One of the best parts of being a parent is observing the innocence of my special little human. She’s four and a half, honest to a fault, and until recently hadn’t told her first lie. She’ll spring into my bed first thing in the morning to give me a kiss, then reel back in horror with an, “Ewe daddy, your breath smells bad!!!” while pinching her nose shut and waving a hand in front of her face. Or better yet, pointing at my face in a grocery store line and saying:
“Daddy, what’s that tiny nipple on your face?”
“It’s called a mole sweetheart…”
“I’ll name it Grandpa Sweetie, dad”
…”Awesome kiddo, thanks”.
You get the picture, she sees the world truthfully and honestly and isn’t afraid to say it. She hasn’t developed the ability of insight regarding the complicated mess of emotional “Do’s and Don’ts” we’ve adopted as social etiquette. She’s also never had a reason to lie. She rarely gets in any kind of trouble, and when she does it’s usually because she throws mom and dad a little more ‘tude then she should be. In which case she’s given a short time-out to gather herself, calm down, and think about the situation before we talk about it.
I knew the day would eventually come that my sweet little peanut would discover dishonesty, I’ve dreaded it like the plague. There’s something so special about the wholesome and honest behavior of these angelic little beings. At one point we were all such creatures after all and to see the good in them is to see ourselves mirrored in their eyes. There’s so much of myself visible in her, I often wonder if my quest to protect that innocence is also because she’s my reflection prior to losing it. To see the world again through the innocence of a child’s eyes and forget about all the toxic emotions would be incredible. Alas, the world comes at us hard and fast and though I’ve enjoyed watching her live so honestly with everyone, I knew it would be tough the day she finally told me an intentional lie, I was absolutely right.
Sparing all the details, essentially, she went to great lengths to fabricate a story about some of her favorite dolls that went “missing”. Naturally, like any good father, Super Dad wanted to locate them for her. Unfortunately for her, I did, and they didn’t seem to be fairing too well so far from Arrendale. Both dolls were carefully concealed in a bag and both of them looked like they had been drawn and quartered, there were limbs everywhere! I don’t know what kind of medieval game of Frozen she was playing, but Anna and Elsa were nothing but heads (barely) attached to bodies. A cold may have never bothered her anyway, but I’m sure she’d say otherwise regarding being reduced to a torso… Excuse the dad joke, allow me to continue.
Upon finding them I looked into her eyes and asked if she knew all along where the toys were. Her shoulders sunk, head hung low, and eyes filled with tears immediately as she said, “Yes daddy… I hid them because I broke them and I didn’t want to get in trouble”. My head began spinning… I began replaying everything that just took place. The story she told about the missing dolls, looking for them together, all the questions I asked as I tried to locate them that she had a response for, and the misdirection she offered as I got closer to finding them. All of it part of the fabrication.
To anyone that isn’t a parent, this probably seems silly. She broke some dolls, hid them, and lied because she thought she’d get in trouble, no biggie right? It was much bigger than that to me though. I’m her father, the one responsible for not just her physical well-being but her emotional, spiritual, and moral character as well. It was a representation of innocence lost. That one of the most wicked emotions (dishonesty) mankind is afflicted with finally pierced the veil of her virtue and she gave it a test run.
Upon realizing what had just happened, my eyes burst into tears as I sat down on the ground. Questions like, “Why was she afraid to tell me she broke her toy?”, “Am I doing enough to teach her about honesty?” and “Where did she learn how to lie so expertly?” flooded my mind. I began feeling responsible for it all. Something I’ve always prided in our family dynamic is the ability to calmly talk through any situation, to always give one another the benefit of the doubt and a chance to talk about something before having a reaction. Yet despite my efforts to foster that type of home dynamic and avoid lying altogether, I failed.
She ran over and wrapped me in a bear hug bellying her four year old frame while repeatedly telling me she was sorry. I knew she understood the levity of the situation, seeing how sad it made me affected her tremendously. She’s punched, kicked, smacked, jumped on, squeezed, choked, and pinched me while we play together and it never affects me because I’m dad, and dad is impervious to pain. But seeing me in pain by her actions showed her there’s a chink in my armor, and dad could be hurt after all.
We spent some time discussing what lies are and why they aren’t ok and she understood. The cost of her lie was one marble from her savings with the understanding that next time she told a lie, she would lose all her marble savings. (See A Marble Idea for more on that) I didn’t want to only leave her on a threat of consequence though, so I also told her that if she made a mistake in the future and told me about it instead of hiding it, she would never lose any marbles for being honest.
So why write about this? Well, having only one child, this was a first for me. It tore me apart to think this little angel assumed my response to her breaking some toys was going to be a negative one. Truthfully, she’s never been in trouble for breaking a toy, that’s what was so bizarre to me. She can color them, break them, lose them, whatever and we don’t care, she understands they are hers to do as she wants with. In fact, often times she likes to give away her toys and we encourage it! I wondered if there were any other parents out there in the same boat, whose hearts felt the sting of dishonesty from the mouth of their own babe. Surely I’m not alone on this island, so for those of you that have had a similar situation, I feel for you.
While the passing of such supreme innocence may be difficult to digest, it’s important as a parent to reassure positive behavior without simply using scare tactics. Help them understand why that causes hurt feelings. Show them the benefit of telling the truth and give them the space to make mistakes without fearing a reaction to foster a communicative relationship where lies have no place. I’ve heard dads say, “I’d never let my kid see me cry”. That’s silly, we’re emotional beings and capable of having hurt feelings, even by a four year old… especially by a four year old.
Will this be the last lie? Sadly, it was the first of more to come. But with some patience, guidance, love, empathy, and maybe even some super glue… we’ll get through it as a family and be better for each lesson.