My five-year-old, J, has caught me off-guard with his inquisitiveness on several occasions over the past few years.
Before he was three, he grilled me about how and why Rudolph’s carrot got back into the house after Santa and the reindeer came on Christmas Eve. (After all, the reindeer would have eaten it outside, right)? Ha – and we thought we were clever gnawing on it and putting it with Santa’s partially eaten cookie to show that Rudolph had indeed chewed it. We should have left the carrot in a snowbank!
Then, when he was almost four and I was pregnant with our second son, he had questions about the place from which his baby brother would leave Mommy’s body and come into the world. After I calmly and repeatedly explained that the baby was growing in Mommy’s tummy (an unsuccessful distraction tactic), he started to get annoyed… in his opinion, I obviously didn’t understand the question. “No Mommy, but where does the baby come out?”
So his question the other day – not a bizarre one by any means – shouldn’t have caught me by surprise. My husband and I were hanging out with him, enjoying a family movie night. All was well and we got wrapped up in the story. Then my heart sank as I watched the main character charismatically tell sky-high tales about himself to all the new people he met, in order to impress them… and it worked. They were impressed.
No big deal, right? But it bothered me. I wasn’t sure I wanted my tender-aged little guy to see this kind of situation yet. I didn’t particularly want to introduce the idea that if you’re not comfortable with who you are – something which most kids experience at some point – you could make fantastic stuff up about yourself so people will like you. Or the idea that lying could make you really popular.
So in the moment, hoping to gauge his thoughts on what he was watching and casually reinforce the idea that lying isn’t a good thing, I made a comment to J. Something to the effect of, “Wow, he’s lying quite a bit, isn’t he?” And then J asked the simple, fair question I was unprepared for. “Why would he do that, Mommy?”
Red alert! Red alert! Parenting manual please!
How do I explain our hero’s identity crisis and dishonest actions to my son, whose eyes were glued to the screen? “Well, I guess he’s confused about who he is, so he decided to make up stories about it. But it’s sad, because his new friends won’t believe what he says anymore once they find out, will they?”
Oh well. We do the best we can on-the-fly, right?
When I was growing up, my parents jumped at every opportunity to stress the importance of honesty. In fact it was the biggest rule in our house: Tell. The. Truth. “We’ll love you no matter what, but always, always tell us the truth.” If we did something bad we got in trouble for it, but if we did something bad and then lied about it, well, we were in much hotter water.
So now I, in turn, try to impress the importance of truth upon our little man. Can’t help it, I come by it honestly. (sorry, bad pun). And we also try to reinforce the idea that he’s amazing exactly as he is, and to believe in himself and his own ideas no matter what. He’s doing pretty well with that so far, though we’ve already seen signs of him altering his wants and likes to match those of the kids he looks up to.
We all try to be the best parents we can be, to guide our kids well, yet give them enough space to figure out who they are, not who they think we want them to be.
Here’s a question for you. When there’s such an incredible, natural desire for children to emulate the “cool kids” rather than simply be their own unique selves, how do you instill a sense of self-worth and the importance of truthfulness and authenticity?