Great-Aunt Bess asked if I wanted some of her fruitcake this year, so of course I told her I would love some and that we look forward to it every year. I mean, it’s what you say, right? You don’t tell her it nearly broke your tooth, and then you dropped it on your toe while lugging it to the garbage can and swore like a motherfucker because you were pretty sure you had cracked a metatarsal. Making fruitcake makes her unbelievably happy. She’s convinced it is our favorite holiday treat. I don’t care if my kids witnessed me saying this. I would rather they see me tell a white Lie instead of telling Great-Aunt Bess the Truth and see her heart break in two right before my eyes.
Same goes for when we are at the pediatrician’s office, and she asks how much screen time my kids are getting each day, and I blurt out, “Oh, an hour or so.” Everyone in the room (including her) knows I am lying my ass off, but I dare them to say a word.
The way I see it, parents have earned the right to lie a little when they see fit. Whether it’s to spare someone’s feelings or just to avoid a lecture, we are the boss, so we get to decide when to lie. Problem is, as your kids get older they witness these lies from you and their peers and may start to dabble in lying themselves. Good thing for us (and them), we know how to steer them in the direction of honesty because we usually know when our kids are being lying-liar faces.
They should know there are consequences. That being honest is a quality that people should strive for.
When my kids come to me and tell me they did not feed the dog their peas, even though I just saw it with my own eyeballs, they get even more peas. If they are going to tell me they did not pinch their sister, even though she is sporting two red fingerprints on her right arm and sobbing into my breast as I am trying to work, they are going to have to apologize and follow up by doing something nice for her — something so nice it will make them think again before they decide to turn into a lying-pinchy-pincher.
Sometimes lies are justified.
If we are at a friend’s house and they are serving undercooked ham and potatoes that taste like charbroiled leather shoes, but they still say, “Thank you. Dinner was delicious,” they will probably get rewarded with fast food on the way home because they didn’t gag at the table or ask the hostess if she was serving dog food for dinner. Sometimes a fib is better than telling the truth, but it’s an art that must be taught.
They should know lying doesn’t make them a bad person. At the same time, I want my kids to know it is wrong to lie, but I have seen firsthand that if I am too hard on them, they feel ashamed and then lie even more because they don’t want me to think they are bad. I explain to them that I know they are really good kids who are making a bad decision, and they can make it right by telling me the truth. It makes them feel like they are in a safer space where it’s OK to tell the truth.
I try really hard not to get into a big, emotional discussion with my children about lying. All kids lie, even the best-behaved ones. They have a certain thirst for risk and excitement because they are kids. I have found (for my family anyway) if I am very matter-of-fact and respond with “If you tell me the truth, your punishment will be a lot easier on both of us,” they are more likely to come clean. It’s hard not to feel hurt when they lie to me, but I try not to make it about that because I have seen it breed even more lies when they become so afraid of disappointing me. It’s not a cycle anyone wants to find themselves in.
Lies make it hard to trust again.
My youngest is going through a stage where he likes to blurt out things like, “The dog ate the sofa while we were gone!” He does this just to get a rise out of his already frazzled, uptight mother. The dog has never eaten the sofa, but he is capable of doing so and has eaten rugs and such. I get a little flustered when we step in the door after an all-day outing and think I am going to walk into a tornado of feathers and fabric.
It took a few conversations, but I let him know if something really important was happening that needed my attention and he was trying to tell me about it, I need to be able to trust he isn’t just trying to get a reaction out of me because I might not react if I don’t believe him. What if he really needed my help and I thought he was just fooling around and didn’t respond? That would be scary for both of us. This is where the story “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” came in handy for me — worked like a charm.
Little kids tell little lies; big kids tell big lies.
As my kids get older and I talk to them about the importance of telling the truth about where they are and whom they are with, our discussions can get heated. I try to let us all cool off during these times and tackle the issue after we have all had space from it.
It makes things more comfortable for everyone involved. And the fact that I try with everything inside me not to freak out, and to let everyone regroup first, helps our communication tremendously. What child is going to really spill the truth while their mother is already at the end of her rope asking them why they are causing her such despair with their wicked lies?
So for my family, a combination of punishment, objectiveness, and understanding has gotten us through some real whoppers. But honestly, force-feeding them some of Great-Aunt Bess’s fruitcake has also worked rather nicely when I need them to cough up the truth about something. If that doesn’t work, I’ll drop it on their toe.