Childrearing

I Teach My Daughter To Use Her Lies Sparingly

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The other week, just before school, my daughter asked me kind of sheepishly if I ever had to finish a book in one hour. I knew something was up. “No,” I said. “I’ve never had to finish one of my books in one hour,” I responded.

“But if you had to finish a book in one hour, what would you do?” she asked.

“Well,” I told her, “I’d ask for more time. Why are you asking me this?”

It turns out she was behind in her Design Technology class at school – yes, she has such a thing – where she uses glue guns and saws to make a structure.

“I only have an hour left to finish,” she told me, “And I’m not nearly done my ‘zoo.’”

She was very worried about this, almost to the point of tears. So I told her that she needed to ask the teacher either for help or more time. And then she said something that shocked me. “Can I tell my teacher ‘My Mommy told me to tell you that?’” Yes, my daughter wanted to use my name – “Mommy” – to feel better about being behind and also, I suppose, as backup.

At first, I didn’t know what to say. I was sort of shocked. And impressed. I didn’t agree with her using my name but I was impressed that she thought of it because, frankly, it probably would have worked. But here’s why I also couldn’t get mad: I use her name to get out of things all the time. Would it be hypocritical of me to say, “No, you can’t use my name?” I mean, what parent hasn’t used their kid as an excuse to get out of things, like being behind on a deadline, being late for something, just not wanting to go into work or getting out of a family obligation?

In fact, one of the most beautiful things about having children is that you have a built-in excuse for getting out of things and getting home early! Truthfully, half the time my mother friends bail on me, saying their child has a sudden fever, I only half believe them. Sure, it could be true that their child has a sudden fever. Or it could very well be just as true that they want to stay in because it’s too cold, they’re too tired, or they just want to watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

So I told my daughter the truth. “No, you can’t say that I said so,” I told her. “You have to use that line sparingly. You have to use that line only when you really, really are in trouble.” I had to explain further. “For example, if a child pushes you or says something really mean to you, then you can say I’m going to tell my Mommy. Or if you’ve been sick and missed school, then you can say, ‘My mommy said it’s okay to miss swim class because I just got over a cold.’”

I explained that if she uses the “Mommy” line too often, then people aren’t going to believe her. In a way, I suppose, I am teaching my child to white lie. But who of us adults hasn’t white lied to friends, colleagues and bosses? I figure I’m teaching her life skills, and that skill is that you can use people as excuses to get out of things, but you can only do it when you really need to, and to do it sparingly, as I’ve mentioned. The other issue is, whether you want to hear this or not, is that your child is going to lie at some point about something. I’d rather my daughter ask me first if she has permission to lie first rather than just lie.

It all ended well, with my daughter telling her teacher that she needed help and more time (without using the whole “Mommy told me to tell you that” line). And, quite frankly, if I bail on you, it’s probably not because my daughter is sick, but because I am too tired to go out…or I want to stay in and watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Like I said, that’s one of the beauties of having children.