Friday, December 24, 2021

All Kids Lie

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@benwhitephotography?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Ben White</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/lying?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>

I’m fortunate to have a close-knit group of friends who all have teenage kids. I call them my Mom-Friends. Yesterday I was talking to one of my mom-friends about her kid lying to her. “All kids lie,” I said.

One of the things I ask of my teenage daughter is that she always tell me the truth. I want to know everything, even the stuff that’s bad. I want to know the ins and outs of her life so I can support her, guide her, comfort her through whatever happens in her life. But I know my daughter lies to me. She has to. 

Kids lie because they have to.

When kids are little they are perfect. They are so perfectly molded by our perfect parenting that we look at them with adoration and see everything rainbows and fairies. My mother used to tease me because I’d send her photos of my daughter sleeping. She was perfectly perfect all the time, even when she slept, especially when she slept. She was a perfect sleeper.

But as kids grow into teens and young adults they begin to self-actualize, to become who they are and not a reflection of who their parents want them to be. 

I am not proud of this, but I can see where I’ve forced my own daughter into lying. When I’m completely honest with myself I can clearly see the judgment I have of my daughter. I’m not judging her for who she’s become but because she’s changed; she’s not who she used to be. She’s not who I knew so well. 

Because I am still looking for that person — the little one who was perfectly perfect according to all of my standards of perfection — my daughter has to lie to keep my image of her intact. 

Lying is my daughter’s way of preserving her process of individuation. It’s her way of keeping me content, giving me enough of the old her to hold onto while forging ahead with her independence and autonomy. 

Maybe lying isn’t such a bad thing after all.

When I look at lying as a means of self-preservation for kids and parents, I think maybe it’s a good thing. I know my daughter doesn’t tell me everything; that often she lies by omission. But would I really want to know everything? I think I do, but I wonder if maybe it would be too much for me.

Her friends now, the people she’s forming this newfound independence and young adulthood with, know her in a fundamentally different way than I do. These friends don’t know her as she was when she was my perfectly perfect little girl. And my daughter doesn’t want them to know her that way. She wants them to know her as she is now; as the young woman she is creating. 

Occasionally my daughter and I will have a spontaneous conversation where she’ll share a lot with me. She’ll come into my office and talk about a boy she likes. If I sit there quietly with a calm expression she’ll elaborate and share details that, while inside I am clamoring for, on the outside I am completely neutral. It’s important in those moments that I monitor my reaction, that I don’t have too much of an opinion. 

Sometimes after dinner while doing the dishes my daughter will share her feelings about one of her friends. I can feel my “there’s a lesson here” mother rearing her ugly head, wanting to give my poor daughter a lecture about fairness and patience and friendship, but I quell that pollyanna and quietly listen. 

I know in those moments of sharing my daughter is not telling me everything. She’s sharing just enough to connect with me and preserve her budding sense of self. And it works. Those moments of sharing are like gas in the tank. I feel like I know my daughter a little bit more. I have the sense that she’s okay because she’s still sharing who she is with me. 

But by lying, by sharing just what she wants to share, my daughter is taking care of herself too. She’s making sure that her new path forward isn’t burdened by judgment, by the baggage of who she once was. I respect that. I remember feeling the same way when I was her age.

This process that our teenagers are going through, the process of becoming adults and separating from their childhood image, is hard work. Teens are in a perpetual state of exploration and reinvention. They are discovering who they are and that’s why they don’t tell their parents the whole truth.

Lying has such a negative connotation. We think of liars as bad, even evil, conniving and manipulative. When we use the word “lying” to describe this behavior of individuation in our kids, we’re deepening the divide, assigning a negative element to something perfectly normal and natural. 

I’m going to rename this behavior. Instead of “lying” I’m going to call this teenage privacy and information-sensoring behavior “becoming.” All that action behind the scenes that parents know nothing about is our kids becoming who they are. We’re just a small part of that process and, as hard as it is, we have no place in their inner sanctum of evolution. 

For now, our job is to stand at the sidelines and watch. At some point, maybe in a few years, maybe longer, our kids will feel ready to bring us in again. And that will feel amazing!

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