Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Everybody Lies

Millie writes:

The other day I wrote about how important it is to me that my kids tell me the truth. The fact is, everybody lies.

For the most part, most days, most of them do tell us the truth.

Not always.

I'm not talking about hideous life-altering falsehoods (usually), I'm talking about little lies of convenience or of omission. One of my kids is convinced that cheerfully saying, “Not yet!” instead of “No” when he's asked if he's finished his chores gives the impression that he was just on his way to the broom cupboard, Mother Dear; technically that's more of a diversion than a lie, I guess. One of my now-adult kids lied all the time about everything, just for practice as far as I could tell.

Often when they lie to me I know it; not only do I know they're lying, I know the truth as well. There are times I don't call them on this and there are two reasons for that: One, there are fairly innocent things that your mom doesn't necessarily need to know about (like a high-school senior skipping school to attend the “unofficial” Senior Picnic) and Two, I may be able to use it as ammunition later (kidding . . . well, half-kidding). One of the funniest conversations I've had with my kids was the one with two then-college students who abruptly realized, watching me deal with a high-school sibling, that I'd known some of their high-school secrets all along.

Some lies are almost universal: just about every kid will lie to you at some point about homework being finished, chores being done or the ever-popular, “No, I didn't do it! It wasn't me!” In my experience a 5-year-old and a 16-year-old are far more likely to lie to your face than any other age; I think it has to do, first, with the realization that your Mommy doesn't see what's inside your head, and second, with the realization that your Mom isn't with you most of the time.

All parents must deal with lying. I have always made sure the kids know that if they tell me the truth about something they've done, any punishment will be lessened or avoided altogether. When we catch them in lies – and it does happen – they are punished twice, once for whatever they did and again for lying.

I also make sure to be honest with them. If they're getting a shot at the doctor's appointment, I tell them; if I vacuumed over the cord and sucked all the insulation off it, I tell them (rather than blaming the damage on whoever has the vacuuming chore). If Friday is allowance day, they get their allowance on Friday if I have to go return aluminum cans late Thursday night to round up the cash. I can't expect them to be dependable if I'm not. Trust is a two-way street.

Once you've caught a kid in a “minor” lie, faced him with it and punished him for it, it's essential that you drop the subject. If he's paid his debt to society, be friendly and forthcoming with him – don't treat him like a pariah. This can be difficult, because there's a feeling of betrayal when your child is dishonest with you – YOU, who are always on his side – but if you continue to shun him after a small lie, he may figure that he may as well move up to the big ones if he's going to be paying the price anyway. Aim to cause a bit of remorse and embarrassment followed by relief that you love him anyway, not unrelenting angst.

Some lies are not so easily forgivable. There's a difference between a spur-of-the-moment “I didn't break the window” lie and a long-term plan to deceive you, and some kids lie about things that can hurt them or put someone else in danger. As children grow older, you grant them increasing freedom - to do things like join sports teams, engage in extracurricular activities, go out with friends and drive cars - in direct proportion to how much you trust them.

If a minor child drinks, takes drugs, isn't where he said he'd be, sleeps around, gets into fights, or does anything else that consistently undermines your trust – stop trusting him. If he has proven to you that he can't look after himself in public, don't let him go out in public without you. If he's in school, drop him off and pick him up; talk to the principal or the counselor about revoking his off-campus privileges, if any. Put the kibosh on anything social, extracurricular or fun. Explain to this little darling that he's lost your trust and that he will have to earn it back before he can make his own decisions again.

It will be ugly, but it's necessary. This is one of those times when you have to put away the velvet glove and show the iron fist. Your child must know that you mean what you say – because that's what you're demanding of him.

And I'm not lyin'.

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