I am in the middle of a message series called: What Kids Know: About Parenting.” During the series, folks at the Orchard will look at biblical parenting principles from the perspective of a child. Along with the series I’ll be sharing a couple of my own experiences. I hope they are helpful to you.
Experience #2: Tell the Truth
Go ahead and put this one in the category of, “Parenting is not rocket science after all.” Everyone knows that good relationships are based on truth telling. Who would lie to a child anyway? This one is easy. It’s one of the Ten Commandments. Duh!
As with most things, it’s not simple.
Parents want to fix children, protect children, or make children happy by telling those lies, fibs, fairy tales, and half truths. There is a big difference between playing into a child’s imagination with Santa, a tea party, or an imaginary friend and falsifying information that is otherwise factual. Santa and such can be a healthy part of childhood if not taken to extremes. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who said, “My parents were liars because they told me Santa came down the chimney.”
Granted there are also some things that children of any age just don’t need to know. There is no good reason for a child to know about dad’s new blue pills, or mom’s struggle with self esteem, or that $10,000 bonus check. Some things are just private between adults and don’t belong in a child’s world. But a child needs the opportunity to process and respond to most things in this world. When we take that ability away from them we circumvent crucial childhood experiences that help them grow into strong, healthy, capable adults.
Again, we lie or withhold the truth to fix, protect, or make happy. Here are some examples along with possible ramifications:
Fixing a problem
The lie: A mom does not want her children to play on a certain vacant lot in the neighborhood so she tells the kids that if they step foot on that property the police will come, arrest them, and they will have to spend the night in jail.
The ramification: The mom missed the opportunity to instruct the child about the real reasons for her concern. Maybe the lot is dangerous, has a snake bed, is hidden from the main road, has a large unprotected wall, or rusty rebar sticking out of the foundation. Wouldn’t a child learn to trust their parent and learn to navigate the adventures of life better if they were told the truth?
Protecting the unwise
The lie: A dad does not want his daughter to wear a certain outfit so he throws the outfit away and tells the daughter that the clothing got ruined in the washing machine, and that he didn’t know she liked the outfit anyway.
The ramification: The dad just missed the opportunity to have real influence in his daughter’s life by not sitting down to talk about how certain styles of dress cheapen honor, send the wrong messages, and attract boys for reasons that will end up disappointing them. What type of decisions will the daughter make when the dad is not around? Will the washing machine eat her clothes in college?
Making everybody happy
The lie: It’s a classic story. A goldfish dies and mom or dad knows that the child will be devastated when the facts are revealed. So mom and dad run out to the pet store quickly before little Johnny gets home from school to replace the fish. No one says a word. The parents hope their deed will go unnoticed.
The ramifications: The parents have helped the child be happy for the moment, but they have missed the opportunity to walk with the child through a moment of grief that will prepare them to deal with the inevitable loses that come to every life.
Sometimes we need to share things with a child in a way that they can understand, but rarely is there something so hideous that we need to hide the truth from them. If Dad was an axe murderer and is serving life in jail then maybe a 4-year-old just needs to know that the dad hurt other people and is serving time in jail for that. But it is unhealthy to tell a child that dad is in jail for too many speeding tickets or some other nefarious reason that appears to be more palatable and acceptable. As the child grows older and is more emotionally capable more of the whole story will need to be revealed if the child is going to make sense out his predicament in life and trust his mom.
My experience with raising three imperfect, but totally amazing teenagers tells me that I’m glad I’ve told the truth to them over the years. Age appropriate truth telling has helped us develop a trusting relationship. I have not missed those life moments where one of my children has needed to wrestle with something, come to terms with it, and make good decisions about it. I’ve been their partner in discovery. I’ve been there to walk with them instead of lie to protect them, fix them, or make them happy. It has not been the easiest route, but it’s been the best. I’m confident that my children are more able to handle the challenges life will throw at them because they have known the truth, we’ve been able to talk about the truth, and they have learned to navigate grief, disappointment, and danger with me at their side.
Those commandments, they are a lot deeper than they look on the surface.