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“Oh, wow, I love that new haircut…”

“Thanks Grandma, I love this woollen reindeer sweater…”

“You are naming your baby boy Donathan?  Cool…”

“No, those jeans don’t make your butt look wider…”

“What?  You didn’t get the wedding invitation?  We must have the wrong address, did you move?”

As humans, we lie.  We lie to ourselves, our family, spouses, friends, and even strangers.

I have recently discovered that I am fantastic at the fine art of lying.  The irony is that I consider myself an incredibly honest person.  But little white lies escape my lips daily.   

Yesterday, my son and I were just about to play Connect 4, and the phone rang.  I checked the call display and thought it was a client I was waiting to hear back from…

“Hello, is this Mr. Hay?  (no pause), my name is Jean blah blah, from the blah blah blah company, I want to tell you about this amazing..”

“Sorry Jean, whoa, I need to stop you right there, I have all my kids strapped into their car seats and we are heading out.  You have a tough job, but have a great day…” and I hung up.

I looked at my son.  He was wide eyed, staring at his lying father.  He paused and then asked, “What if she comes to our house and sees us still here?”

I smiled.  I didn’t want to launch into a discussion on corporate outsourcing or Jean’s Jamaican accent, but I assured my son that Jean was not going to find out we weren’t really all in the car.

He asked why I lied to her.  I didn’t really have a great answer.   I told him I didn’t want to hurt her feelings because everyone probably hangs up on her.

Then I told him that sometimes it’s ok to lie.  Yikes! Did I really just say that? 

“But dad, you said I always have to tell the truth.”

“Yes, I did say that”

“You said, that if I tell the truth I will usually get in half the trouble, but if I lie, it will be double…”

Damn. 

How can we expect our children to tell the truth if we, the parents, bend it from time to time?   How do we teach kids the fine balance between lies and innocent white lies?

“Well, son, sometime there are things we call “MUST LIE” situations.”

“Huh?”

“From grandma’s rubbery meatloaf to the rabbit fur poncho birthday gift, sometimes we lie to save someone’s’ feelings.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to just tell the truth Dad?”

“Yes, it would. It really would.  But you wouldn’t have any friends.”

Could you go a whole day without lying?  A week?  A Year?  Just like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar, could you do it?

How many lies do you tell a day?   (and I’m not talking about the’ jolly fat man’ kind of lies we see in December) …2 lies a day?  5?  10+?  None?  Well look at you St. Francis.  Let’s verify your work experience on your resume…

I wish I told zero lies but that is simply not the case.  If I was to count, I’m at least 5-7 a day; not the big ones though, not the “Where were you last night?” type questions, but more the kind of, “I love those shoes!” or “I sent that proposal from my phone, maybe that’s why you didn’t get it? 

Last year, we were at Disney ticket kiosk, and I was trying to pass my daughter off as 3 to save $150 on entry tickets (‘come on, it’s Disney, financially they are doing ok’ I thought), and my older son loudly pointed out that she was 4.  “Shut up son”, I thought.  Red faced, I lied again, “Really?? Oh yeah, we did have that princess birthday – I remember now…”

I felt sheepish and awful.  I am a ‘sometimes liar’ and my son knows it.

But so is he.  Here is the scenario; I hear pee hitting the toilet.  For fun, I wait by the door and listen.  I hear neither a toilet flush nor a hand washing faucet.   My son leaves the bathroom as I enter it; I ask

“Whose pee is on the seat?”

“Not mine!”

“Really? I just heard you going pee”

“No, that is not mine, it’s Jackie’s.” 

“Really?  Because she sits down to go pee…” (if you are going to lie, at least make it an anatomically possible option…)

This toilet situation led to a great discussion and the establishment of new house rules around the topic of lying in our house. Maybe they will work in your house?

  • Lying to get out of trouble is a no-no.
  • Lying to be polite is ok.
  • Lying to save someone’s feelings is ok.
  • Lying to get something is not ok.
  • Lying has consequences.

My children know that we want to TRUST them.  “I don’t care if you pee on the seat, just clean it off – but I do care about you not being truthful with me…”

Trust is nurtured from many truths and therefore Mom and Dad need to always hear the truth.

