Monday, May 3, 2010

The truth about exaggeration...

According to my recollection, my second grade teacher Ms. White was not ravishingly beautiful - nor incredibly nice for that matter.  Yet for some reason, Ms. White was engaged to the most handsome man ever and he came to our class where all of us students had fallen madly in love with him too.  At a parent night my mom congratulated Ms. White (of course!) and Ms. White stood there utterly confused.  She was not engaged (of course not) and it came to pass that I had in fact formulated this whole story up in my "creative" mind.  My mom informed me that evening that Ms. White now expected my creative writing papers to be absolutely amazing because of my vivid imagination.
Vivid imagination...I suppose that's what we call it when it's little kids who are flat out lying.
However, if I was twenty nine and made up that falsehood I would be made out to be a completely deceptive person.  Some would call me a pathological liar, lying for no good reason.  When does it change from vivid imagination to pathological deceiver?
I've been thinking a lot about truthfulness lately and exaggeration and what exactly do I teach my kids regarding the issue.  It started pecking away at my mind the other day when I put Luke down for the night and he asked for a snack.  I told him no because he had decided earlier to not eat his dinner and that's the way it works in our house.  It was a warm night and his window was wide open.  He began screaming, "I'm so hungry!  You NEVER feed me!"  My anxiety level started to rise as I was reminded how a neighbor had called the police over Lily crying in the middle of the my son was screaming that I neglected him.  In a volume to match his making sure that the whole neighborhood could hear I responded with, "I offered you dinner and you chose not to eat!"  I shut the door and listened to him continue screaming so that everyone from here to New York could hear that I don't feed my son.  Soon his sentence changed...for the worse.  "Please, someone feed me!  I'm soooo hungry!  Please, someone feed me!"  Great, I could just imagine the police pulling up into my driveway.  I walked in his room trying to hide my amused smile and without word shut his window.
I want my kids to be people known for their integrity.  When people think about the Sharon kids I want honesty to be one of the attributes that comes to mind.  Not harshness, but honesty.  And it's up to Dave and me to exemplify honesty to our children.  Shortly before I moved back to Idaho and started my family, I was starting to work with a company who did seminars for parents and siblings of drug addicted teens.  At one seminar there was a lady who after we played a game as a group, lied about her involvement in the outcome.  I sat next to her during the game and she, not knowing I was a guest facilitator, laughed at how troublesome she was being to our "team."  However afterward she said she played right along like the best of teammates.  Earlier that afternoon she was complaining about how her daughter was a pathological liar (which I know people use the term loosely) and she had no idea why.  So as she was lying to the group, I stood up and said, "Maybe, just maybe, the reason your kid is a liar is because you are."  I was nineteen and lacking discretion - but it definitely got my point across!  Our kids are watching us.  We are their first and most influential teachers.
Another way I find myself bending the truth is exaggeration - the kind that I don't normally even catch myself.  Not the exaggeration that says, "It snowed FIFTEEN feet!"  But the kind that says, "You ALWAYS..." or "You NEVER."  Not only is this "exaggeration" a lie most of the time, but it is really damaging to the "you" in the sentence.  Especially when it's our kids.  "You NEVER obey!"  "You ALWAYS are disrespectful!"  "You NEVER do this right!"  That's not only ridiculous but I would venture to say that it is borderline abusive.  Our children listen to our words, they watch our actions - and if you say they never or always do something, you better watch out because they might start believing you and proving you right.
Little white lies or leaving out important details of truth are considered deceitfulness in my home.  I have NO patience for it.  Lying and deception from the smallest to the biggest have taken great men and women and the strongest of families down.  I don't want to be one of those examples.
However, with all that said, how do we teach our children discretion and kindness when telling the truth?  I know that sometimes Aunt Betty's hair cut is awful and she looks very reminiscent of Uncle Jack - but you can't tell her that!  So when she asks, "Do you like my hair?"  What do you say?  Last night at Applebees, Emma saw a server who had quite the hairdo.  And with all certainty in her voice, Emma said (quite loudly), "That girl has freaky hair!"  Dave who was sitting next to her glanced over at me hiding my face behind a napkin and then rebuked Emma for being unkind (although in all fairness, her hair was kind of freaky and she may have actually been going for that!)  Or when yesterday a couple of heart broken ladies came by our house looking for their lost, elderly dog.  With no hesitation Luke says, "Oh, the coyote probably got it."  The ladies looked at Dave in horror and Dave nicely shooed Luke away, smiled and said, "If we see it, we will call you."  Ya, there is a coyote around our neighborhood and yes it has snipped at some of our neighbors' dogs - but they probably didn't need to hear that. 
So, how do you teach your kids about honesty?  What are the lines you draw regarding integrity and "white lies" in your home?  Are you being an example of truthfulness, or are you being more of an example of how to bend the truth?
Now I must go eat because I'm STARVING...ok, actually, I'm just a tad bit hungry.


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