I was fascinated—no, dismayed—recently by a manners advice columnist in a popular magazine. The columnist ruminated,
The question is: When should kids be inducted into the White Lie society that they will inevitably join?…The white lie, used judiciously and with compassion, can be a form of social grace.
Let me shoot you straight. Perhaps this is a defiant little foot-stomp of mine against a cultural phobia of Making People Feel Bad. I see it in myself, profoundly—that I often care more about people feeling bad and liking me than I do about gently speaking truth, or protecting them. Obviously this does not justify abrasiveness (it’s way too easy to use “telling the truth” to justify obliviously steamrolling a neighbor). I firmly believe it’s not full truth unless it’s expressed with love.
But why not create a culture of truth in our families? Is it really grace if we’re not honest?
Several years ago I was hauling my offspring out of the car at a pumpkin patch. We’d happily invited a neighbor and her granddaughter with us—which did nothing to stop one of my kids from swiping something from another. I calmly, firmly dealt with the stealing. That’s what I called it, anyway. But my neighbor shook her head. “That’s not stealing,” she chided me; I was being too harsh on my preschooler.
Now, I was a young mom, momentarily embarrassed and befuddled. If that wasn’t stealing, what was it? (And what was stealing?) And shouldn’t I call it…stealing?
Fast-forward to present day. My daughter, bless her pea-pickin’ heart, is my only girl in the midst of three boys of occasionally dictator-of-a-small-country personalities. Understandably, at times she feels dominated. To compensate, I see those little eyebrows tilt downward and those rosebud lips purse with all the fury of a nine-year-old, and baby, she morphs into Queen of All She Surveys. Or the Wicked Witch of the West.
Though it could be dubbed bossy (something most people grow out of) my husband and I have chosen to call it the grown-up form of bossy: controlling, which (my daughter hopefully remembers) originates with fear. I guess I want my daughter to realize that unless she is proactive, this issue of control will follow her like a faithful puppy dog into her marriage, the workplace, the church—you name it.
This can’t be an excuse for me to shame my kids (one lie, for example, and you’re such a liar). The idea of calling for more truth in our homes isn’t to amplify or inflame. On the contrary, it’s another opening for grace to pry its way in. I see us being less defensive, even less sensitive. This environment says, When we’re honest, this is what we are: both made in the image of God, and totally broken.
My hope is to give my kids a vocabulary for emotional and spiritual issues. My husband and I also hope to set a tone for our kids to speak accurately and humbly—not handing out half-truths like lollipops (i.e. blaming another kid for your own reaction: “Well, he hit me first!”). This includes diligently ridding the evil siblings of falsehood from my own tongue: gossip, flattery (even of our kids), fibs (“It won’t hurt!”), and self-deception.* (In one study, 90% of students reported their parents lying to them.) But you should know I’m on the fringes with this (um, we decided to not even tell our kids there’s a Santa Claus!).
I like slipping a character word in there now and then, like “discernment”, or some concepts for emotional intelligence—like manipulation, or passive-aggression (again, not judgmentally!)—so they can spot it in themselves, or someone else. But again, I’m admittedly an outlier. You can probably tell from this post, about talking with our kids about sex, that I believe in discussing as much as I can with my kids at the minimum levels of age appropriateness (though honesty is not the same as utter openness). It protects them.
More than that, I long for my kids to know they can unshakably trust me. Sometimes that means I must compassionately tell them something they need to hear that’s different from what they want to hear. (It may take more courage than I currently possess!)
But it’s the courageous parent who loves well: the one who quietly helps her daughter understand how the cut of her blouse will draw the wrong kind of attention, or the father who slings an arm around his son’s back to talk about the internet history.
When my kids get to college, I sincerely hope that rather than thinking inflated, pink, cottony clouds of “I can do anything I put my mind to!” or “the dreams that you wish will come true!”—they know, God made me with this gift and this gift. And, oh, I have some anger issues I need to watch out for.
I do hope my kids will actually be highly aware of their hearts’ usual “holes”—comfort, approval, security, power—so they can identify their go-to response in times of stress, clawing for created things to satisfy their souls. At the same time, we’re pretty open with them about our own issues, too, hoping we can create a culture of humility and forgiveness.
I don’t know if my family is doing it right. Though I’ve gained confidence in my parenting from that day at the pumpkin patch, parenting also has that ability to sit one right back down on his or her bottom, y’know? But this morning, helping her cousins work out a dispute, my daughter turned to the older girl. “Because she’s younger, she might feel like she needs to be bossy because older people are always first or better at things and she’s littler. I used to be controlling like that…”
Well. Aside from her obvious use of the past tense (used to be controlling?)—sounds like she’s picking up on something.
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*Taken from https://www.idisciple.org/post/parenting-modeling-and-mentoring-honesty.