To Tell the Truth, Children Don’t

The morning rush comes to its usual chaotic peak as I begin the hunt for shoes.

We have a great system for storing shoes — oversized baskets, marked with the names of all four children, neatly stacked on shelves in the garage.

Theoretically, the shoes would go from their owners' feet into a corresponding basket. I stress “theoretically” here because in reality, the shoes pile up on the landing, impeding egress from our house.

In cold weather months, the system is complicated by two baskets of hats, gloves, and scarves stored on the shelf above the shoes.

Conceptually, the children would wear the necessary accessories when the temperature warrants an extra layer, returning them to a communal storage basket when they get home — conceptually.

When I open the door to the garage to fetch my daughter's school shoes, there's a pile of mismatched mittens and two upended baskets of hats and scarves in a heap on the landing.

“Who dumped these baskets?” I shout. My voice echoes through the dark garage, bouncing back into the house.

Four voices answer in perfect unison, “Not me.”

I might have known. “Not me” is the perpetrator of countless acts of mischief.

“Look,” I say in my strongest mom voice, “I'm not leaving this house until one of you admits to dumping this stuff all over the garage.”

My youngest daughter quickly confesses, pleading guilty with an explanation: “I needed mittens and I couldn't reach the baskets and then they fell and I couldn't get them back on the shelf,” she explains urgently.

Truth-telling has its rewards around my house. Rather than scold her, I remind her to ask for help when she can't reach something and thank her for 'fessing up. Then we resume the morning mayhem and head out the door.

I'll never understand why children try to lie their way out of things. They're terrible liars.

Case in point: Last winter, I asked my son if he put the dog out to do his morning business. My son said “Yes,” so it seemed odd the dog was scratching at the back door.

I opened the door to offer the pup a second chance, thinking maybe his little canine kidneys were working overtime, only to discover fresh, white snow covering the back steps. No dog tracks, no yellow evidence of doggy relief — only the obvious proof my son lied to my face.

Child-development experts reassure us that lying comes at age-appropriate intervals. First, children lie to get what they want. Later, they lie to stay out of trouble. Supposedly, they grow out of it.

Here's my problem with this theory: Some people don't grow out of it. As children, they lie to their teachers to avoid detention. Later, they lie to the grand jury to avoid incarceration. These people are called “liars” and they're everywhere.

Plus, I believe a 9-year-old who lies about something minor, like putting his dog out, will absolutely lie at 19 about where he was until 4 AM and why he smells like a Texas roadhouse.

This is why I make such a fuss when I ask my son if he brushed his teeth. He says “Yes,” while layers of plaque encrust themselves to his otherwise pleasant smile.

Clearly, I have work to do on the importance of personal integrity, not to mention hygiene. I decide the next time he lies I'll respond more forcefully.

Soon enough, I catch him trying to sneak contraband into school — Sharpie permanent markers. When I confront him, he says he doesn't know where they came from.

The way I react, you'd think he's a regular villain on Law and Order.

I get a full-blown sermon going, my vocal chords inflamed, veins bulging out of my neck.

I tell him he's ruining his relationship with me because I can't trust him.

I tell him his deceitful behavior is getting to be a bad habit.

I tell him he's a lousy liar anyway, and he lies about things that are just plain stupid.

“Dumb and dishonest is no way to go through life,” I conclude. OK, it's a little harsh, but if your mom won't be straight with you, who will?

He spends a whole day on the dark side of a mother's love. Not even an unsolicited offer to take out the garbage gets a smile out of me.

Later that night, I sit on the edge of his bed to tuck him in. Curled up under his quilt, he looks tiny, not like the gangly child who seems to grow a couple of inches every other day. I give him a hug and tell him it's because I love him that I'm committed to teaching him honesty.

He climbs out of bed and gets a piece of paper from his desk — a note he wrote earlier in the evening. “Dear Mom, I'm writing you this letter to say that I am very sorry that I lied to you… I know it's important to be trustworthy.” It's signed “Your loving son.”

This is progress.

We talk a little more in the dark, making our peace and promising the next day will be a new beginning. “Being an honest man is more important than anything you can become,” I say to his silhouette.

“You're going to make a lot of mistakes in life — we all do. Just don't make the mistake of losing your integrity.”

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)

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