Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lying (What did she tell you?)

My little one has been perfecting her lying recently.

“Did you just scribble over all these walls?” I ask.

“No.” she answers.

“It wasn’t you who did this?”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“But the marker in your hand is the same color as the scribbles.”

“Funny! But it wasn’t me.”

We assess each other for a moment.

If I wanted to, I could play the mean Mommy. I could pursue a tribunal-style interrogation, bring in witnesses and push her into a dramatic, teary confession, which would result in nothing constructive really. Or I could concoct a simple ploy. I would admire the painting; then inquire as to the wonderful artist whose work needs praising. But, I don’t. I don’t, because what’s the point? To punish and make her feel bad - or to try and instill a lesson of which I am still not sure of.  

“I understand.” I finally say “Well, I want whoever drew on the walls to know that art is fantastic but in this house I would much rather it be on paper, so please no scribbling on the walls” I quickly add: “Or on the furniture!”

And, I leave it that.

Later, it hits me that I should have addressed the lying. Not necessarily create a battle about it, but more of a ‘you can tell me anything without fear’ context. One of my goals for a healthy parent-child relationship is to share honesty. I want both my daughters to know, that as they grow up, they can tell me anything without fear. They can share their secrets, angst, worries big or small. I want them to know that if they are ever partying the night away, they can call me up anytime they want, because they need a ride home. No questions asked. No judgment added.

I also want them to know, that from my perspective, lying is not a horrible thing. I’m not talking about psychopathic tendencies here, but little white lies and even big gray ones. Lying can serve a purpose, and can be a good thing sometimes.

All humans lie, if you disagree, you are either lying to yourself or to the people around you. As a parent it’s fascinating to see how early, naturally, and instinctively it is developed. Not all children lie. My first is way too honest, which worries me more than an occasional lie because in life, we sometimes need filters, and lying can be that for us.

 “If you truly want honesty, don't ask questions you don't really want the answer to”

Sometimes, we want to know the truth, we need to know the truth, but on a day-to-day basis, how much truth do we really need in our lives? 

There are moments when truth is essential, and there are moments when lying is as much about self preservation as not choosing to divulge intimate details about your finances, relationship, and personal matters to others. I am not encouraging lying regularly per se, but there is no need to share what you are not comfortable with.

As long as you are essentially a kind, and relatively honest person, what harm does an occasional lie do? Unfiltered truths can cause more pain than most people are prepared to deal with, so an occasional omission might be a better option.

The bigger lesson and the one I hope to teach with time, is that she doesn’t need to lie out of fear, but if she’s not comfortable sharing something, that’s okay too.


  1. I loved reading your piece this week, Patricia. Brings me back to when I was pint size and did my share of harmless, fingers crossed promises! Okay, I promise not to go to the corner store to buy candy, mom… Wink, wink!

    Earlier this year, my four-year old pulled her first lie. And it was over a spilled cup of milk on the dining room table. Of course, she quickly denied spilling it and further, blamed her baby brother, who wasn’t even in the room! And I read “Liar” all over her face, not to mention her awkward body language.

    While it was the first for me as a parent to deal with this lying situation, I almost reacted badly and was about to launch into her deception. I caught myself and thought, “… My God, she’s only four. It’s not going to be the last time. I have to put an end to this….” But how? Instead of calling her out on it and giving her a spanking (Yes, I do spank.), I conferred with a wise sibling. Dismayed at what my sister told me – It’s a natural part of growing up. Don’t’ be hard on her - I digested it and decided against calling out my daughter on her lie in all out controlling fashion. My sister further explained that babies, yes, even babies quickly become misleading. Remember, the fake cries? Pretend they are suffering when they are nourished, have a clean diaper and are not overtired… Wow. To validate her explanation, I Googled lying in infants and toddlers. And she was right. By age five, many children get very adept at being able to lie to others. And more often they learn this behavior at home, and from their parents. Shocking? Not really. (Raising my hand here.) I lie to my daughter for many reasons: 1. I want to protect her; 2. At her tender age, she doesn’t always know and understand the right answer; and 3. As a working parent, I am tired and sometimes, I lie because I am LAZY. Case in point: If a little white lie won’t hurt them, hey, what’s the big deal? If not, you will have this Mama on the ledge all the freakin’ time! So:
    Kloe, Mama said “No” three times. You cannot play with my phone. No is no. (Continuous whining). Why? Okay, I will tell you why. My phone is dead. It needs to be recharged (I had turned my phone off to show her that the phone is “dead.”). Okay? And No means No.
    Similar to your approach, I remained calm, sat down and talked to my daughter the next day about the issue at hand. She finally fessed up, admitting she lied to avoid getting into trouble. In the end, I reminded her of the golden rules in the house, including lying, consequences, honesty and the importance of telling the truth at all times. My husband and I chose not to punish her; rather, this will be a lesson learned, as we wait for the next episode. I read that the teenage years are going to be tough and a major challenge when it comes to lying and deception.

    So, kudos to you for recognizing the bigger lesson. That saying goes, “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her (him)…” Good luck in your adventure when your girls act truthfulness-challenged!

    1. Ah, blaming the poor baby brother! Good one. You have to admire her quick thinking with that move. I feel kind of bad for the first child, all the normal naughty behavior get such a bad reaction from us parents that by the time the little ones come along we don't feel anything is as big of a deal anymore. I am sure she learned her lesson. Here is to honesty in the family! xox

  2. As a teacher, I've dealt with kids who lie almost as a reflex in that a lie comes out of their mouths even when there's no harm in telling the truth. I find those kids hard to deal with and wonder how they got that way. As a parent, I also feel that unfiltered truth can be worse than a white lie. Interesting piece.

    1. I have to agree that it's sad and frustrating when kids lie out of reflex, but I question their motives, their upbringing, the 'why'. And funny in life, I often do prefer my truth lightly filtered. Thanks for your comment!

  3. I respect your point of view and agree that there are better ways to promote truth and sharing than shaming and forcing. I also agree with you and Marcy that the unfiltered truth can be worse than a white life. I liked your quote in the middle. It reminded me of a time I answered someone honestly (we had a close relationship) and they didn't like my answer. I responded, "Don't ask me something you don't want to know the answer to." In that instance, truth was the best. I'm glad to find your blog and look forward to reading more of your posts!

    1. Yes, truth is essential for the most part though for some moments I much prefer some filtering. Thank you for your comment!

  4. As always, a well written, thoughtful essay, Patricia. I'm not a parent so the whole concept of imparting wisdom to a child is a mystery to me -- an important one, though, as what you teach your child largely dictates the kind of world we live in. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. I have been knee deep in the lying phase with my oldest son for a couple of years now. He lies of out fear (like when he thinks I am going to ream him for tossing the lunch I packed him and eating hot lunch) and he lies because it's more convenient for him (e.g., did you take out the trash. yes. as he returns to his iPad and the barrel is overflowing next to me).

    I agree with you that I don't want my child lying out of fear, and I hate that one of my earlier reactions to a lie when he was younger have led to that in certain situations. It's a tough balance to find.

    Unfortunately, now I am trying to correct the damage by teaching him that the lie will often lead to more negative consequences that the initial bad action.

    1. As a parent, I can sympathize with having to deal with an annoying situation over and over again, it is frustrating at best. Sometimes it helps to pull back and revisit with some calm sage words at a later time. Sometimes even that doesn't work. Parenting is always a tough balance for sure. Good luck and thank you for your thoughtful comment.