I’ve always thought of myself as an open and approachable mom. After all, I’m a mom who does her best to understand why her children would “misbehave” and address the reason for that “misbehavior” rather than attacking the behavior itself. After all, I’m a mom who listens to her children’s wishes, though whether those wishes are granted or not is a different matter. After all, I’m a mom who gives reasons for all her answers, esp if they are “No”s. After all…
Yet, I find my daughter lying to me over a trivial matter. Why would she do that?
Discovery of Deceit
A couple of nights ago, I discovered a bottle of “Sprite” and a packet of “junkie” snack in her backpack by accident. If she hadn’t behaved so suspiciously when I reached into her bag for a water bottle, I wouldn’t have even seen the “undesirables”.
It happened during her dance class. She had walked hurriedly toward me when she saw me unzip her backpack. After I put the water bottle back into her backpack, she quickly zipped it up and placed it further away from me before returning to her class. That got me suspicious. So I reached for her bag again. She saw me and quickly walked back to me.
This time, I saw the drink and junk snack.
“Did you buy these?” I asked.
“No,” she replied instantaneously.
I raised my eyebrows.
“Sorry, mom. I did buy them,” she muttered.
“hmm,” I replied. Then I shooed her back to join her dance mates.
Had I Contributed To My Child’s Need to Lie?
My mind was spinning. Normally, if she lied, I would give her the usual integrity-is-everything and lying-corrodes-trust kinds of talk. But that evening, I had just received news of an 11-year-old boy who had apparently jumped off his 17-storey home because of an argument with his dad.
What could have pushed the boy over the edge? I could only imagine the guilt the dad felt seeing his boy dead at the bottom of the building. I was thinking about what we could do when disciplining our children so that our parent-child relationships are not so shredded that our children lose all hope. But mainly, I was thinking of how sometimes we could be the ones who contribute to problems that our children get into.
So having my daughter lie to me made me pensive. I reflected upon myself. Why would she feel the need to lie? What was it about me that would lead her to lie? Do I tend to over-react when she does something wrong? What can I do to ensure she wouldn’t feel she needs to lie to me again?
Throughout the dance lesson, I could tell she was very anxious. She kept stealing glances at me. Once, I stepped out of the class to make a call to my husband to see if he was coming to pick us up. When I went back in, she came over and asked, “What is it? Who were you talking to?” I told her I was talking to daddy and shooed her back to her class.
While changing out of her dance shoes after her class ended, she kept asking me, “What is it?” every time I looked at her. I told her, “Nothing, dear. I just love looking at you.” Inside, I was hurting. I was still trying to figure out how to address this. It was obvious she was, dare I say it, fearful. What have I done that made her so afraid of me?
Finally, when we left the dance studio, she asked meekly, “Are you angry with me?”
I stopped and faced her. “Do I look angry?” I asked.
She shook her head. I told her I wasn’t angry, but disappointed she didn’t feel safe enough to tell me the truth. And I asked her why she felt she had to lie to me.
Her Expectation Of How I Would React
“I was afraid you will be upset,” she replied.
“Upset about what?” I asked
“Upset that I bought these things.” She said
“Why would I be upset?”
“Because they are bad for me,” she answered.
I told her I was not upset she had bought those stuff. I understood why she did it. It’s true it was not what I would have wanted her to do. She could have made better choices with her purchases, but was the act of buying those snacks wrong? I didn’t think so. What upset and disappointed me was that she chose to lie. If she had owned up, this whole incident would have been a non-issue. I might have talked about making better food choices, but that would have been it.
I asked her if she understood what I meant and she nodded her head.
“Did you tell daddy?” she asked.
“No, I didn’t,” I said and she heaved a sigh of relief.
“But I will,” I continued and she tensed up.
“Not because I want him to know you lied, but because I think it is important he understands you need more security to feel you can be honest. Both daddy and I need to work together to help you feel that way. Do you understand?” She nodded.
“I’m sorry, mom,” she said.
“I’m sorry too,” I replied.
Lesson for Me
Indeed, I am sorry. I’m sorry I hadn’t let her feel safe enough to be truthful. That is something I need to work harder towards so she knows she is safe telling me anything.
If she feels the need to hide from me the truth about where she got her junkie snacks from, I can’t imagine what bigger stuff she would hide from me in the future simply because she is afraid I would get upset or angry.
I need to let her feel safe and assured of my love regardless of what she does. I need to let her feel that I will be by her side, that I will be there to help her through all problems big and small, when she messes up. That my daughter “fears” me, or rather fears upsetting me was a big wake up call for me.
Lesson for My Child
For my daughter, she realized the anxiety she faced doing something she knew I disapproved of, and worse when she lied about it. She was worried about how I would feel. She was anxious that her dad would find out. An innocent act of me getting a water bottle from her backpack had sent her running to me. A glance from me had put her on the edge. Seeing me on the phone with her dad had made her tense.
She learnt about the power of her conscience. It didn’t matter if anyone knew what she did or not. Her conscience knew, and it had kept her on the edge, constantly worried that others would find out.
She learnt a Chinese saying, “If you don’t want people to know about it, then don’t do it.”
She also learnt a far more important lesson. That her lying had cost her her credibility.
I had asked her how many times she had bought stuff like that and she said this was the only time. When I raised my eyebrows in doubt, she looked me in the eye and said again, “I am not lying. This IS the first time.”
To which I replied softly, “And why would I believe that?”
She lowered her eyes and said, “No, there is no reason why you should believe that. Not after I lied to you just now.”
I asked her if she saw how destructive lying could be.
“Yes, mom. Integrity is everything. Now you will doubt everything I say.”
“So what can we do about that?”
“Never lie again,” she said.
I assured her I can take anything she tells me, I might be upset, but I will still be on her side as long as she is truthful. I stressed the importance of her being honest, so I can continue to trust her, so she doesn’t have to dig herself into deeper trouble with more lies. I promised her I would not go ballistic with any truth she tells me.
Sure, she was wrong to lie. But I believe it takes two for lying to occur. And I will do my best to create an environment that encourages truthfulness, an environment of trust in both directions.
What about you? What do you do when you find your child lying to you?
– Vivian –