What is the most important trait you hope to instill in your
children? Honesty was in my top five list back when my kids were little (and
still teachable). But here's the thing about parenting—discretions that you
might deem as unacceptable might not really be as important as you think.
Because in spite of all my worries, both of my kids lied.
Wait, what? I feel your scorn and disapproval of my
parenting skills. I always expected my kids to tell the truth, no matter what.
My son was a very logical, black-and-white thinker, so honesty seemed like the
only way to live as far as he was concerned—at least until opportunity came
along. And when you want something badly enough, there is a fine line between
happiness and a little white lie.
I was recently looking through a pile of old cards and letters when I came
across something I had long forgotten. A carefully handwritten, two-page apology
letter addressed to Mom and Dad. The crime? My son had sneaked a book into the
bathroom. Apparently one of my "rules" was that books were not allowed in the
bathroom. Um, what?
Older me thinks younger me was a bit insane (because
reading). As I read his heartfelt letter of apology I remembered the incident.
I suspected that he had a book in there and flat out asked him through the
door. Talk about a setup! Poor kid had to make a split-second decision. He
chose to tell me he didn't have a book, and when he came out of the bathroom he
tried to conceal it under his shirt. Caught red-handed, he was assigned an
appropriate punishment: Write a letter explaining why what he did was wrong.
But was it really that big of a deal that he lied about a
book? He was an avid reader, which is certainly not a bad trait. Maybe my rule
about no books in the bathroom was too harsh in the first place. And setting
him up to lie certainly didn't help matters. Looking back at this incident—and
the sweet letter—makes me cringe. What was I worried about? His lies didn't get
bigger and he didn't choose a life of crime. He is probably one of the most
honest people I know, even now.
The "don't ever do this" rules
Pretty sure I was over-parenting.
Another parenting habit that can lead your kids to lie is telling them that
there is something they must NEVER DO. And when you are thick in the middle of
parenting little people—from toddlers to teens—it's easy to issue these rules
as a way to feel like you are nailing the parenting gig. When my daughter was
in first grade she hurt herself while playing in her friend's backyard. When I
arrived to pick her up she immediately started sobbing, which was unusual for
her. Turned out she had a broken arm. We waited in the emergency room for what
seemed like an eternity and she also had to miss her class trip to the pumpkin
patch in favor of a cast fitting.
So where's the lie? Just a few years ago, probably nine years
after the incident, my daughter admitted that she lied to me about how she
broke her arm. Apparently I had issued a "rule" and told her never to jump off
a swing because she could break her arm. Yep, I said it. So when she decided to
jump and she really did break her arm, she chose to tell me that she had tripped
and fallen in the tan bark. And of course I bought it—why would she lie, right?
The story is funny now, but I honestly have no recollection of this particular
rule or warning of mine. Pretty sure I was over-parenting there. She too has
steered clear of a life of crime, thank you very much.
Is it really fair to expect kids to always be truthful? Aunt
Mary doesn't really want to hear that you hate her rice pudding, and Grandma
won't cherish hearing the words "you're fat" from her grandson. Teach your kids
the difference between lying and being polite, then step back and let them
figure it out. And if you catch your kid with a book in the bathroom, count
your blessings—you're raising a reader.