She looks up at me from her coloring book. “No,” she smiles sweetly, chocolate smeared around her mouth like brown lipstick.
“Well then what’s on your face?” I ask her, squashing the impulse to say it with that annoying “I know you’re lying” tone my own mother was so good at using whenever I tried to mask the truth with her.
Elle crinkles her eyebrows thoughtfully, pausing for a moment before she responds.
“Raisins,” she answers proudly.
So, it’s official. My kid’s a liar.
I naively believed my daughters would, just by merit of having inherently sound moral compasses, recognize that lying is wrong, and that no matter how grievous the infraction, they would innately know that honesty is always the best policy.
This is that naive mother-self, imagining how the chocolate bar wrapper conversation would have gone in that perfect, ever-honest world:
Me: “Elle, do you know anything about this chocolate bar wrapper I found in Daddy’s closet?”
Elle, sheepishly: “Yes, Mom. I snuck into the pantry when you were doing the laundry and, well, you know how much I love chocolate, so, I just couldn’t resist. I’m sorry.”
Me: “OK. You know that you aren’t supposed to eat sweets whenever you want.”
Elle: “Yes, I know that Mom.”
Me: “And you know that I’m always going to find out if you eat sweets when you aren’t supposed to.” Elle: “Yes, Mom. You are always going to know, so I should just tell you the truth in the first place, and even though I might get in trouble, it will be less trouble than if I lie to you.”
Me: “Yes, you’re right. Now do you want to throw this chocolate bar wrapper in the trash?”
Elle: “Yes, Mom, I’d love to. And it will never happen again, I promise.”
(I understand this imaginary conversation stretches the limits of what a real four-year-old is capable of (a) understanding, (b) imparting to their mother, and (c) actually doing. But if I’m going to imagine, I may as well imagine the ideal, right?)
After all, child psychologists do say that a child’s ability to lie is a big developmental step in their grasp of language. At around age three-and-a-half, a child begins to develop a keener understanding of the power of language, and how they can manipulate it to their advantage – either to gain attention or avoid punishment. But just because she now understands that she can purposely manipulate language to tell me something that isn’t true doesn’t mean she should!
But, if I set my ideal world standards aside, I can talk myself into believing that Elle’s recent proclivity towards lying to me is merely a stage in her lingual development. This is a trick I’ve discovered we parents tend to use, when our kids start doing something unsavory that we can’t readily correct. We just change the rules. Shift our expectations. See all the positives in every negative.
And so, I welcome Elle’s lying as simply a sign of her fast developing linguistic comprehension. And luckily, she’s not a very good liar. In fact, she’s doing a pretty good job of telling me the truth in every lie she tells.
I find an open container of Gatorade drink powder under the table. I ask Elle: “What were you doing under the table with an open container of Gatorade drink powder?”
“Um, not eating it.”
Elle comes upstairs from the bathroom, some kind of greasy goo smeared all over the front of her hair.
I ask her; “Elle, what did you just put in your hair?” “Not lotion, of course,” she responds.
So, my kid might be liar. Hopefully a liar just for now, until that inborn moral compass kicks in – I know it’s there, it just needs a little nudge in the right direction. An innocent liar, merely following the developmental curve of other kids her age, all of whom are just beginning to comprehend their power to manipulate truth into propaganda.
In my ideal world, my kids would never lie to me. But understanding that perfect ever-honest world may not exist, I’ll hang onto the hope that if Elle’s going to lie, at least she’ll continue to do a poor job of it.
“Elle, what were you doing last night when I asked you to be home by ten?”
“Not stringing toilet paper all over the principal’s house, of course.”