My father, God rest his soul, taught all of us to be outstanding liars. It was a two-part process, and I’ll share the complete details with you to allow you to a) become an accomplished liar yourself, or b) train your children to be fantastic liars.
1) Use little white lies, small fabrications, or outright falsehoods to get your way or to get people to do what you want. In my father’s mind, he was lying to us with our best interest in mind. He truly believed that he was doing what was best for us, and any means necessary, though he wouldn’t have phrased it that way, was clearly his mantra.
His favorite method, which Buds and I laugh about now with great affection was, “The County Man.” When we lived in the Big Yellow House in Iowa, which we designed and paid for ourselves, though my family did help us extensively in the building process, and my parents lent us the money to purchase the land the house was built on, my dad often thought we were making poor decisions about how we cared for the house and the land. If he was especially concerned about one of our choices, or if he just really, really wanted us to do what he wanted, he would tell us that, “The County Man stopped by to tell me to tell you…” fill in the blank with whatever Dad’s latest concern was. “The County Man told me…” We never saw The County Man, but he certainly visited Dad often enough that he became the stuff of legend for us.
I believe The County Man was a carryover from my teen years. I finally started to rebel, and to try and appease my hair-quick temper, Dad would tell me, “Your mother told me to ask you,” or, “Your mom said you should…” I would ask Mom later, and she had no idea what the heck I was talking about. Again, this was Dad’s way of keeping the peace while still getting things to happen in the way he thought was best.
So, I had that as a role model.
2) Overreact to every single thing that happens in your family’s lives. Truly, every single thing. Immediately jump to the worst case scenario for every conceivable event, and have no balance whatsoever in what you allow your children to do.
He went absolutely ballistic when my mom got a flat tire. Truly, ape-s__t bonkers. I cannot tell you the intense pleasure I felt when he got a flat tire a week later. I was 9 years old.
I didn’t get to stay overnight for a friend’s slumber party because her mom was divorced and had a boyfriend. As a parent now, I begin to understand better his fears and concerns, but, truly, every other girl in my class was staying overnight, and the girl’s mom was a teacher.
When we sold our house in Indiana, Dad was convinced that we’d a) never sell it, or b) if Buddie’s company bought us out, they’d only give us 25 cents on the dollar on the value of the house. Might these things have happened? Sure. And if they did? We’d figure it out, just like we had everything else in our life.
I was a good kid. A very, very good kid. I wasn’t a drinker, didn’t smoke pot, didn’t have sex, never had a car accident, class president, student council, band president, a freakin’ nerd, in fact, but very popular. It didn’t matter. Dad would say he wasn’t worried about me, he was worried about the rest of the world.
What did he succeed in creating? The very things he didn’t want to have happen: I went out of state to college, married a man who lived on a coast, and learned to always, always screen the truth from my dad. My siblings were the same way. We ended up not telling Dad so many things as a way of protecting him, we said, but it was largely to protect ourselves as well.
What does this have to do with a blog that is supposedly about my children?
Well, it isn’t just about my children, it is also about my journey as a parent, and recognizing attitudes and habits and family legacies that hinder my growth as a parent.
Every time I over react to something my children do, I’m training them in how to treat me. Every time I act like they are the cause of me feeling happy or sad or upset, I’m training them to hide from me. Even when I do it out of love for them, like today when I ripped into the big kids for riding their scooters in the parking lot when cars are driving through, I am still training them in how to hide from me. Is being safe important? Most definitely. Is playing the hard-a__, tough parent the best or even the only way to deal with a situation like this? Most assuredly not. In fact, I think it is probably detrimental.
Any time a hot rush of emotion dictates my actions, it’s an opportunity to examine what is going on.
Now, The County Man might say differently. He might say that yelling and being stern with children is the best way to impress an important lesson on them. The research doesn’t support The County Man.
NurtureShock has a great chapter on lying which explains that all kids lie, and let’s be honest, so do most adults. (We say we’re doing it out of kindness or to protect someone, and kids do it for the same reasons; out of kindness to themselves and others.) Not a big shocker for me; children in the most restrictive, controlling environments lie the most.
Here’s my point for myself: I am the one who dictates the relationship I have with these children we have been blessed with. Though they will still lie, and I should not ever be shocked by that, I can train them that they have little to fear in telling me the truth or asking for my help. And, I will stop acting like things are a big deal. Very, very, very little is a big deal.
And for clarification: I was only a liar with my dad. Though I come from a very long line of exaggerators, I try very hard to not even do that. It sometimes leads me to sound odd because I’ll say, “I got up at 6:27,” or, “I drove into the parking lot and picked out one parking place, but then ended up driving to another spot that was closer to the sidewalk.” Lots of extra information to be sure I’m giving accurate information. I’m probably erring on the side of too accurate, and I’m comfortable with that.
And to be fair: My dad had a generous, loving spirit, especially toward the end of his life. I was never able to completely adjust my quick and sharp reactions to him to match the mellowing he did over the years, which has always saddened me. As with everyone in our lives, he had many lessons to teach me, and I’m still learning from him.
How will it work out for our kids? Time will tell, and time always tells honestly.