Last night, when I asked the girls if they brushed their teeth, Greta and Ingrid replied in the affirmative, and Dagne, with a deep sigh for answer, got up and went to the bathroom to brush her teeth. This morning, Little-Big-Blue-Eyes hugged me tearfully and said, “Mommy, I lied to you last night. When you asked me if I brushed my teeth, I said ‘yes’ and I didn’t do it!” Then, her little body gave into spasms of grief, sobbing against my hip from the guilt of her burden. She pulled back and looked at me, whispering, “What should my punishment be?”
I kissed her tears away and hugged her close.
“Thank you for telling me,” I said. “That was right of you to tell me. But … lying still deserves a punishment.” She nodded solemnly, while her lip quivered. I looked around at the breakfast dishes littering the counter. “You’ll have to do the breakfast dishes after tennis today.”
After we returned, the sight of her little skinny form all alone amidst those piles of dishes while her sisters rushed outside to play made me want to rescue her. Harris breakfasts are not a few cereal bowls, but the pie dish for the French toast batter and whisks and butter knives and cups of milk and plates and the syrup holder and forks and knives and coffee paraphernelia. Yes, I wanted to pitch in and soften the blow, but … I restrained myself from helping her or lessening the consequences. In fact, when she thought she was done, I pointed to dishes that she overlooked and made her do those as well.
I always try to parent as one who is under the Law — that I cannot overlook or wink or whisper, “Let’s just keep it between us two.” I cannot turn a blind eye or be too tired or forget … I try to parent without a hint of the arbitrary, but as one with the force of something much greater or more powerful behind me, something far more important than just our family dynamics.
Later, I mentioned to her that she needed to guard against laziness, for lying, as Charlotte Mason has taught me, is always a secondary offense. The source of the lying is what really needs to be faced. Primary sources can be cowardice, maliciousness, carelessness, or boredom. In Ingrid’s instance, she lied because she was cozy in her bed and it was late and she had a full day at the tennis tournament swimming in the pool and she really didn’t want to get up. That’s being lazy. Doing what you need to do even when you’re tired is an absolute must for maturity.
But other causes of lying can be not wanting to get punished for something broken or forgotten (cowardice). Or maybe the little boy next door is annoying and she wants to be rid of him so she invents a story that will help her mother to keep him away(maliciousness or manipulation). Or perhaps she just wanted to exaggerate the facts about what her sister did to her to create a little excitement, to see the look of alarm or anger cross over her mother’s face (carelessness). And maybe, she’s been swinging in the hammock all day and there’s nothing to do and wouldn’t it be exciting if …?(boredom)
Ingrid didn’t really struggle with maliciousness or carelessness, but she did wallow through a phase of lying to avoid punishment. At first, I was tempted to try the popular method of “really coming down hard on lying,” but something stayed my hand. Again, it was Charlotte Mason. She teaches that it is more important to incorporate the habit of truthfulness. Always make them speak accurately, never allowing exaggerations like “there were a million of them!”
“A million? Really? How can you be sure? Did you count them? Go and count them and tell me how many there are. Be as exact as you can and clarify if there are exactly 23 or about.”
“Is that really what he said, or are you exaggerating? I have a hard time believing that the teacher said those exact words. Give the facts, now, and don’t exaggerate or interpret. Report what actually happened.”
And, when Ingrid is denying vehemently that she didn’t do it when her sister insists that she did, I usually go about it this way:
“Ingrid, I want you to stop telling me whether you did or didn’t do it. I want you to stop talking at all. You need to go to your room and spend five minutes there, thinking about this situation. I want you to remember that truthfulness is what is expected of you — that no matter what, God sees everything…” At this moment, her voice rises to interject that she didn’t do it and that I should listen … Commanding her to stop interrupting and to listen to me, I continue, “After five minutes, I will come to you for the truth, and I expect to hear it.” I set the timer. Ingrid marches down the stairs, howling about no one ever listens and everyone is mean.
But after the beeper has beeped and I crawl onto the bed with her and wrap my arms around her, the truth comes out. Sobbing with shame and vexation, she can’t handle that time alone with her and God without ‘fessing up. I remind her that she needs to be brave. That to not admit to her own actions is being a coward. And I call upon her imagination to help her — to be like ___________ or whoever we’re reading about at the time and be courageous — courage is doing the right thing even when you’re afraid.
That phase of Ingrid’s life passed after a time and the truth comes up quicker now, and, case in point, without prompting. A few weeks ago, when Ingrid’s word came into question, I found her to be innocent and grateful I was to see her victorious over herself, to be able to choose what is right even to her own hurt, to exert her will and control herself and not live in fear.