She does it without flinching, without looking away, with such great sincerity that it is almost impossible to discern whether I am being duped.
It is a Monday morning. I am urging Sophia to please decide whether she is taking Snakey-Pie or Moosey to school and to put him in her nap bag. Sophie holds up a pastel pink plastic egg from an Easter egg hunt.
“Mom, can I please take this egg to school?”
I am immediately suspicious. “Why?”
“I just want to show my friends.”
“What’s in the egg, Sophie?”
“Then let me see it.”
“Two jelly beans.”
“No, Sophia. You may not take jellybeans to school. It would not be nice or fair to eat jelly beans in front of your friends.”
“But Mom! I won’t!” Oh no I’ve said too much. I’ve forgot the cardinal rule of dealing with a 5-year-old: No bargaining.
“I said no, Sophie. Leave it here.”
Fast forward to pick up time.
I am gathering Sophie’s six-hundred and three drawings, which I will stealthily recycle when we get home. I pick up the nap bag. A pastel pink plastic egg rolls out.
I have been deceived.
“Sophia?” I say, holding up the egg, “what’s this?”
“Is there anything inside the egg?”
“Was there anything inside the egg?”
“I’ll ask you one more time. Was there anything inside the egg?”
“Yes. Two jellybeans.”
“What happened to the jellybeans?”
“I ate them during nap.”
“Sophia! I told you not to bring it to school.”
“I know. But it got in there by accident.”
I try to raise one eyebrow, but both go up.
“I swear, Mommy! I’m telling the truth!”
And then there was last week, after the kindness party. We were headed home from school.
“So what’d you do at the party?”
“Miss P’s husband came and made animal balloons. I want to give mine to Madeline.”
“That’s nice. How come?”
“Because Madeline likes puppies.”
“Okay. What else?”
“Well…we had strawberries and grapes and M and M’s, but I only ate the strawberries and grapes.”
I find this shocking. “Really? Why?”
“Well…actually I had strawberries and grapes and Pirate Booty,” she added, testing the waters.
“Soph, it was a party. You were allowed to have what they served.”
“Well…actually I didn’t have strawberries and grapes, just M and M’s and donuts and Pirate Booty,” she admits, coming clean.
Sigh. “Sophie, I’m glad you told me the truth, but I don’t like the fact that you lied to me.”
“I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
And the problem is: she will. This lying thing is working out for her. Sophie has discovered that (because I place a premium on honesty) if she does the thing she knows she should not do, and initially lies about it, but then fesses up, I will be so glad that she told me the truth (or want to encourage future truth telling), that I will let the disobedience slide.
Genius, really. Wish I had thought of it as a kid. But I just told the truth, because of my George Washington Complex, which I still suffer from today.
Sophie has no such problem.
What I’m doing? Doesn’t feel like it’s working. Kevin thinks that because she has already mastered the fine art of false genuineness, we’re out of time to drive home the importance of simple honesty. “How can a parent teach honesty when we don’t know the truth?”
So, despite having contributed to an article on what to do if your child is lying (my advice: reward the truth, which, we’ve established, has backfired), I decided to seek some professional advice.
One very non-nonsense psychologist/mom told me this:
“Do not ask for the truth, whether she did it, or what happened. If you do, you’re just putting them in a position to lie more, or argue with you, or guilt them into telling you. None of that is necessary. Speak as though you know it happened, address it and move on. Don’t make a big deal out of it.”
Another shared this. “Oh, lying. It’s a stage. She’ll grow out of it.”
This is what I wanted to hear. Yes. Tell me it will magically disappear. That my child is not honing her powers of manipulation for bigger and juicer lies. Practicing her technique until she can stare me down and lie with a smile, no hint of fear or remorse flickering across her face.
Tell me that she is merely being careless with the truth. Experimenting with what she can get away with. Giving into her id, and asking forgiveness later.
Tell me that one day, she’ll be honest and forthright. A model citizen. That unlike most people, who cop to lying at least twice a day, she will be a paragon of truth.
In other words,
Lie to me.