With all due respect to Anne Lenox, I would and I do lie. And so do my kids, what feels like dozens of times each day. It’s one of our biggest family issues. Anyone who tells you differently is, well…
Yep, even pastor’s kids. (Mine are double PK’s, after all. Some have said the poor kids don’t stand a chance. But I believe they do!)
So, back to lying. Whether it’s the kids’ “I brushed my teeth,” or the parental “I never promised you that,” or anyone’s “I’ll do it in a minute” doozie, lying impacts how we relate to one another. Trust can be broken quick as a wink, but takes a longer time to restore it. So how do we cope with lying?
In my well-thumbed copy of Parenting with Love and Logic by Jim Fay Foster Cline, the section on lying is dog-eared, most worn of all. It recommends being empathetic first, “Gee, I can see how it’d be tempting to tell a whopper on this one,” then holding your boundary kindly, without anger.* It is amazing how toothbrushes for younger kids and car keys for teens can become powerful teaching tools about lying.
In our house, one with ADHD and impulse control issues admits that lies just pop off the tongue unexpectedly, with ridiculous claims and promises squirting out of the child’s mouth at any given minute. We use a “Whoops. I got that wrong” instant admission option for this one. It still takes courage to admit the lie, but the child has been learning it is way better to admit right away, than to let it snowball.
What about the parental lies we tell? “Sure I’m watching you (for the tenth time in a row).” My son once called me out, “No mommy, watch me with BOTH eyes.” Or the many variations on the parents’ guilt-induced promise, “I’ll make it up to you. I’ll buy you a pony.” My most frequent seems to be, “Yep, I’ll put your clothes in the dryer for you.” But then I don’t bother to set an alarm or take action to make my promise happen.
I’m certain our kids learn more from our keeping or not keeping our promises (and from our often-overheard, white lies) than they learn from our lectures. How do we handle it when caught? Can we swallow our pride? Keep a firm commitment to truth, even to our own discomfort? (Thanks to Steve Hayner, who taught us that.) Apologize when we get it wrong and work to make it right? Have some “fierce conversations” to face reality and reestablish truth and trust?
A few years ago, I went ballistic when a child was only coming clean on the smallest fraction, the tiniest percentage of what they had done. More and more crud kept coming to light. A counselor explained, “Any teenager is only gonna admit to what we catch them on, when we absolutely prove they’ve done it. Maybe that much. It’s self-preservation. Don’t expect anything else.” Wise parents beware kids’ words, “I swear it’s true!”
The Bible addresses this, “Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37, NIV). But as always, let’s use Scripture to train and rebuke with gentleness, not as a tool with which to hammer our kids (or ourselves).
One time I asked four-year-old CC why she said ‘that.’ She threw up her hands and replied, “The devil.” She was a Church Lady, long before she saw Dana Carvey in the SNL skit. And apparently a Presbycostal, for she stepped out onto the porch, raised her hands to heaven and prayed loudly, “O Lord, help me to obey my mommy so I can do what’s right.” She stepped back inside, brushing her hands off, “Well, that’s taken care of.”
Funny, but she made a good point. We can also pray with and for each other, asking the Holy Spirit to help us be truthful and to forgive us when we’ve screwed up. But only if we’re ready to keep it real. Kids have incredibly accurate lie detectors.
Can we afford to say “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you” only when we are good and ready to mean it? Do feel free to wait. It may not have taken much time to construct that whopper, but it does take time to repair it. Sometimes we say those loving words first and only THEN do we discover we mean them. Our kids, our spouses, our own selves are in need of more grace, not less. Let’s try to lavish it when we can!
Rev. Steve Weed tells of a man who wrote a note and tucked it into the glovebox of his shiny, new sports car, with the insurance papers, just in case. The note read, “Honey, if you need to use these papers, remember I love you more than this car.” She discovered it the very moment she needed TLC (and a tow truck).
That’s grace. When we offer it unexpectedly, it always arrives with great welcome. It’s the most powerful tool we parents have, along with firm boundaries and toothbrushes. Grace.
*For more details on the Love and Logic approach including the classes which I facilitate, go to http://www.loveandlogic.com, and specifically for dealing with lying, go to http://www.loveandlogic.com/p-661-childhood-lying-stealing-and-cheating-mp3-download.aspx