Dear Mister Four,
You recently stopped picking up the toys in the bathtub and frantically putting them away as the bath drained. Inconvenient, yes. But a step forwards in understanding the world around you. For months you would cry if anyone took out the drain plug before the toys were put away. You didn’t want them to go down the drain.
It would have made my job easier to perpetuate this myth. I mean. You cleaned up the toys every single time the bath was over.
There are a lot of lies that parents tell children to get them to do the things that they want them to do, or to discourage the things that they don’t want them to do.
Your grandmother was told that dragonflies would sew her mouth shut if she ever lied. The day that she told me about that we were sitting on a wooden foot bridge across a creek that I loved. Dragonflies were darting through the air. I thought that they were beautiful and pleasant. I was in my late 20’s and your older brother was not yet a year old.
I was sad when my mother told me this. Sad that she still got uncomfortable when the dragon flies flew too close. Sad that these pretty iridescent bugs were tied up in memories of being lied to and manipulated.
I was glad, though. Glad that she told me that story. Because often people fall into patterns without really thinking through to the long term consequences of what they are doing. It’s fast and it’s easy and everyone around you is doing it. It seems to be effective and hey- maybe it’s even cute that the kid believes something silly and unfounded. Maybe they’ve come up with something all on their own, and it’s just convenient for us as a parent.
Hearing her story made me recognize the long term of those cute little “tricks”.
No, child, the dragonflies won’t sew your mouth shut. The consequences of a lie don’t come in some mystical form of Santa Claus bringing you coal. They don’t come from insects or from any of those things. They come from the sadness of knowing you have been less than honest. They come from a loss of trust.
And that is why I tell you the truth even when it is inconvenient. That is why I admit my honest mistakes even if it’s scary to do so. That’s why I don’t pretend to be blameless when I am to blame. Why I don’t say that you broke the glass that I dropped. That’s why I showed you that the bath toys don’t fit down the drain.
Because lies have consequences that aren’t worth it. Because I value your trust just as you value mine.
You no longer pick up all the toys in tears and worry. Instead you pick them up because I ask you to please pick them up and put them away. And I give you a huge hug afterwards.*
No lies needed.
* You aren’t perfect at the picking up on request thing yet. Sometimes you won’t, or you get distracted and start to play again. But you’ll get there eventually.