When my children lie to me, I feel angry, hurt and take it personally, “Don’t they respect me enough to tell the truth?”   I am learning that this is the WRONG way to look at lying.

We really need to look at WHY our children are choosing to lie…

  • Are they lying to get attention?
  • Are they lying to get out of trouble?
  • Are they lying to save someone’s feelings?
  • Are they lying for fun to test limits?
  • Are they lying to keep parts of their life secret from parents?  (teens)

When your kid lies, you may start to see him/her as “sneaky,” especially if you catch a few more lies and a pattern develops.   We begin to think that our kids are “bad”.  We make the connection that if lying is bad, and our kid is a liar, then he/she is bad.

We need to ensure that we keep the behaviour and the person separate.

Your perception of your child may promote even more lying.  If your child thinks you think he’s “bad,” he’s going to hide the truth from you even more, because he doesn’t want to be bad and get in trouble. Even though they are lying, kids don’t want to disappoint their parents.

Treat lies like the dispassionate police officer that just caught you speeding.  He doesn’t want excuses, doesn’t lecture, and is not interested in the WHY of the lie – just dispense the consequence and drive away.

Remember – kids may not see the lying as hurtful.  They don’t see that it is hurtful to YOUR relationship with them. 

I call my children out all the time on fibs.  In my best grumpy old man voice, I think but not say, “Don’t bullsh&t a bullsh$%ter…”  In this house, we tell the truth to each other PERIOD (but maybe not to telemarketers!)

Start young so that trust is established early.  Parents of teenagers can tell you all about the dangers of not curbing lying early…

A key way to promote your children telling you the truth in a difficult situation is for you to always tell them the truth in a difficult situation.

When they ask a challenging question about death, divorce, addiction, sex etc. answer as honestly as possible at an age appropriate level.

Do not lie, tell half truths, or change the subject. Kids can smell someone lying by omission a mile away as well.

So tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Or at least try to…

The bottom line is that lying is wrong and detrimental to developing a trusting relationship. 

I’m always a little disappointed when a liar’s pants don’t catch on fire.

Lying can be frustrating, but it’s normal.

Is it imagination?  Story telling?

Is lying a sign of intelligence?

Is it a developmental milestone?

Don’t you love your friend that is HONEST and tells you exactly what you likely don’t want to hear?  You respect that right?

How can we teach our children to be just like that friend?    Honest and still likeable?

Until next time…  (I promise to curb the lies…)

Comments

comments

  • MomOf4 May 27, 2013 Reply

    you made me laugh out loud a lot today. Thanks.

    (BTW, did YOUR pants light on fire??)

    Not that this is helpful, but you COULD have told the telemarketer that “right now I promised my son I’d play a game with them and had to go, but thanks for calling. Have a good day.” click.

    Someone would have beamed …

    (Or I just don’t answer and tell my kids that I can always call back later the one who left the message).

    I am happy when my hubby doesn’t tell me that my ‘fat’ is what makes my butt look big … But the truth about what looks better is always nice to hear! :)

    • Jeff May 28, 2013 Reply

      Writing this article was a wake up call to how many ‘innocent’ white lies I let fly everyday — awareness is the first step in fixing the problem…

      Your suggestion for the telemarketer is awesome — I will be ready with that next time!

  • doug May 28, 2013 Reply

    lying’s a tough thing to deal with. I’m curious as to why we adults lie? we say it’s to save someone’s feelings, and all the other excuses, but are we really just scared of having our own opinions and not being liked for them?

    why can’t we just tell it like it is: “I’m not interested in what you’re selling” – I may even have all the time in the world to spend on the phone listening to their spiel – “yeah, those pants/that skirt/shirt is a little tight” – I’ve told my wife this – “I wasn’t real fond of the chicken” – it’s just my opinion.

    I’m not perfect at telling the truth, but I do think we’ve got to stop being scared of it – it’s really just a perception – my perception/”truth” – it’s not gospel. and us telling the truth helps our kids not be afraid of it.

    thanks Jeff for the thought provoking post and encouragement.

    • Jeff May 28, 2013 Reply

      Hey Doug!
      So true — we all want to be liked! But the irony is, I like some of my friends MORE because they are blunt and honest… you know what you are going to get from them.. no candy coating…
      We should all not be afraid of the truth… teh truth is out there

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