"Do me a favor," my mom said. "Promise me you won't see The Cell." "God, Mom," I said. And then I immediately went out and saw it.
I was seventeen. My parents hadn't barred me from a movie since I'd seen the remake of Diabolique at the age of twelve and reported back that a guy got a garden rake stuck in his face — I think they figured my innocence was already fully destroyed. But I'd be out of the house in a year, and maybe my mom wanted to get in some forbidding while she still could.
It's actually surprising that Mom and I had this conversation at all, because my dad was usually the censorious one. I remember a lengthy debate with him about whether I would be allowed to watch White Fang, a Disney film rated PG. But Carey Bryson of About.com speculates that that's not the norm. She writes,
In my personal experience, in almost every value discrepancy that's come up on the subject, the moms are the ones putting their foot down, and the dads are the ones who might let the preschooler watch SpongeBob while mom's at the store, or innocently popping in Lord of the Rings for a family film adventure.
Bryson also quotes a dad whispering to his son after the latest Transformers movie, "Now remember, we're not going to tell Mommy about this. It's our little secret, right?" Men conspiring with their kids to keep Mommy from freaking out is a time-honored cultural trope, one Yashar Ali critiques on the Huffington Post. He asks,
Do you want your son to think that all women do is nag, complain, and flip out? Do you want them to think that normal, courteous behavior like being punctual or showing respect are only tools for appeasing a hysterical woman?
Mom is frequently portrayed as the bad cop in pop culture (cf. Modern Family), while Dad is the fun one who lets the kid watch Transformers. The implication often is that kids don't really need the protections their mothers insist on, but their dads will pretend to respect these protections in the interests of keeping the peace. Practically speaking, these kinds of tiny subterfuges happen all the time in families, and cut both ways: Dad lets you watch an extra hour of TV while Mom's at work, Mom feeds you pizza while Dad's out of town. Complete agreement between parents is an ideal I've never seen a family unit achieve. A more realistic goal, probably, is simply to avoid breaking your co-parents' rules in ways that seriously undermine his or her authority. This isn't just good for discipline in the short-term — it's a smart long-term strategy too. There are few things more upsetting for a woman than hearing a male friend or boyfriend chuckle with his dad about how "crazy" Mom is — respecting both parents' rules helps make kids into better adults.
I don't think I ever told Dad I saw The Cell. If I had, though, I probably would've been in trouble — when Mom did lay down the law, he tended to take that law pretty seriously. The fact that he was usually the one telling me not to see a slasher movie/stay out all night/drive to New Mexico was probably good for me — I learned that family dynamics shake out lots of different ways, and if I have kids someday, I'll be less likely to think I have to be the no-fun one just because I'm the mom. Lest you think my dad was no fun at all: we did end up seeing White Fang, mostly because he really wanted to. Oh, and The Cell? It was simultaneously boring and disgusting, and basically totally sucked. Moral: sometimes your parents are right.
Are Moms The Stricter Sex When It Comes To Movies? [About.com]
She's Not A Time-Bomb: Are Men Teaching Kids To Respect Women? [Huffington Post]
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