I grew up in a world that was very keen (at least technically) on the idea of not lying. Lying was sinful and immoral and wrong. Lying was one of the things you had to apologize for and ask forgiveness for.
Of course, I also learned that certain types of lies seemed to be penalized more harshly than others. If my mom asked me whether I had cut my hair with the scissors and I point blank said ‘no’ when all of the evidence was clearly there to judge otherwise, that was going to get me in a heap of trouble. But if I subtly adjusted the timer that was on in the kitchen to time my piano practice when my mom was off busy and doing something else and she didn’t notice than that rarely had consequences.
So – like many children in my world – I learned that the important lesson about lying is to not get caught. To know when the truth would find me out and the punishment would come. I was a pretty sensitive kid and wanted the adults around me to not be mad at me so I mostly didn’t lie because I dreaded those consequences.
But the problem was, that kind of training didn’t teach me how to tell the truth.
Telling the Truth
You see, “telling the truth” – I have been learning recently – is much more extensive than “not lying”. Learning to tell the truth means getting honest about our emotions and about our motivations. Learning to tell the truth means getting honest about our pain and our limitations, about our hopes and our dreams. Learning to tell the truth means learning how to tell those things to other people, yes, but possibly more important than anything else, it means learning how to tell these truths to ourselves.
As someone with a disability – with pain, nerve and fatigue issues that are constant – the truth has actually been quite difficult for me to get to because it’s often not something I want to know about.
As someone with trauma in my story – someone who has triggered and melted down more times than I would ever want to admit – the truth has been painful for me to get to because it tells me that I’ve hurt myself and hurt those around me.
As someone who would love to tell a story of excellence, of intelligence, of “I’ve-got-it-all-togetherness,” learning to tell the truth has been a rough, tough ride.
But the closer I get to honesty the better things get. The better my relationships are. The less I trigger, the more stable my physical symptoms are.
And unsurprisingly, the more honest I get the more I have the capacity to tell a story of integrity and connection and transformation.
Passing On the Wisdom
So if ‘telling the truth’ is different than ‘not lying’ how does this change the way that we teach our children?
First of all, we need to make space to hear and see and name and honour our children’s emotions, thoughts, fears, pains and excitements. The things that children care about can seem tedious and unimportant to parents, but if we view them as opportunities to train our children in truth-telling than they suddenly gain huge amounts of significance!
Secondly, we need to create communities and homes of grace over perfection. That’s because grace’s response to mistakes and accidents and experiments-gone-wrong is not to punish or belittle or degrade but to love and to be compassionate. This culture of grace – when we practice it regularly to the point where it becomes the rule instead of the exception – is what enables our children to feel safe enough to lean into the vulnerability of truth telling. If truth telling is responded to with love and compassion and support – whatever the truth is – than children learn through experience the value of being fully honest with themselves and those around them.
And finally, we need to model truth telling ourselves. That means no more gritting our teeth, pretending or ‘trying harder’ when we’re having a rough day. It also means no more using our pain and our hurts as weapons to push people away. It means owning our emotions – being honest with ourselves. It means taking time outs ourselves for self-care and reflection. And it means finding trustworthy, grace-responding people to be honest with on a regular basis so that you’re regularly experiencing the same grace and compassion that you want to offer your kids.
And if any of this has connected with you, I’d love to hear from you.