Friday, November 2, 2007

Quasi honesty

With Halloween gone but Halloween candy still lurking in our house, I’m finding myself thinking more carefully about my honesty policy with Will. I’d given thought, for example, to chucking half the treats in the trash or sending them off to work with Rob yesterday. But since I don’t want to get caught explaining either of those scenarios when Will asks, salivating, “But where’s my candy corn?” (this year he’s remembering specifiic varieties of candies he’s acquired) I’m just keeping the stash out of sight in a cupboard. When the candy question comes up I tell Will he can have a piece for dessert or on our walk to the park. We’ve also been discussing tooth rotting plenty this week, so Will is accepting these limits surprisingly graciously.

So I’ll wait a week or so, and when his whole preoccupation with candy has faded the stash will make its appearance at Rob’s office. Then if Will still pops the candy question, I might say “We don’t have anymore left,” but I won’t go for the “You ate it all” fib. In my mind there’s a difference between being vague and being dishonest. If the questions keep coming and I have to tell him that we shared some with daddy’s friends at work, I’ll do it.

This article in Parenting magazine explores “Why it’s okay to lie to your child (Sometimes).” With the exception of tall tales about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy that are designed to introduce an element of magic and fantasy into a young child’s life, I disagree with the basic premise of the article. I’ll admit that in the early stages of Will’s tantruming I’d occasionally find myself in a little “white” lie to avoid a confrontation, but I’ve put a stop to that bad habit. If he needs to hear no, he needs to hear it. And he’ll learn from it. When I tell him as he moves into his teenage years that the one thing that’s most important to me is that he is always honest, with Rob and me, with his teachers, with his friends, with the world, I want to be a model of that request. It’s the one thing my honest parents always asked of me and my brother, and we all fared pretty well and respected one another because of it. I admit that I’ve slipped up and engaged in the occasional minor dishonesty, not with my parents, but with friends or acquaintances I wasn’t quite as comfortable with or I was worried about impressing. But I’ve decided that now that I’m a mom, I need to outgrow even the tiniest of lies. I still might be tactfully vague or avoid answering a question by switching subjects, but, beyond Santa Claus/Easter Bunny stuff I’m working on total honesty.

The Parenting Magazine article gave an example of a mother telling a little “white” lie to her toddler who smelled chocolate on her breath. She said she was eating raisins to avoid having her daughter ask for the chocolate. I say, suck it up and either give the girl a tiny bite of chocolate this once and resolve not to eat chocolate in front of her in the future or explain to her that chocolate has caffeine that’s not good for little kids but she’ll get to eat more of it as she grows older.

There’s a second example of telling lies when your child asks questions about death. Here the author says, “Developmentally, little kids can't understand the concept of death, so don't feel guilty. You're just going to scare them if you try explaining the circle of life.” I disagree. If your kid isn’t understanding the concept of death anyway, then answering a question very simply and without bloody, gory, frightening details shouldn’t scare them too much. And once they’re ready to grapple with the idea of death, then they’re ready for honest answers anyway. (Dig out the August 22 post from the blog archives and read boar hunter Phillip's comment on the matter if you missed it. I was avoiding the death questions back then.)

As to your kids' question: "Who's your favorite?" which the author seems to think is the most dreaded of questions, I agree that admitting you have a favorite child to your children is a lousy idea. But it seems to me that parents in that predicament need to reframe the whole notion of favorites in their own mind. Would it really be so hard to convince yourself honestly that while you may have more in common with one of your children, or you may find one of them generally easier to manage, you do not have a “favorite”. When it comes to your own kids, surely it’s a good time to steer clear of simplistic favorite games and love them all for their differences.

Still, since I’m writing these declarations of honesty, I’m sure it won’t be long before some sticky situation arises and I feel desperately tempted to lie to Will. If I do it, I promise I’ll confess. Maybe that’ll keep me honest – or trapped in a double lie.

What do you think? Is honesty overrated? Any situations where a little lie just seemed like the best medicine for your child?

(Coming tomorrow: The sequel -- Lying mama chefs)

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