“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” ~Mark Twain
As I mentioned in my last post, I decided that we needed a set of family rules. I thought I would address the first rule on our list. Honesty. Please forgive my misuse of semi-colons and commas.
The rule states, “Always Tell the Truth”, but I think I might change it to a simple, “Always Be Honest”, since it’s more inclusive of other types of dishonesty. Although, lying is probably the more common offense in most households.
My two older kids used to tell me the occasional fib or white lie when they were pre-schoolers, but I didn’t get too upset about it. Except for when I asked a toddler if they had poop in their diaper and they said “No”.
Never, ever believe a toddler if they deny having a poopy dipe. It’s always untrue.
Dishonesty with a deliberate intent to deceive or manipulate is a little different. Admittedly, dealing with this is a real challenge for me. Restraining myself from going all lady-prison-warden on them is difficult. I want to scream and yell and be sarcastic and disproportionately disrespectful, because that is how I was raised.
Yep, I hate to admit it, but I was not a perfect child…
I know. Shocking.
One particular offense haunts me to this day. It was one of the “Big Ones” because not only did I lie; I kicked it up a notch by stealing, too.
When I was eleven, I went to see “Ice Castles”. You know that movie about the ice skater who loses her sight after a terrible accident but perseveres and skates again with the love and encouragement of her hunky boyfriend?
I think I saw that movie ten times after it came out. From that point on, I wanted to be a famous ice skater and marry Robby Benson. I would “skate” around my front yard, my driveway, parking lots…anywhere there was a lot of space for me to do my axels and split-leaps…you know, ice-skater-y stuff. Except without skates. I was so talented. I think the neighbors thought I was just different.
At some point, I decided that I reeeaaaaaally needed a pretty blue skating dress…
…so I could be just like “Lexie Winston” from the movie.
And since I didn’t have a job or any wealthy benefactors, I did a terrible thing.
Back in the ‘70’s, my mom wore a fragrance called Xanadu. There were gift sets that came in this lovely purple velvet box.
After she had used the contents, she used the box as a hiding place for extra cash, jewelry, and other sentimental stuff like a lock of hair from when I was a tiny babe and the nametag she used in nursing school. She kept the box in her top dresser drawer underneath her Barbizon nighties. How did I know this? Because I was a nosy kid just like all other nosy kids.
There was a stack of twenties nestled all lonely and bored in one corner of the box just begging to be spent. So I liberated some of it, about $60. Surely that would be enough for my outfit, and SURELY my mother wouldn’t miss it. I knew it was wrong, but I was blinded by my own desire to have something that I wanted. so. bad. I had to have it. I needed it. Needed it NOW.
Me and the stolen $60 went to the mall with one of my friends to see a movie and then go “window shopping”. Her dad drove us there and dropped us off.
We walked all over that mall, but there were no ice-skating dresses to be found like the one I wanted. Instead, I found a journal at the Hallmark store. I had always wanted one of those, too. When I saw it, I decided that I needed it pronto.
Incidentally, it was my first journal…as well as my first inclination toward my often-quashed desire to become a writer. I filled a few more journals from that point onward, although they aren’t near as pretty as my first one.
I came home from my failed ice-skating dress excursion feeling a slight sense of accomplishment for having scored the journal, only to find that my friend’s dad had ratted me out. Turns out, he called my mom and told her that I had “bragged” (who, me?) about my big wad of cash and how I couldn’t wait to spend it on my new skating dress. He found it odd that an eleven-year-old had that much money and thought she should know. Hmm…I guess it wasn’t too smart of me to mention the fact that I was loaded. How did he know that I didn’t have a job or a wealthy benefactor?
Well, my mom was mad. REAL mad. Not only did I commit thievery against her; I was a liar, too, because I denied taking the money after she had initially asked me about it, even though she was presenting me with the evidence: A guilty ball of crumpled skating dress dreams and some change all squished up in my tiny coin purse.
My mother, who was never, uh, equipped to handle any misdeeds committed by her children, did what came naturally to her.
After telling me (i.e. yelling) that she was going to call the police and have me put in jail for the night, she cut me off. No calm discussions of why it’s wrong to steal or lie. No hugs, no kisses, no nothin’. No forgiveness whatsoever.
What I remember most from that event is being scared to death that she didn’t love me anymore. I was remorseful, and I was mortified by my own behavior. I apologized over and over, but she wouldn’t listen; she wouldn’t let me hug her or sit next to her. She was silent. She was cold. She was a wall.
But she took any and all opportunities to call me “thief” and “liar”.
I was eleven, folks. I believed her when she said I was going to the pen. I was terrified out of my wits for the rest of the day and all night, periodically looking out my window for police lights.
It took a few days before my mom would even look at me without shaking her head, a painful reminder of her disappointment. I think I’m still grounded.
After that whole experience, every time I looked at the journal I bought, I was reminded of my own moral ineptitude, so I couldn’t bear to write in it for a while. I’m surprised my mom let me keep the thing, but perhaps that was part of her plan. It was a good year before I could start actually writing in it.
I suppose my mother’s chosen method for dealing with my dishonesty was one way to go about things, and maybe she had good intentions; but she also instilled in me a fear of her that wasn’t healthy, and I never felt like I could talk to her about certain things. It’s not how I will choose to deal with my own children’s forays into dishonesty.
And I know that they will lie.
Perhaps it takes a few walks down that path before a person realizes it’s just a dead end. Perhaps it’s human nature. Part of the curriculum.
I have to say that some of the fibs we’ve heard have been quite entertaining. Like the one where #1 (at age 4) told me that she hadn’t used any of the makeup that her Nana bought her, after being told not to get into it without supervision….
I had to laugh at that.
Or the one where she said she hadn’t put a marker in her mouth…
We actually have video of the interrogation. So cute.
Those are innocent untruths…nothing that screams “seeds of evil”. However, she’s five years older now, and at an age where she and her younger sister have learned to lie…well…with more purpose.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever want my kids to be afraid to come tell me stuff, no matter how awful or embarrassing or heinous. I want them to trust me and their dad and always know that we love them in spite of their criminal deeds. So I won’t go all “cold, silent wall” on them or call them names after they’ve been caught. There has to be some sort of communication about it or we all shut down and nothing is learned.
Whenever we suspect that a dishonest act has occurred, my little perps are reminded that parents usually know when they are being lied to. It’s one of the superpowers that we receive after the birth of the first kid. Along with eyes in the back of our heads. They are constantly amazed by my psychic ability.
If they confess the truth after they are questioned about the possibility that they were dishonest about something (innocent until proven guilty and all that), they will still be punished, but the sentence might be less harsh. I feel that in this way, we are showing them that forthrightness is the smart move. Be accountable. Do the right thing. Choose honesty first.
If they choose not to be honest, well…things are a little more unpleasant. Punishment is harsher and longer. There are no threats of a visit from the cops, or a trip to prison without possibility of parole, but it might as well be when we take all of their “stuff” away. That’s about as bad as being on a chain gang or put on the rack.
Either way, honest or not, we love them. We try to make sure that they know it, too. Even through gritted teeth. These are hard lessons to learn (and teach), but I suppose it’s part of becoming a human being with a decent set of morals.
I know that as they get older and into their tween/teen years, things are likely to get more complicated. Okay, a LOT more complicated. I’ve heard some scary stories…
What do you do when your child is dishonest? Do you use the same methods as your parents? Or did those methods inspire you to do something different? I’d love to hear your stories.
A little funny tidbit: I now use the purple Xanadu box for the same stuff my mom used it for except for the money. It’s on the top shelf of my closet where little hands can’t reach.