So, I was recently having a drink with some friends, one of whom now has grown-up children. She told us how a few years ago her son had asked her if she ever lied; he’d been horrified by her frank response of “All the time!”. Now, I should add here that my friend is…to my knowledge…a very honest person, wonderful Mum and known for her integrity, so it got us all thinking about quite how much we do tell lies and why.
“No, it’s really no trouble at all.” vs “That’s going to seriously put me out, but go on then.”
“No, I’ve only just got here.” vs “I’ve been standing here with feet like ice for ages. Better have a good excuse!”
Put it this way, if our children were there they’d certainly out us telling these lies!
I think we probably tell most of our daily lies to make things easier; easier for our friends, ourselves and the smooth running of our days. Making things easier on our friends and smoothing over situations in relationships can’t be frowned on that much surely? And there are times when we need to flake on a social engagement for our own sanity.
There are the duplicate Christmas presents for instance. I tied myself in knots with this this year. My son got a great present that he “really likes” except he really likes the other, identical one he had last year. So the thank you card read, “Thank you for the XXXX . I really enjoyed playing this……” It was totally true. My son was also tying himself in knots – “We could write…I played this once before and liked it …but now you’ve got me one…….you made a good choice.” Oh dear.
I had to tell him that we weren’t going to lie (we don’t do that!), but we didn’t want to hurt XXXX’s feelings; she’d put thought into it and come up with a great idea and it’s always the thought and effort that counts.
BUT, why exactly do we tell our children not to lie? It seems very hypocritical given that we do it so much “white-lying ” and we maybe don’t see that much wrong with it? I suppose the heart of it is that we need to be able to trust what people say or our community can’t function so well. Hang on….isn’t that why we’re saying we end up lying? To smooth things over and ease awkward situations?
I remember when my first child was a baby, chatting with a couple of very good friends who also had babies at the time, about how dishonest we felt some Mums could be. It was probably just their coping mechanism, but it wound us up feeling hormonal and guilty as we invariably did. We said there and then that we’d always tell it like it was, for our sakes and each others sakes, because no-one likes feeling a failure and especially not when it’s by an unfair comparison. And when it comes to having a good old whine about the disorganised state of our lives, we certainly do still honour the honesty. But I don’t think I do this in all the other areas of my life.
For instance, how many times have I let something that’s upset me get swept under the carpet and said “No, no…no I wasn’t upset at all!”; or worse still “I’m really sorry, I must have given the wrong impression/said something/done something wrong.” when, on that occasion, I just don’t think I have? (Obviously it’s good to be able to be self-critical and recognise our own failings, but a false apology can lead to resentment, so it’s hardly a long term smoothing over.)
When we ‘ease’ a relationship by telling a lie, I think we have to do it for right reasons. If my friend’s having a tough time and she’s late, I’m obviously going to make her feel better about it. If my friend asks for an opinion on how tight some jeans are but I really think she’d doesn’t want the truth, of course I’ll lie. (In fact, how often have you given the unvarnished truth on a question about clothes?). BUT sometimes we ease relationships to our own (and sometimes to our families’) cost. We accept doing things when we are actually at capacity ourselves, with a carefree, “No, no that’s fine I can do that.” It’s harder to say, “Actually you could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back!” Especially hard because it is just one straw.
I don’t expect that my children won’t grow up similarly compromised themselves. I do hope it’s a while before they’re there. And while I can’t imagine lying about anything dramatic (and I’d hope to be unequivocal on this), I do wish I had it in me to be more honest in these sorts of social situations, where I’m so often driven to “white lies”. These may well be in a different league to major dishonesty, but I think they can still be potentially destructive.
I want my children to be fair to themselves, and that means not dumbing down on the truth in order to make for a superficially easier life.
The other day a friend stopped me by the school gate. She looked so puzzled and bemused as she said, “You look really well.” I thought about it later. I did feel quite good. I don’t think I had a jot of make up on. I was walking around like a bag lady – with plastic carriers, a coat with a bust zip showing off a depressing (but warm) brown jumper. But, you know, the reason I felt good and looked better than normal was because I’d spent the week saying no to things. I had just focused on my ordinary life. I hadn’t taken on anything else. I wasn’t trying to cram my every waking hour. I felt relaxed. And it wasn’t just doing less, it was taking back control by turning down things and actively putting myself first.
When we lie in the sort of social situations I’ve been describing, I think we are putting someone else’s happiness before our own. Putting our friends first is obviously laudable and something we should do and should encourage our children to do. But if we don’t look after ourselves we can’t give to anyone, let alone our family who sees us without the lies and bravado.
I want my children to feel they should say when they’ve been hurt, felt used or when they simply can’t do something; not to feel judged, but to tell it plain; when they don’t do that they aren’t valuing themselves.
And that’s why I hope my children won’t lose the innocence of honesty too young. Because, let’s face it, there are decades of dishonesty ahead. When we lie we are not just not valuing honesty, we’re not valuing ourselves….and maybe not the people we lie to either.
So what do you think? How many lies are too many? How on earth to navigate this with your children? Please share your thoughts.