Once upon a time, before I became a mom, I believed that I would never lie to my offspring. I believed this firmly, as firmly as I believed that a few exposures to any given food would guarantee that a child would learn to accept it—yea, even love it. Or that a toddler cleverly offered two acceptable choices (for example, that between the red pajamas or the striped ones) would dutifully pick one instead of, say, fleeing the room mightily protesting bedtime. Or that there was never any reason to bribe a child.
But parenthood divested me of these notions. My sons have yet to willingly consume black beans despite the beans’ frequent presence at our table. The “just give them a choice and they’ll automatically cooperate” tactic: futile. And if M&Ms are the key to persuading a four-year-old to swallow his medicine? So be it.
And despite my lofty aspirations, I have told Sonny and Ace things that aren’t true.
“Close your eyes, and I’ll push a button so the car will fly over that overpass. It only works if you close your eyes, though.” (My dad used to feed this line to my sisters and me, and we turned out okay. Besides, it’s fun.)
“It’s against the law to whine on your mom’s birthday.” (Don’t judge me. It works.)
“If you walk around with food on your face, the bunnies will come and lick it off.” (Do I get credit for saying “bunnies” instead of “cheetahs”?)
“I guess I’m getting a cold.” (This on the terrible evening of the Sandy Hook massacre, when at bedtime Sonny asked me why my voice sounded funny. Even the simplest honest explanation—“I’m sad because some people got hurt”—would have spawned more questions whose answers I could not give.)
“I can tell always if you haven’t brushed your teeth.” (Regrettably, this is not true; my mom-skill set is incomplete. I can sometimes tell, though, and they need to brush their teeth, right?)
“You can’t have a cookie because the jackals came this morning and ate them all.” (Dinner was being dished up at the time. Ask a silly question, get a silly answer.)
“The class I took on how to be a mean mom recommended never saying yes to anything.” (Contrary to his contention, I don’t say no to everything. Just so we’re clear.)
So it’s true. I’ve lied to my kids. This should probably unsettle me more than it does.
But I am more unsettled by the truths I tell my children. Oh, I believe them wholeheartedly, and I want Sonny and Ace to believe them, too. But sometimes I worry that my actions will belie my words so that Sonny and Ace will regard as lies truths such as the following:
- God loves everyone. He doesn’t hate anyone.
- It’s okay, often even good, to make mistakes. You don’t have to pretend to be perfect.
- Apologizing when you’re wrong is essential and is not a sign of weakness.
- I will always be there for you, no matter what.
- You are not better than anyone else, and no one else is better than you.
- Comparing yourself to others is pointless.
- Cutting down others is a sign of insecurity. Remember that when someone cuts you down; remember that when you are tempted to cut down someone else.
- Money and contentment are unrelated.
- Money and is unrelated to one’s worth.
- It’s much easier to judge than to show mercy, but mercy ought to trump judgment.
- You don’t have to be the best at something, or even good at something, in order to enjoy it.
- If someone needs help and you can help them, it’s your job to do so.
- You have many gifts.
- Everybody deserves respect. This means you; this means everyone else.
- God forgives, and so should you.
- You are loved—not for what you do, what you’ve accomplished, what you own, what you say, or how you look. You are loved for being you. Nothing will change this.
How many inconsistencies between words and actions will it take before they reject these messages? How many slip-ups am I allowed?
It’s a lot easier to stop threatening my kids with fictional face-licking bunnies than it is to always demonstrate mercy or to always show respect to everyone or to brush off one’s own mistakes. But I’ll try to clean up my act on all counts.
And that’s no lie.