I’ve got a secret to tell — one that I’m not proud of. I lie to my children.
Yes, you read that right. I lie to them on good days, bad days, blessed days and days that feel as if they were cursed. I’ve been lying to them since the day they were born. I realize how shocked you all must be, but it’s true.
I was a teenager when I became a mom. At 19, I can honestly say that I had absolutely no idea how to be a mother, or how to raise a child. I’m not sure if any new parent, at any age, truly knows how until they experience it. There are no magical words to explain the panic a new parent feels in those first few days, weeks and months after bringing their first baby home from the hospital. The very survival of another human being is an extremely terrifying responsibility.
In those first few weeks, I can say I wouldn’t have made it had it not been for the help of the grandmothers. Eventually, I got the hang of things. I learned from the mistakes I made and did the best that I could. I thought infancy and the toddler years would be the hardest, and if I could make it through them, I’d be doing alright.
Of course, later I found out that I was wrong. You teach a baby to roll over, to eat, speak and walk. You teach a toddler that no means no and yes means yes, what you can and cannot do, and how to act and not act.
After that, the really hard and important things arise. The mom becomes the teacher, the model for which the child — the student — uses to put an image, an example, to the words that are being taught. What manners are, when and how you implement them in your daily life. Right from wrong, what’s good and bad, and what’s expected. What compassion is, what empathy and sympathy are. About God, the Bible and what each of them mean to us, to life and the world. To raise decent, kind, compassionate, God-fearing children is a huge responsibility.
But, honestly, there are days when I forget what they are. There are times when I forget, when I neglect to be compassionate, understanding, empathetic, sympathetic and kind. There are times when I don’t forget, I just don’t feel like it, I don’t want to care, I don’t want to understand; I just want to wallow in my own selfish right to not have to sometimes, even though I’m fully aware that my children are watching.
That’s where the first lie begins.
On those days, in one of those moments, I begin my lie by looking them in the eyes and telling them all the reasons why I am entitled to feel the way I feel and act the way I act. I explain to them how I feel like I have the right to do the exact opposite of what I have spent years teaching them was the right thing, the right and proper way.
And now, I realize that what I taught them were excuses. An explanation for the excuse I created so that my wrong became a right therefore justifying the act that I knew was wrong, or I wouldn’t have felt the need to explain it in the first place. That’s what excuses are. They are society’s way of lessening the blame of our own mistakes so that we don’t have to take responsibility for them. I lied to them, fully aware that I was also lying to myself. A terrible habit I have when I’m desperate to not have to face the painful truth, whatever it may be.
That’s where the second lie begins.
I spent years teaching them how to be kind, how society expected them to behave, how to have manners and respect. I spent years teaching them that it was OK to be different, OK to be yourself. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am different, maybe even a bit weird. I can also admit that I am fickle, that I probably don’t dress, or act, or talk like the society I’m in. I fall short of perfection. That never bothered me until I became a mom, when how those in our society felt about me, affected how they felt about my children.
The truth is, it is OK to be who you are, to be different, to not have to change who you are just to be someone who is like everyone else. But, it does matter what you offer to the world, your society. You get what you put into it. You can be different, embrace your uniqueness; but it won’t mean a thing if you get so wrapped up in trying to convince the world around you, that you forget to believe it yourself.
I got so wrapped up in the lie, in the lesson I was trying to teach them, in being the example for them that I forgot to teach it to myself. I was teaching them all the things society expected of them. And then I was telling them that it was OK to be who they were, who they wanted to be. That it didn’t matter what others thought of them. That those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don't matter.
In the end, I realized that there was a level of a lie in each of those lessons, and how they contradict one another. How, during all those years, did I not realize that? In all of my many failures and mistakes, I think I’m most grateful for this one. Because it was my children, the ones I was responsible for teaching these lessons to, that ended up teaching it to me.
It was in watching my failure to accept myself without the acceptance of my society, that my children learned to accept themselves. I have told many lies to them over the past 19 years, lies a lot of you told and tell your own, and many that you don’t. But, what I found in each of these lies, is that it is with the practice of telling them, that I discovered the truth I hadn’t been able to understand before.
A lie is what we tell to avoid the pain and knowledge of the truth, whether to or for ourselves, or someone we care about. But it is through the pain, knowledge and truth, that we find growth. I can’t say with any certainty that I’ll never lie to them again, but I can say that I will never tell them another lie to cover a truth that I don’t want to face myself. I’ve learned that it’s OK if we fail as parents, it’s OK if we don’t always get things right and it’s OK if we regret things we cannot change.
Because our children don’t just learn from the things we get right, the things that we succeed in doing and teaching our children. They learn the most from the things that we don’t. It is in our failures and mistakes, that they learn that it’s OK if they fail, if they fall, and make mistakes; it is there they find strength, forgiveness, acceptance and growth.
Odenville’s Tabitha Fisher is a columnist for the St. Clair Times and is also a published author.