At the tail end of a fun, long weekend one of my daughters came to me with a confession. I’m not going to go into details, but let’s just say it started as something minor, something she could have fessed up to much earlier and probably wouldn’t have received too severe of a punishment; BUT then there was a series of cover ups, misrepresentations and lies by omission that ensued. By the time we unraveled the entire story I had deduced that one of my sweet, kind-hearted, intelligent daughters acted like a thug. I wouldn’t be surprised if she started wearing gang colors soon.
OK, I may be exaggerating just a wee bit because the knife wound in my heart is still fresh, but when your child breaks that circle of trust — I mean really stomps on it — it is a tough pill to swallow.
This was the first time that I actually was disappointed in one of my children. I mean, sure, there are times when they do something dumb — like write on the couch with a permanent marker, or they do something dangerous — like sled ride down the stairs in a laundry basket (hypotheticals, of course); but those are just isolated moments of poor judgment.
When your child blatantly does not do something she is supposed to do (twice), then engages in a series of cover ups and sneaky behavior in order not to get caught — including misleading both your parents and another adult; well, that’s when you get called up to the parenting big leagues. This is the time when stuff gets real, the time when discipline matters, the time when life lessons get taught.
I was surprised at how personally I took this offense. I have parented with a somewhat flexible iron fist since finding out I was pregnant with my third. Having three kids only 16 months apart and a husband that travelled meant my kids had to listen to me, or there was no chance of ever leaving the house for years. My friends (lovingly) called me the Nap Nazi or Snack Nazi or Bedtime Nazi because I stuck to a routine without fail. If my kids fell out of line or broke the rules, my punishments were swift and just.
And it worked. Up until now. My girls have thrived under my somewhat tyrannical parenting regime. I think if you were lucky enough to meet my kids in real life, you would find them kind, compassionate and responsible girls — and just all around good eggs.
Which is why this act of defiance took me by surprise. And it got worse as I untangled the web my daughter weaved when she went through the many steps to deceive.
After going through the cycle of emotions you feel when your kid blows it, such as denial, rage, embarrassment and more rage, I realized that my feelings were also actually hurt. It hurt that she had misled me and it hurt that she broke my trust. I felt betrayed, which was a bit of a surprise. Of course, I knew this day would happen, but I didn’t realize how much it would affect my own psyche, my own confidence as a parent.
But I also get that it’s normal for kids to mess up, normal for kids to test the boundaries, normal to try to get out of trouble. With all joking aside, I’m still pretty confident my child will grow up to be a normal, happy productive member of society. And as my own mother said to me after hearing the event unfold: “Be thankful that it’s taken this long for it to happen.” Word to my mother.
Janet Lehman, a behavior therapist and contributor over at Empowering Parents, has said this about dealing with children who misrepresent the facts or lie:
I believe that with kids, lying is a faulty problem-solving skill. It’s our job as parents to teach our children how to solve those problems in more constructive ways….Again, in my opinion, the overall reason why kids lie is because they don’t have another way of dealing with a problem or conflict. In fact, sometimes it’s the only way they know how to solve a problem; it’s almost like a faulty survival skill for kids. Read more: http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Deal-with-Lying-in-Children-and-Teens.php#ixzz3G9M3JCvH
Well, if my daughter was worried about surviving my wrath, then I think the good doctor is right in what she said above — she was definitely trying to problem solve for survival. She knows her parents well, and knows we will issue a punishment…big time.
But I also want her to know that she can come talk to us about anything, and we will still love her no matter what — so when stuff comes up that really matters, stuff that can impact the rest of her life, she’ll know the right decision is to come to us. This is why as the full story started to come out and I put the pieces together, I did my best to remain calm and quash my normal loud tone I acquire when I get fired up.
But keeping calm does not mean that my husband and I were light on the punishment, or the guilt for that matter. We aimed directly for where it would hurt the most….right in the old iPad, with a little hiatus from the television included. And we threw in a few layers of guilt for good measure, just to make sure she knew we were not playing around when it comes to trust.
Of all the transitions we go through with our children, the move from rule-following little kids to more independent thinkers has been the hardest. I struggle with allowing my kids more responsibility, more trust while ensuring they know that I am still the boss. I (almost) long for the time of being physically exhausted from carrying three kids around all day to where we are now — constantly strategizing on how to keep one step ahead of them. I am seriously considering purchasing the entire series of The Cosby Show just so I feel a little more prepared on how to handle this stuff.
So, there are no words of wisdom to share today, no lesson to take away, no parenting ideology to agree with. It’s just me telling you that I’m in the trenches now, just like all the moms before me and all of you following after.
Does anybody have a shovel?