The Truth About Lying

truth

I looked my mom in the eye and lied to her about watching a movie I wasn’t allowed to watch even though she totally knew I was lying.

Even when I was young and extra-stupid, I was still smart enough to know she knew.

Parents just know.

It was a conservative house. No R-rated or even PG-13 movies for me. Even actually turning 13 didn’t convince my mom that PG-13 material was age-appropriate for me.

When I was probably 9 or 10, we had just one PG-13 movie in the house. Hiding Out. A random late-1980s Jon Cryer movie I’ll be surprised if any of you have ever seen.

I totally watched it whenever I had a few hours to kill home alone because I was young and liked doing things I wasn’t supposed to.

There was a word used in the film that no one ever uses: execrable.

And I used it once in a sentence while talking to my mom.

Because she’s not a vegetable, a small-brained woodland creature or a moldy piece of ham, my mother knew instantly I had watched the one movie in the house I wasn’t allowed to watch.

When she asked me where I’d heard that word, I told a lie.

Because self-preservation is one of our greatest instincts.

Because no kid wants to get caught doing things they’re not supposed to, or more specifically, punished for the behavior.

Because we don’t appreciate the freedom of honesty when we’re too young and innocent to know how poisonous dishonesty really is.

My son got in trouble in gym class this week for sliding on the floor even after the teacher instructed him not to. He wasn’t allowed to participate in gym that day and it made him cry.

We got a note from the teacher telling us what happened.

Our six-year-old denied it. He suggested his first-grade teacher was lying to us.

He gets his facts wrong a lot because he’s 6. But this is the first time I know of where he was being intentionally dishonest out of self-preservation.

He didn’t want to lose rewards and privileges. And I’d like to believe he didn’t want to disappoint his parents.

I never want to lie to him about anything not related to Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.

So, we hugged.

“Daddy used to get in trouble at school too, bud. And when the teachers told my mom and dad about it? They were never lying,” I told him. “I know it’s hard to tell the truth sometimes. Sometimes people say things that aren’t true because they’re afraid to get in trouble. Everyone does, man.”

And then we hugged again.

So here we are. Just a little more innocence lost.

He can lie when he’s afraid just like the rest of us.

But maybe he’ll choose not to.

When I was five or six, I spent a summer staying with a family during the day while my dad was at work. They had a little boy named E.J. He was a year younger than me.

We would run around behind their house, playing in sandboxes and doing Big Wheel stunts and picking raspberries while trying to avoid bee stings.

On one random afternoon adventure, we discovered a bucket of discarded motor oil outside a neighbor’s house.

E.J. picked up a pinecone lying nearby, dipped it in the bucket of oil and started drawing oil marks on the wall of the house.

I don’t remember feeling like we were doing anything wrong.

The neighbor discovered the oil mess on his house later and contacted E.J.’s mom—the neighbor lady who babysat me.

She sat us down at the kitchen table to ask us what happened.

E.J. told her that I did it.

I denied it.

She believed her son.

And I was simply the lying vandal shitty kid that helped supplement the household income for however many more days or weeks I stayed with that family that summer.

That’s the first time I can remember someone accusing me of something that wasn’t true.

That’s the first time I can remember feeling a real sense of injustice and outrage.

I’m almost certainly the only human being in the world who remembers the story and knows (or cares) what really happened.

The truth matters.

I hope I’m always brave enough to be as honest as possible without hurting people.

I hope my son is always brave enough to be as honest as possible without hurting people.

I hope the power of truth prevails for people who deserve justice.

I hugged my son so tight. The missteps of growing up have begun.

Everything’s going to be okay.

“It’s always better to tell the truth,” I told him.

Something I’m sure to repeat over and over and over again for many years.

Something I need to always remind myself to be.

Because we must lead by example.

Because honesty takes courage.

Because that’s where peace lives.

Because the alternative is execrable.

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13 thoughts on “The Truth About Lying

  1. my heart always liquifies when you tell stories about that cute face! I appreciate parents who don’t miss opportunities to teach important lessons in love. that lying one is a doozy cuz, you’re right, we ALL do it. I always tell my kids that telling the truth and accepting the consequences always feels better than the feeling of lying. now, with teenagers, I think they finally understand it. Keep on, my friend.

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  2. “Teachable Moments” abound when they are that age. By the time they are Monster Teen’s age, you better hope you took advantage of as many of those as possible! :) She will occasionally look at me and say, “Oh, man…this is another one of those ‘teachable moments,’ huh, Momma?” I’m glad she recognizes there is still much to learn.

    On a sidenote: I wonder where the phrase: the truth hurts, came from. I mean, we want the kids to be honest, we want to be honest…but none of us wants to hurt. [Inadvertent ramble end.]

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  3. Great post, man. Oh, the days when we used to feel immortal and valiantly correct. We never did want to get into trouble, because some of our parents kept us walking on eggshells. It was fun to lose innocence. However, I’d probably rethink my “rebellious” teenage years. At least that bout of piss and vinegar is gone. Thankfully, I was only called to the principles office once in elementary school. The second time was in high school for egging people on, making a funny sign (in retrospect).

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  4. Kids… my son got in trouble at the end of the summer for lying to us about whether he’d eaten his lunch or not. Stupid. We busted him and then it was a big deal. He was grounded, took away his phone, took away the XBox. There had been a few other “minor” lies he told and we started to worry that it was becoming a thing. When they’re teens you worry if you failed, if you missed something along the way. Because who would lie about eating a sandwich? It gets scary, my friend. We told each other it would be much worse if he was lying when he was 16, 17, 18. Because then the stakes are much higher. There’s a lot of holding your breath and crossing your fingers and hoping you’re getting it all right. Sounds like you are so far…

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    • Matt says:

      There IS lots of holding your breath and crossing your fingers. Excellent way to put it.

      It all happens really, really fast.

      I’m sure you’re right. I need to spend more time appreciating right now. Always awesome to hear from you Gretchen.

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  5. I’ve read somewhere that kids begin lying as young as 2. My five year old lied to me tonight about sneaking Halloween candy. It’s infuriating. And yet I’m pretty sure when I shove my candy wrappers to the bottom of the trash so my kids won’t see how much I’ve “taken” from them, that makes me a liar too.
    Loved this. Thanks for following my blog. Looking forward to following yours.

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    • Matt says:

      You finished a post with: “How can we make this mindfulness a habit?” And thats when I knew we weren’t so different, and I wanted to read more.

      It’s so easy for us to just busily scurry through life never pausing to think about or ask about those sorts of things. And I think most of us do. I know i mostly have. And I hope moving forward I can be a much more present, mindful person with everyone I’m with, but my young son particularly.

      So. Thanks for that.

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  6. Paul Hanson says:

    My father-in-law says that if you tell a lie and everyone knows it’s not a lie, then it’s not a lie.

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  7. martha0stout says:

    My sister’s kids try to get out of punishments too sometimes, but we always find out and they know we will find out. We let them know after the first time they tell us something that if it wasn’t the truth and we have to find out some other way than them telling us, the punishment will be worse. If they tell the truth after that first warning, the punishment is never as bad as it would have been for lying.

    But it is hard sometimes to stay consistent when whatever it is that they’ve done affects us emotionally.

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  8. […] blog. His intuitive reflection on his life appealed to me. A recent post I really enjoyed is “The Truth About Lying.” I distinctly remember the first time my son lied to me on purpose, and I was not nearly as […]

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