In this parenting blog I’ll be covering if all lies are equal, when there is a good time to tell them (is there ever?), and what to do when you catch your adult child in a lie.
The lies we tell
We all tell a white lie or two now and then. We do it for our own preservation to avoid an uncomfortable conversation or because we don't want to get into the details of the truth. When the kids were young we told them made-up stories and indulged them into magical moments that also weren’t based on facts, simply to preserve their innocence: The Tooth Fairy, Jack-Frost, Santa Clause. I used to read fortune cookie fortunes to my kids and make up amazing fortunes like "You will grow up to be Superman".
I am not a psychiatrist confirming or denying the possible long-term effects of lying to our kids,(more about this further down) but if I were to guess, my first instinct would be to say that I never really thought there was much harm in the lies we told our wee children to preserve their innocence.
Now, I’m not so sure.
We have a culture of acceptable lies, and I am certain that we did teach them that lying is okay under certain circumstances by example. Remember the why stage? “Why is that man wearing a hat? Why are zebras striped? Why does Grandma smell?”
Not all the lies we told our kids were to preserve their innocence. Some were to preserve our sanity.
Was this any better though?
What have we done?!
Is it any wonder we have raised our kids to become accomplished lyers? Now the question isn’t whether we taught our kids how to lie but, at what age does lying become a moral boundary we cross?
It may be one thing to lie about why Grandma smells to your four year old child, and quite another to say that you are fine to your teenager when you are clearly exhausted or have a migraine. Yet you put on a smile to help them with their biology report while cooking dinner, and scanning work docs for the next day.
We lay out the road map on how to hide and lie about their true feelings and emotions by example when we lie about ours. Not to mention we are also creating unhealthy environments that support putting yourself last when it comes to the needs of others.
We tell them to eat well, sleep enough, limit their online social and gaming time, and what do we turn around and do?
I don't have to spell it out to you how actions speak louder than words when it comes to what and how your kids learn from you.
Where is the line, and when do we draw it?
Most likely you have drawn the same lines with your kids that your parents did. Parenting comes naturally to most humans and the model we were raised with were usually good enough that we automatically followed them without question.
I for one am guilty of it, and honestly felt threatened by other parents who were listening to the "experts" on how to raise their kids. I felt like my parents did a pretty good job, and I would follow their lead. My husband, being raised the same way, was on board.
As they grew and I caught them lying to me about little things, like sneaking candy, not washing their hands, or brushing their teeth, I would admonish them or punish them for their sins.
I never stopped to think that I had a double standard in which my lying was ok and theirs wasn’t. I drew the line for them and not for me.
I was no better than my parents who would say: "Do as I say, not as I do" as they puffed on their cigarettes and spanked me when I got caught smoking as a 10 years old.
Research done in collaboration with Canada's University of Toronto, the United States' University of California, San Diego, and China's Zhejiang Normal University, found that study participants who were lied to as children were more likely to say they lied to their parents as adults.
“They also had more difficulty meeting psychological and social challenges, and grew up to be more selfish and experience more guilt and shame." * You can read up about it here in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.
So, what do we do?
Stop lying - not for the small reasons, the endearing ones, or the big reasons.
As my kids grew up and became better at hiding the truth or part of it, it was harder to detect untruths.
Today, there are so many forums helping parents to be better parents, and as soon as you suspect something like "My kids are lying to me" you can google it and find an article about it like this one. You can find yourself going down a rabbit hole about topics like “Is my kid lying to me about being depressed, or that they are doing drugs, or doing their homework”?
For those of us with kids over the age of 15, it may be too late to erase the white lies we told our kids when we were avoiding their tantrums making our lives a little easier. This is not to say give up hope and worry you have raised kids who will always lie to you, but it is time to come clean.
At 15, my daughter had a friend sleepover. They snuck out after I was in bed to see a boy. My husband was up late working in the basement when they snuck back in and he heard them. Wisely he left me to address their deceit. Needless to say the girls were both pretty worried about how I would react. I found myself in new territory. My daughter had known the consequences for broken rules in the past.
This was different though.
She hadn't broken a simple rule about watching TV past her bedtime, or lying about finishing her homework.
At her age I knew we were at a pivotal point in our relationship. If I had come down hard with my hammer of guilt and shame, I would have sealed the coffin of continued lying and mistrust that the above article claims happens.
I chose to calmly sit with my daughter and her friend and asked why they went out. I listened to their side of the story and then asked why they didn't ask me if they could go out.
The obvious reply was that I would have said no. Thinking back on this now, I don't know if I responded with my real truth which would have been “You got that right!” Instead I responded with my last lie that would turn the corner on our relationship.
I told them that I probably would have listened to their reason for going to meet the young man, and allowed them to meet him outside on our porch for a limited amount of time.
The open, honest and non-judgemental chat that ensued was the beginning of a new chapter between my daughter and I.
The respect and trust I showed her was the beginning of the amazing parent and young adult relationship we have today. We are open and honest without admonishment or shame. I don't ask her questions I don't want to know the truth of. I respect her right to her privacy and she to mine.
How I learned I CAN tell when they lie
Having conversations that are honest and infused with curiosity rather than judgement. Being vulnerable and speaking your truth to your young adult child will shift your conversations and how they view you. It’s not perfect, it’s a journey you take together. I learnt that by being honest with my feelings and the mistakes I made and continue to make opened the door to communication, allowing my kids to be the same with me. It’s also much easier to spot an untruth when suddenly they shut that door, which is usually not about me but someone else who has lied to them.
I am not suggesting to tell them all your secrets, but let them know you have secrets of your own, and you aren't ready to share them.
Opening the line of communication by coming clean with the fact you don't know all the answers, and let them know what you worry about for your them, will never be the wrong direction when you are looking to build a lifelong, loving relationship with your budding adult child.
A new path forward for you
This journey takes time, accountability, and some new tools in our toolbox.
My Nine Month Parenting 2.0 Program will provide all you’ll need to enhance the communication with your young adult child.
You’ll get the new tools I mentioned, accountability, a supportive environment with like-minded parents, and so much more.
Click on the link to join the next group of Parents looking to transform their relationship with their young adult child. Parenting 2.0 Nine Month Program or schedule a call with Avery to further discuss How to Handle Lying from your Young Adult Child
What tools do you use to get your kids to be truthful?
Answer in the comments and share this blog with someone you know who may benefit from it.