Why my kids’ little lies are a BIG deal

I gave up lying years ago.

Even the “little white” ones. Cold turkey.

I highly recommend it.

Besides being universally frowned upon and breaking a commandment and whatnot, I was never good at it anyway. The handful of times I tried it, I hated the unsteady footing and that pesky guilt.

So, one nondescript day many years ago, I decided I would just not lie. No matter what. No “just call in sick” or “they won’t know the difference.” A truth-or-bust policy.

Now I’ll be the first to tell you I have PLENTY (plenty!) of other shortcomings, but I have been honest to a fault ever since.

Of course, I word things carefully when needed (especially if someone’s feelings are at stake), but they are defensible. My threshold: my words can stand up in court to a no-nonsense judge having a bad day.

And that’s why I’m obsessed with an always-honest, all-the-time policy – no matter the consequences, you can always defend it. The buck stops there; it’s the end of the road.

There is nothing to hide.

I wasn’t expecting how amazingly, incredibly liberating it would be to decide lying is never an option. I could go on and on about how my honesty policy has been great for my marriage, given me an open-book personality, and about how just how much wonderful freedom is in it (like, maybe that was what God had intended the whole time?) – but I’m going to focus on something that’s come up in this house lately and talk parenting.

Naturally, I try to instill my honesty obsession with my kids.

It’s a work in progress.

Honestly (I wouldn’t have it any other way) – my kids lie sometimes.

Right now it’s relatively small things – who-hit-who first, a missing piece of candy, not hearing me say to get shoes on, etc. It’s almost always to protect themselves from getting in trouble and the ensuing consequences.

And I get it, I do. Lying is a self-preservation mechanism that kicks in right along with fear and pride, and resisting it is hard – harder than telling the truth.

It requires steely nerves and active humility and not only an admission of guilt (ugh, who likes that part?), but accepting the consequences, too. None of that is fun or easy. Little lies are the easy way out.

But little lies are a BIG DEAL, because their mistakes can be set right MUCH EASIER than trust can be rebuilt.

Here’s the thing:  We can deal with whatever mistake they made or the rule they broke. They can work to make it right. We can work through the consequences. But I tell my kids nothing they have done is worse to me than lying about it.

Here’s my visual for them (be warned – I’m a sucker for analogies):

It’s like we are building a tower with blocks.


Every time they tell the truth when it’s hard, we are adding a block to the building. The bigger the building is, the more I trust them and can give them greater independence and privileges.

Building takes time. But it helps them do the things they want to do.

But when they tell me a lie, it doesn’t just knock one block down. It smashes the building. It hits it like a wrecking ball.

And then we have to start rebuilding from the bottom again, piece by piece. Their privileges go back to the ground floor. My love for them doesn’t change, but we have to start building that trust back from the beginning.

It’s true for me, too. It has to be, because my actions speak louder to my kids than even my well-loved analogies.

I tell them this all the time:

If you always tell me the truth, I can always believe you.

I say this when praising them for telling the truth as well when they are caught lying. It’s become one of those unintentional family catchphrases.

If you always tell me the truth, I can always believe you.

Which means I must live up to this:

I always tell you the truth, so you can always believe me.

And I do.

It might be “creatively worded” in some cases – “Is the tooth fairy real? Uh, well, some kids think so and some don’t. You’ll have to decide for yourself. But, either way, you might want to put that tooth under your pillow.” – but it’s always defensible. I occasionally sidestep, but I don’t hide behind something untrue.

Likewise, telling the truth doesn’t mean always say everything I’m thinking – like “Wow, honey, were your eyes open when you put this outfit together?” – but it means we don’t lie.

They can always believe me. And, like any parent, I want so badly to always believe them. It’s so important for those years ahead when who-hit-who on the trampoline and cookie crumbs become something their teacher said to them or an unfavorable accusation.

And if they always tell me the truth, I can always either defend them OR help them walk through the consequences, but I won’t doubt them.

It’s a work in progress, but I’m not letting up.

I hope we can build a big beautiful building for those years ahead, with blocks that stand strong against the rough storms hard truth-telling will bring, but that hasn’t seen a wrecking ball in ages.


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