On January 23rd CBC ran a story about lying. In it they said that lying was a regular stage of development and not only that, a necessary one. Furthermore, they said that lying was necessary for a healthy society. Now, do I agree? This is a tough one because I do understand that it might be necessary to lie under certain circumstances (to protect someone from great evil, for example the Jews and Nazi’s), and there are even situations like this in the Bible. (See Exodus 1:15-21 and the story of the Hebrew midwives.) Of course, these and the several other examples such as Rahab and the spies, are, as my friend Donavan Friesen points out, the exception to the rule; honesty is better than lying. The point remains however that there is a difference between lying to preserve one’s reputation and being deceptive to preserve someone’s life. I suspect that the CBC story blurred those lines considerably.
So when it comes to your children what do you do when they lie? First of all, normal doesn’t mean “good” or “righteous.” While I can appreciate that the development of lying (or perhaps story-telling would be more appropriate) is normal, as I have written previously, so is a 3 year-old boy grabbing himself in public common, and yet… it’s not really acceptable. Truth is critical for relationships and I think that children can understand this at a young age. Not only that but I think that if we neglect teaching our kids about truth we will actually put them in danger. We need them to know that they must tell us when they get themselves or someone else into potentially dangerous situations.
That’s pretty obvious, I think, and it is true that lying is a sin (10 Commandments ring a bell?) However last week a mom approached me and asked me what to do with a child who was lying in their home. The issue that complicated the situation is that the child was old enough to know better (8 years old) but wasn’t a biological child. This mom and her husband had agreed to help with childcare until some health concerns were taken care of. This is clearly a very different situation. In this case, the child was a toddler going through a normal stage of development, or even a biological family member whom could be disciplined differently. What is a good response in this situation?
First, when you are dealing with another person’s child, and especially if you have been asked to be a caregiver, you definitely have the right to exercise the rules of your home and family. I promise you, if I had a friend staying over for a length of time who didn’t have table manners, he would have them by the time he left! If it was one night, my dad might have let it slide, but any greater length of time and that would have been addressed. Similarly, when my kids bring their friends over, we pray before we eat. It doesn’t matter to me if they are from a religious family or not, that is what our family does before meals and I have no issue with it – although I do sometimes explain what is happening. Why would lying be any different? “In this home, we tell the truth.”
However, I would be extremely careful in a situation like the one this mom gave me. Think about the trauma this precious little guy is going through – one of his parents isn’t well and he is spending time with a baby-sitter instead of his mom and dad and that is hard! We have to have grace, regardless of how ardently we hold to our moral values (kind of like God does with us!) This boy might have been lying because he had a lying problem, but on the other hand he might have been lying because the truth was too hard to face right now. The only way to find out is to gently talk about it and give room for his response. We work with kids in care – both within our home and at our church and we know that for many of these kids life is so hard that lying is the only way the can get through the muck. If at least they appear to be “normal” then maybe it will ease the pain of their reality. Lying in this case is a survival strategy, and while sin is sin and needs to be dealt with, you need to earn the right to help them deal with it.
What I think that little boy needs is someone who loves them unconditionally regardless of whether he lies or not. I think he needs a loving caregiver (as this mom certainly was) to pull him up tight on the couch and let him know that he never needs to lie in their home. But then that statement needs to be backed up with experience! If he does tell the truth, no matter how awful, you need to let him and not get angry or judgemental, or jump to discipline him. He needs to know that he can trust you even if he has messed up – and he will mess up. And he will test your words.
As in all lessons, we also need to make sure then, that we are modelling honesty. Healthy and appropriate vulnerability goes a long way in building trust between parents and children, or kids and their caregivers. But above all, because each child is different and each day is unique, submit the situation to God for wisdom. If you sense Him saying, “Leave it for another day.” Then leave it for another day knowing that God is God and you are not, and you only need to do what He is asking!