Monday, August 10, 2009

How it might have been, part 3

The title of this series was about what the blog might have been nine years ago. This post doesn't stick to that theme, but it is closely connected to the past two posts, so I want the "Part 3."

Accepting the lying was strange. It meant that we would go to the movies and he would say "I shouldn't go, I have a big paper to write." I would sigh because I was pretty sure that there wasn't a paper, and would wish that he could just tell me that he didn't want to go. I was confident there was no paper because if there had been that wouldn't have been "big" enough. He would have told me all about how he was supposed to have until the end of the week but the horrible teacher announced that the due date was changed, or something.

Sometimes I would just nod. Sometimes we had conversations like, "Well, have a good time."

"Good time? I have to write a paper!"

"Right. You know sweetie, it would be okay just to tell me that you don't want to see the movie." I would smile and give him a quick kiss on the cheek and leave. Sometimes he would protest, and sometimes he would smile. He did that often, I think it was because I was telling him that I knew he was lying and loved him.

Parenting without believing him became easier.

He asked for money for a school thing, and I wrote a check to the school. He would grin and say, "I don't suppose you'd just give me cash?"

"Do I have gullible written on my forehead today?"

Sometimes I just told him he was caught. "Carl, I want you to stop telling me that you are looking for a job every day when you are really hanging out with Kathy." Then as I watched him try to come up with a response I said, "Carl, the correct response here is just 'okay.'"

Now was this the right thing to do? I think so. I do know the good that came out of it. I was not always frustrated, angry, and preoccupied with how to fix Carl. I had more time and energy for the rest of the family. Though Carl did not get punished for lying, he also wasn't successful with it at home. It sort of amazed me how persistent he was (and is) in the lying even into adulthood.

I feel compelled to give an example. When he had his first apartment we took him out to dinner. The whole dinner he talked about how wonderful it was and laughed about how incredibly tidy it was what with three gay men living there. When we brought him home I jumped out and said I had to see this magnificent apartment. It looked like three 20-year men lived there. Yuck.

Anyway, he hasn't been able to trick me into giving him or assistance. In fact, he has received less help than I would otherwise be willing to give him. He has however received assistance. Once he called saying he was hungry. I sent him a gift card to a grocery store. Twice I have bought him bus tickets home because he wanted them and I decided I didn't care what the real reasons were, I wanted to see him. He will be 26 in a couple months and he is still part of the family.

What would have happened if I had kept trying to fix this? Well, I don't know, but there is a chance that he would have become increasingly secretive. Certainly I would have been worn out.

And I keep wanting to say, "And we wouldn't have learned to trust each other" except that is so strange because to this day I don't fully believe anything he tells me. And yet I trust him. Perhaps I have trust in him. He knows that he won't get help that he sometimes wants and maybe needs, but he knows that if he asks he will get an honest answer. There will be no lectures, no berating. I guess we both developed trust in our relationship.

In any case, it worked for us. If I could do it over again I would have given up on the lying thing much sooner. I certainly would not feel guilty about giving it up. It was, at least for us, the wise thing to do.

And I want to emphasize, I didn't generalize from that. My total failure to transform Carl into the person I thought he should be did not in any way persuade me that I might not want to try to fix Ann.


  1. This has been fascinating for me to read because it's so closely parallels a situation I have with someone in our extended family (minus the parenting piece, of course). I'm sort of just reaching the place of accepting that I can only ever trust about 15% of what she says, but being committed to the relationship regardless. It's hard. I feel alternately angry, guilty, resigned and unsure about the whole thing.

    One thing I'm really struggling to know how to handle is her lying to my kids. How did you deal with that? Did you step in when Carl lied to/tried to manipulate Andrew or Brian, or did you let them figure that out on their own?

  2. I don't seem to remember him lying to them. I suppose he did, but mostly when they interacted Carl was playing with them so they were talking about Pokemon, or something. Carl sort never really got to be eleven, and he seemed to enjoy just chilling and playing games sometimes.

    He liked to tease and trick them, which was sometimes a problem, but a different one.

    But to get back to the point ... I've almost always found it best to be truthful with the kids. I really can't advise you on the extent to warn them in advance and when to just answer their questions as they come up.

  3. Thank you for this, and more! more!

    So... did the checks to the school get cashed, I wonder?

  4. This makes a ton of sense to me when we are talking about teenagers, and still a fair amount when I try to extrapolate to younger kids. Definitely the part about not taking things personally, and I've never been a big fan of grounding and other similar consquences.

    And yet...there is definitely a stage in a child's life where it is appropriate for the parents to actively attempt to change certain behaviors. Taking this philosophy to an extreme seems like a recipe for the type of kids you see on Supernanny, whose parents can't imagine how they could possibly make their kids (sit at the table, not hit their siblings, behave in public places, do basic chores, etc) if the kids don't want to.

    I know that's not what you're advocating at just made me think, and now I'm trying to work out for myself where the boundary is between not fighting battles you can't win, and not expecting anything from your kids at all.

  5. Just today The Cheerleader said she couldn't ride the school bus because it made her sick. She went on about how she would get claustrophobic and throw up. I was laughing on the inside but outwardly I just said "I know it's not cool to ride the school bus as a high school senior cheerleader. Let me know when you think of an acceptable alternative." She has since had friends coming out of the woodwork willing to transport her to school each morning, none of them acceptable. Reading your blog has helped me learn to not take the lying so personally.


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