing like our daughters, we might also be losing their respect.

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If a middle-aged man wears his baseball cap backward, does this say anything about the man?

"Mom, you're just being your overly judgmental self," my teenage daughter said when I arrived home from Saturday morning errands and commented on the 40-something man I saw at the dry cleaners.

"He probably wore it that way to protect his neck from the sun," said my son.

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"But it was 8:30 a.m., not a peak time for sun exposure," I replied.

"I blame the rappers," my husband chimed in.

"But he looked ridiculous," I insisted, "with graying sideburns."

After a short stop at home, I took off for the health club where I saw middle-aged women in spandex watching VH1. Why were so many adults dressing – and acting – like their kids? While puffing away on the elliptical, I wondered if loose-fitting clothing would ever make a comeback.

I remembered my father, who wore ties and seer-sucker suits. When he dropped me off at college in his red, knee-high socks, he caused quite a stir in the dormitory. I was mortified to be seen with someone so uncool. Today's children, I suspect, are embarrassed by just the opposite: overly cool parents, sporting hair extensions and skinny jeans.

Then I remembered the e-mail I received from a parenting organization advising parents to be less critical and more accepting of their children's behavior. The authors asked parents to see things from the child's perspective. Good advice. But has acceptance morphed into imitation?

Maybe we dress like our kids because we act like them. "Harry Potter" is a children's book series, after all. Are we really all so enamored with the tale? Or are we reading about the wizard to get in good with our kids?

Our look is laid back, like our attitude: The backward baseball cap reflects our anti-intellectual stance – nonjudgmental and accommodating. We desperately try to see our children's point of view, without any hope that they will ever see ours.

What's left but to follow their childish pursuits. So we skateboard, play video games, and watch silly television shows. Public ads are needed to remind parents not to offer alcohol to teenagers at parties. Signs in the park ask parents to behave properly during Little League games. There is no longer a distinction between adult behavior and childish behavior.

"I'm so glad I didn't go on the pub crawl with all the other parents when I dropped my daughter off at college," said a friend, surprised at the number of parents who chose to participate.

No wonder so many teens are hooking up and binge-drinking their way through college. Who can they look to for advice now that parents have abdicated their role as advisers? While we amuse ourselves by playing video games with our sons and dressing like our daughters, we might also be losing their respect.

In his inaugural address, President Obama asked us to put away childish things. Well, we might start with our attire. Dressing like adults might help us act more mature. Anyway, isn't anyone else tired of looking at middle-aged cleavage? Come on guys, turn your cap around. Better yet, find a different hat altogether.

Janine Wood is a homemaker and writer in Deerfield, Ill.

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