(This article appears in the 1/18/11 edition of The Review Atlas a Gatehouse Media Company)
My little girl is a liar. It’s sad but true. I’ve taught her that honesty is the best policy. She knows I expect her to be truthful and that in our home we strive to live a life full of integrity but despite all my guidance she lied and even worse, hid the evidence.
Thankfully she’s a mere six years old and her con skills are a little underdeveloped.
She has the same homework everyday – reading. Her teacher sends home a book and everyday, shortly after our ritual afterschool snack, I sit and my daughter reads to me.
After yesterday’s reading however, I noticed the parent signature sheet (proof that I indeed listened to her read) sitting in the trash can. Well, I thought, this is a mistake nay, a potential catastrophe! Had I not rescued this precious paper from the trash we could have had a monumental meltdown in the morning.
But the paper didn’t have my signature on it. Instead all the lines were marked, “Read with father”. Quite odd. If my daughter read with her father why didn’t dear ‘ol dad sign it himself? So I investigated. When questioned, Daddy just shrugged his shoulders as he had no idea. It was becoming apparent that our little darling reported work she hadn’t done. Certainly Daddy would have remembered sitting through eight torturous, er, I mean, fantastic chapters of the tale of a boy and his oversized dog. If you’ve ever been there and you know what I mean just give me a little nod, will ya? Listening to a new reader, no matter how adorable there are, can be painful. Once (and only once) during a riveting episode of Oprah I hit the mute button and simultaneously listened to my daughter read while following the closed captions scrolling across the screen. Not my finest parenting moment.
It was becoming clear that our little darling lied and hid the evidence. This just will not do.
When questioned my little girl had no answer as to how the paper got in the trash or who wrote “read with father” on her paper.
This little episode came on the heels of my last parenting article about Natural Consequences. Don’tcha hate it when your own words come back to haunt you?
I knew one thing for sure, shrugged shoulders would not be an adequate response to the questions I had. I was determined, and patient enough, to wait for the truth. “Well, when you are ready to confess how this could have happened you need to come tell me. Until then, off to your bed you go”.
Teary eyed she headed upstairs. If she had a tail it would have been tucked between her legs as she slowly moped off towards her room.
A few minutes later, here she comes. The same questions were asked and I’ll be darned if I didn’t get the same response, shrug.
“Back to your room!”
This time with tears streaming down her face my not-so-little angel returned. “Are you ready to tell the truth?” nod. “What happened?” shrug.
“Go back to your room and please don’t come down to talk until you really have some answers for me!”
An eternity later, she emerged from her room, head hung low, arms clutching her favorite stuffed doggy we kneeled down to greet her, giving her our full attention. She put her face in daddy’s neck, unable to look us in the eye. I could see she was broken. My eyes swelled with tears. I knew she understood the depth of her little white lie. Her broken spirit was painful, to her and me. But with great bravery she was able to overcome her own embarrassment and shame and confess what happened.
I couldn’t have been prouder. I lavished my love on her.
We didn’t take away her video games. She wasn’t sent to bed without any supper. She didn’t get spanked or yelled at. She was able to play with her siblings that very evening and all her toys remained accessible. The only discipline my daughter received for her deception was a natural consequence. For her the weight of exposing herself and making it right, to suffer the look of disappointment in her parents eyes, were lessons enough. I suspect the feeling will hang with her the next time she thinks about telling a lie.
What my daughter did isn’t a new behavior. It didn’t even really take me by surprise. Within each and every one of us, going way back to the story of the first man and woman in the garden is the innate ability to lie, hide and cover up our mistakes. My job as a parent is to show her a different way to live, to teach her how to strive for better and make things right when she falls short. Because we all will fall short. May we, as people and as parents who long for a positive future for our children, learn to confess and apologize more easily for our shortcomings. May we be quick to forgive those who are responsible enough to do so. Why? Because I’m the Mom and I said so! That’s why!