Lessons to be taught by telling the truth

First Published Aug 26 2014 01:01AM      Last Updated Aug 26 2014 01:01 am

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

On undoing a lie you’ve told to your child • Consider the smoking mom (http://wapo.st.1oAyUOI) who lied to her child about smoking: How about ‘fess up AND quit? Sit the daughter down, say she has something important to talk with her about, and then come clean. Something like ... "Remember when you asked if I smoke? Well, I lied to you about it. It was my cigarettes you smelled. I’m very sorry for lying. It was the wrong thing to do. I was afraid that if you knew, you might be more likely to take up the habit yourself, and I don’t want that for you. It’s so, so hard to quit. I don’t want you to have to go through that. But I was wrong to lie about it. I hope you’ll forgive me that and be supportive while I do my best to quit again." And then give quitting her darnedest. And let the daughter see the struggle. If she doesn’t succeed in quitting on the first try — or the fifth, or 15th — at the very least the daughter will see what a powerful hold smoking can have on a person, and that in itself might be a valuable cautionary tale in making her own choices as she grows up. People often hold up the example of smokers telling their kids not to smoke as the height of hypocrisy. It’s not. What’s hypocritical about being in the grip of a difficult addiction and not wanting your kid to go through that? Bonus: This confession also serves as a model for How To ‘Fess Up After the Fact. This is a way to show that when upon reflection you decide you’ve done something wrong, you can summon your courage and put the brakes on it. And if the mom doesn’t want to quit, that can be part of the talk, too. Confess to the lie and explain that this is something she is willing to accept about herself and a risk she is willing to take because quitting is too hard and she’s just not up for it at this point. It’s OK to not quit and to tell the daughter why. But it’s NOT OK to lie. She’s not protecting the daughter at all; she’s teaching the daughter to mistrust her own perception of a situation — and that’s arguably the most dangerous consequence here.

Carolyn Hax’s column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.





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