Lying is bad. Right? Like, it’s actually bad. Isn’t it? At least that’s what they tell you from a very early age. Be nice, use your manners, don’t eat your boogers, and always tell the truth. I’m not here to dispute that lying is right, but how do we communicate the nuances of situations when we shouldn’t lie versus moments when a harmless little fib couldn’t hurt anyone. Where do we draw that line? More importantly, how do you communicate this to a 4-year-old?
Recently, I came face-to-face with this very conundrum. Charlotte’s daycare was hosting a casual Mother’s Day brunch. It was exciting because this was the first event the daycare had been able to host since the pandemic changed how we lived. Activity tables were set up, and light refreshments and snacks were offered. Children and mothers could play and mingle safely outside. This was an opportunity to see how our children socialized with their peers and teachers, but also a great chance for moms of the same cohort to interact with one another. I was nervous, but curious.
Once there, Charlotte showed interest in joining the arts table where another classmate (let’s call her Blake) and her mom were decorating a framed picture with a bevy of glittery stickers. I had recognized her mom from drop-off and pick-ups over the years but had never had a chance to chit-chat. As we were learning personal details about each other (what the pandemic has been like for each of our households and the similar struggles), Blake turned to Charlotte and sweetly asked her, “Do you like my picture?”
To which Charlotte
like the serial killer I always suspected her of being coldly responded, “No.”
I was stunned. Mor-tif-ied. I was mortified! In that moment, the reels of her early life flashed before my eyes, begging the question: Where did I go wrong? Was it the time we told her she couldn’t have a treat after dinner but then succumbed to her request just for the sake of our sanity? Or perhaps it was the time we entertained her belief that the number 8 could exist on a roman numeral clock some day?
I wasn’t the only person stunned. Poor Blake and her mother also looked bewildered (obviously each for different reasons). But this only added to my humiliation. What must they think?
Motherhood is a tricky occupation. It’s like none other. With most jobs, you garner value, confidence and status based on your direct performance at your job. And typically, performance is measurable based on specific, achievable, time-bound targets (don’t worry, I googled this). So, perhaps you hit the sales target that month or you successfully closed out year-end without any glitches- these are tangible goals to meet. But societally, as a mother, your “performance evaluation” is often erroneously based on two things (in my opinion). The first is how clean your house is. The spectrum on where you might fit begins at June Cleaver and ends with Roseanne Barr (I’ve always been a fan of Roseanne, the show that is). And second is how well-behaved your children are. The first has nothing to do with motherhood and the latter is sometimes out of your control.
Again: What must they think?
So, I did the only thing I knew to do in a moment like this, while a devastated preschooler and her innocent mother looked on.
threatened bribed warned her. (I also thought about humbling her, “You’re no Picasso either! Tell her you LOVE it now, Charlotte!” But I thought better of it.) I turned her to face me and whispered into her ear in a calm and collected (but also, I-mean-business) tone of voice, “Don’t. be. rude. Tell Blakey you like her picture or else no special treat later.”
Obviously, this wasn’t the best tactic but I panicked. All that did was make an awkward situation even more awkward because Charlotte then began glaring furiously at Blake to the point where Blake’s mother had to cut the tension and sooth her daughter when it was clear Charlotte wasn’t going to be coming around anytime soon.
“That’s okay, Blake,” her mom gently reaffirmed. “Charlotte doesn’t have to like your picture. Not everyone will like everything you do, but I love it and I will always like everything you do.”
I had to give it to her, she was mother of the year in my eyes. It was the best response, I feel, a mother in that situation could have had. If only I had the same great technique to handle Charlotte’s perspective, I thought.
As the event progressed and everyone went on about their days, the pangs of guilt started to settle in. Was I really expecting her to lie? Is that what I was
threatening bribing warning telling her to do? Yes, there’s a way to be kind, of course, always lead with kindness. But, really, what was the teachable moment here? If someone asks you if you like their picture or not, you always say yes?
It occurred to me that I had been expecting her to unlearn everything we had been teaching her up to that very moment. Always tell the truth. Then it dawned on me that this wasn’t really about Charlotte telling the truth when she should have been fibbing or leading with kindness. It was about how I was embarrassed by the perceived judgment as a mother, by another mother. Plus, what exactly should one have done in that situation- honestly.
Do you believe in always telling the truth and nothing but the truth? Is fibbing always wrong?
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