Tonight my heart is tired. You ever have one of those times as a parent where you wish you could rewind and have a do-over? I wish I could back up about 2 hours and just do things differently. My sweet Lovebug got in trouble for something tonight that she really shouldn’t have. The worst part is, she got in trouble for one of the worst and highly punishable offenses in our home – lying. The problem is, it turns out she wasn’t lying on purpose at all and instead was just a victim of being an extremely literal perfectionist.
She had a friend over to play today and they were going back and forth between her room and our school room playing, doing crafts, being super imaginative and creative and having a great time. As the play date was approaching the end, the kids cleaned up (on their own, mind you) so that they could spend the rest of the time outside.
They came downstairs and told me they were all done cleaning up and were going outside. I took them at their word (because I’ve never had a reason not to), and let them go.
Tonight, when I went upstairs to help Lovebug get ready for bed I saw the school room. Paper, yarn and craft supplies all over the floor. This is not a problem in itself as we often make a big mess in there when we are being crafty.
The problem was that she had told me she had cleaned everything up before they went outside.
Instead of assuming the best of my daughter and remembering that she usually doesn’t seem to have a defiant bone in her body, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that she must have lied in order to go outside sooner. Sometimes it’s all in the wording. Especially when dealing with an oh-so-literal child!
I went back over it with her and asked her “Did you tell me that you had cleaned everything up?”, and she said yes.
I then said “Was that true?”, and she said “no”.
I said “What is that called when you tell me something that’s not true?” and she said “lying”. Then she started crying, which I assumed was a further display of guilt.
BUT, does saying something that isn’t true ALWAYS equal lying? More on that in a minute.
I admit, I was angry. Instead of stopping to think about it from her perspective, I just let myself get so frustrated at something that was so out of character for her. I was short with her, issued some consequences (no bedtime story because she spent the time cleaning up the room), and let her know I was unhappy with her and that other consequences would be coming. My being upset with her just led to her being upset, which make the clean up job go slower, which also led to me being more upset.
It was a mess.
She was so worked up that she couldn’t talk without practically hyperventilating, and at one point when I threw away a paper craft that had been just sitting around for days, she reacted as though I had thrown away her most prized stuffed animal.
Needless to say, I could tell she was EXHAUSTED from our busy day.
As we walked back into her room to get into bed, she said something about getting distracted and forgetting they had stuff to clean up in the school room.
WAIT a minute! Distracted? Forgot?
That sounds a lot more like a child-like behavior than an intentional, sinful lie to me. This is a MAJOR deal because lying is not acceptable in this house and is extremely punishable. However, distraction and forgetfulness are things she comes by naturally not only because she’s a kid, but because she’s MY kid!
So, I clarified things with her using different words this time.
I asked, “When you told me that you had cleaned everything up, did you know there was a mess in the school room?”, and she responded “No, we got distracted cleaning up in my room and weren’t thinking about it because we were focused on going outside”
Ahhhhh! The light bulb went off in my head! Then I said, “So, then did you lie to me on purpose?”, and she said “No, I just forgot about it”.
Now, to some of you that might sound like a cop out, but I assure you that with my child it isn’t. She was so upset because she thought she had lied to me. Her tears earlier were because she was broken-hearted and completely torn up. She was devastated at the thought of lying to me, but she knew that she had said something that wasn’t true. She knew that literally a lie was something that wasn’t true, and she felt trapped because she couldn’t say “I wasn’t lying” when she knew she had said something that turned out to be untrue.
So then we talked about the differences because forgetting something, or making a mistake versus deliberate lying. The example I gave was if I told Daddy that his favorite coffee cup was on the second shelf, and when he went to get it he found it on the first shelf – was that a lie?
Her answer was yes.
My answer is no – it was a mistake and I remembered something incorrectly. Just like she made a mistake and forgot they had another room to clean up.
To me, a lie is more about just being not truthful, it is about intent. She didn’t tell me something untrue on purpose, but instead she told me what she thought was true at the moment.
Sometimes I am right on top of seeing things through her eyes, and other times I really wish I could have a do-over. I could have said something as simple as, “Did you forget about this room when you were cleaning up?”, instead of getting upset. Hindsight is always 20-20, isn’t it?
Thankfully, we cleared it all up and ended the night with lots of hugs and kisses before bed! This is something that is very important to me and Hubby! Hubby and I never go to bed without saying “I love you”. Even the couple of times we were upset about something, we talk it out as much as possible and when we go to bed, we always – ALWAYS – touch feet to let the other know that everything is ok, we love each other, and we are in this together forever.
We’ve carried that through with Lovebug too. I never, ever, want her to go to bed thinking I’m still upset with her or disappointed in her. I never want her to have that feeling. We want her to know that even if we don’t like her choice or behavior that we always – ALWAYS – love her and are proud of her. We make sure to end the night on a happy note with hugs and kisses, a song, a tickle – or whatever she needs.
My love for her can’t be as perfect as God’s love, but hopefully though us as parents, she will get a taste of what it’s like to have someone love you no matter what. I want her to grow up knowing that there is nothing she can ever do to make her Mommy and Daddy stop loving her. I want her to know that we are proud of her and the person God made her to be – just the way she is.
I want her to know:
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14)
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. (Psalm 127:3)
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” (Jer 1:5)