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Can we talk about honesty? Honesty is the best policy. Or so we are told. And we tell our kids. At least I do.
My husband and I make our best efforts to be up front with our boys, including giving them straight answers about things like death, divorce, and where babies come from. Sure, we participate in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but with enough of a dramatic nudge and wink that even a 2nd grader can get the message.
But I've been noticing that when it comes to honesty, some parents don't walk the talk. Here's one example: My sons' school instituted a no-peanut policy a few years ago. While my family loves PB&Js, we all but banished the stuff from our house. While griping with some mom friends about the difficulties of finding a substitute that wasn't too thick, too runny or too bland, I was surprised by one woman's reaction.
"Oh, I send the peanut butter anyway," she shrugged, "I just tell my kids to keep it to themselves and not make a big deal about it."
While I don't condone a "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy when it comes to potential anaphylactic shock, what about the little white lies? I frequently hear other moms warning their kids not to tell their classmates about a birthday party or playdate to which they weren't invited. Or coaching their children about what to say when the pediatrician asks how much time they spend in front of the TV.
While most parents—in polite company, at least—would avow that honesty is a virtue, their actions aren't necessarily backing that up. They may give the kids extra sweets, and tell them, "It's our little secret," then are dismayed when their children lie about the broken window. Where did they learn that? Must be that one hour of TV they're watching every day.
My bigger fear is that my kids are too forthcoming.
When we talk about worrying about kids and honesty, you might think I'm concerned about my children not telling the truth. Actually, no. My bigger fear is that my kids are too forthcoming. When one of the boys gets an extra cookie or more screen time, he usually goes running to his brother to gloat, "Guess what I got?" They've also been known to tell me, "Mom, I think those pants are too small for you."
What if all this candor is not a good survival skill for my kids in their adult lives? I worry that nice guys really do finish last, and that always telling the truth is for Boy Scouts and George Washington, or a campy punchline in a Mormon church commercial. In the dark corners of my mind, I wonder if all this emphasis on truthfulness may be setting them up to be taken advantage of in a society where a semblance of truth is good enough.
Perhaps it's because I'm a person who is frank, sometimes to a fault. I've been known to say exactly what I'm thinking when it might have been more prudent to keep my mouth shut. Case in point: Here I am, doubting the value of honesty, while at the same time congratulating myself for raising such upstanding children. What kind of mother admits to such things?
And it's then that I realize that teaching our children to have integrity is not just about being a goody two shoes. Being honest isn't just the absence of telling lies to cover one's own ass; it's also the courage to say things that need to be said—even when there's risk involved. It's the compassion to stand up for another person when it's not popular to do so. And sometimes, it's just feeling comfortable enough with ourselves to express what's on our minds.