One of the ways in which it is hard for me to relate to my daughter, Margaret, has to do with honesty. I am probably one of the most honest people I know. This is partially because I place a high value on truth and integrity. And while I believe this is a trait that can absolutely be learned, I would be a liar if I didn’t point out that I do believe nature has played a large part in this. Let me explain.
I was that child who never lied. If I may steal a phrase from Clementine (the 6-year old and I are reading the series currently), OK-fine, I may have told a few white lies way back when I was a little kid, but overall, I told the truth. Either I was born without the ability to deceive others or I had it in me to be a talented liar but had no interest in flexing that muscle.
Interestingly, my older brother, who is also one of the most honest people I know, was deceptive when we were growing up. I see that in retrospect, but somehow I didn’t recognize it when it was actually happening; I just remember him getting punished a lot.
A memory that sticks with me from my own teen years is being at the mall with my friends one day. We’d gone into a clothing store that had mannequins donning outfits that were so inappropriate for a teen, I would lock my daughters away for life if they wore them to school. When we were leaving the store, I noticed one of my friends hadn’t paid for a belt she’d tried on so I said, “Oh, don’t forget to pay for the belt!” really loudly. She and my other friend quietly escorted me away from the entrance, visibly annoyed at me. I was utterly confused until the lightbulb went on – she was shoplifting! I was stunned. And clueless. Stealing was the furthest thing from my mind. I was both impressed that she had the guts to steal and horrified that she would actually do it. (Update on those friends: they ended up turning out to be extremely honest and successful people to whom I hold in very high regard today. Double phew.)
Now that I’ve provided some context, let’s fast forward to me as a parent to Margaret. I have joked in some of my blog posts about how adept Margaret is at being manipulative. Just as there is an element of thinly veiled truth in most jokes, in this instance, truth is naked. Unlike me, Margaret has a natural flair for being non-truthful. From little-girlhood to tween-hood, she has used manipulation to try to get what she wants. She has omitted the truth to make herself look better. She’s concocted stories to avoid getting in trouble. She’s flat out lied to my face when I’ve called her bluff. And while I realize that, as with my brother and close friends growing up, some of this is par for the teenage course, it has still been a steep learning curve for me.
My husband has been a great teacher in this regard. As someone who shares Margaret’s personality-type, he is much more equipped in dealing with Margaret’s tactics. It’s like he’s got a device embedded in him that detects her bullshit. His approach is merciless preemption. Case in point: he regularly frisked her each morning in elementary school because she would stash all kinds of toys and personal belongings she was not permitted to bring to school in creative places. It was ugly. But it worked.
In an effort to help Margaret be more truthful in all ways as she blossoms into teenage-hood, I have communicated to her how much I value integrity, openness, and honesty as critical building blocks in my own relationships. She knows that to me, dishonesty is a huge turnoff – and can be a deal breaker with a relationship. I would never turn my back on Margaret, but I’ve shared with her that trust is something sacred and when you breach it, you can’t easily build it back. And sometimes you can’t. So each time she is not transparent with me is another withdrawal in the bank account of trust.
Margaret is aware of her non-truth tendency and has really stepped up to try to address it. Thankfully, she is very receptive to what I share and seems to really take it to heart. She has a natural passion for learning, not just academically but emotionally as well. And she just cares so much about people and would never want to hurt anyone, least of all her family and friends. This gives me great hope! She realizes that hiding from the truth is not a healthy way to be. We have been honest with Margaret that there is a fair amount of addiction in her vast family tree and that being able to honestly express oneself is a crucial component to avoiding the formation of bad or addicting habits. And I applaud her for this because at twelve, I know that I had neither the self-awareness nor the insight required to do what she is doing at her young age.
To be fair, I have had to change some of my ways as a parent. My tendency to be completely open and honest is not always age appropriate. I continually tell myself that. I have had to employ the duct tape parenting approach at times when I desperately want to share something with Margaret that I know she will think is funny but resist because she’s just not ready for that type of bonding. NOT easy!
If I can impart anything to Margaret about the importance of being earnest, it’s echoed in this well-known quote: “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and years to repair.” – Anonymous