Recently, one of my kids told me a half-truth, which we all know equates to the same as a lie, but I'll give it to them. Trust me - giving them that is more about me than it is about them. With 4 kids, it certainly isn't the first time this scenario has made an appearance in my family; yet it still stuns me and rattles me to the core. Lying, half-truths, exaggerations-call it what you may-it's enough to send my insides into a full blown panic that rivals a 5 alarm fire. Thoughts run through my brain, "Why did they lie? What else have they lied about? How do I stop it?" Then the finale, "I've blown it and they're going to end up as people with no sense of right or wrong!" Ok, so I got a little carried away there, but you get the point. Lying is one of those things that can send most parents into a frenzy wondering where they went wrong.
When my oldest son (now 20) was around 5, my pastor at the time spoke of his 3 pre-teen/teenaged children and some challenges he was having with them. He said something that has stuck with me, even after all these years. He said “I’ve decided I’m going to walk with them through this, not fight them.” I’m not sure why this resonated so much with me at the time because quite frankly, I wasn’t going to have these issues with my kids, right? It's fifteen years later and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve recited this very statement to myself, “Walk with them right now. Don’t fight them. Walk.”
It’s a choice we have. We can respond or we can react. How this looks from parent to parent or family to family can vary greatly, but we do have a choice. Lies, half-truths or exaggerations, while hurtful and generally unacceptable, usually mean there’s something deeper going on. As preteens and teenagers, there are so many emotions, the striving and fighting for independence and freedom, figuring out who they are as their own person, the need to fit in and sometimes, in rebellion, the need to NOT fit in. It’s such a confusing time with tremendous growth and exploration happening.
So, what exactly does it mean, to me, to walk with them?
After realizing the “half-truth”, aka lie, I had laid awake all night thinking about what to do. My first thoughts were to pull out all the stops: take away the phone, no going out over the weekend, monitor everything they do, etc. I’d make their life miserable, which would show them, right? Actually, no. That’s my reactionary side at work there, I tell myself. It will push them away even further, and isolate them even more. I need to calm down, slow down, put that reaction aside and respond.
Instead of imposing a full blown lock down, I will choose to look at the situation and see what/if there is more going on than meets the eye.
Instead of saying "Can't you see how much this hurts me?", I will choose not to take this personally and help them see how this actually hurts them.
Instead of feeling, I need to deal with and fix this now! I will choose to allow this to be a process and start with something that might help today.
Instead of continuing to reiterate how much this hurt me, I will look at what I might do to create an even safer, open environment for them to be able to be themselves, and be truthful.
What I want to do is tell them: You won't do this, don't do that and you can't do this. What I will choose to do is suggest: You could do this, you might find this to be a better option and what do you think about that?
What I really want to do is protect them from the mistakes I’ve made and prevent them from experiencing the hurt and consequences I have felt. What I will choose to do is to see them as individuals, separate from me, making choices of their own and allow them to experience the potential consequences of their own actions while remaining by their side.
What I still want to do is make this about me. What I will choose to do is allow this to be about them.
In the end, by choosing to respond vs react, lessons are learned, by all of us, and opportunities for deeper connections arise that may not have been afforded otherwise. And while these lessons might very well be difficult and hard to navigate, we learn more about who our children are as individuals and they build resiliency and self-efficacy. Isn’t that ultimately what we want for our children? For them to have the knowledge and internal belief they can see a difficult situation through and come out the other side a stronger and more capable person? To continually learn and understand more about themselves, gaining a deeper sense of self-awareness? These lessons can only be learned by them walking through these fires on their own, with us as parents, walking alongside them. Reminding them we are right here, they are going to be ok and nothing they say or do could ever change the love we have for them. That’s what walking with them looks like to me. What would it look like to you?