Wednesday, February 2, 2011

To Tell the Truth...

"The truth will set you free...but first, it will make you miserable." ~ Jamie Buckingham

I have always struggled with taking things literally.  I enjoy poetry, and appreciate symbolism, hyperbole, sarcasm, satire, etc.  But for some reason, in actual conversations, my brain wants to process everything as literal, even when I know it isn't.  I can't tell you the number of times someone has made a joke, and even as my brain was screaming at me, "Stop!  It was a joke!" out of my mouth pops a response taking it literally.  Awkward.

Also, I blurt.  I always have, and there no longer seems to be much hope that I will outgrow it.  There is some sort of weird wiring issue between my mouth and emotions, and if I feel anything strongly, I become about as articulate as a toddler.  Direct words just tumble out without any softening.

I also grew up in a home where truth was prized.  I cannot recall my parents ever lying to me, even one of the "little white lies."  They expected us to tell the truth, and they told us the truth.  It is one of the things that I am most grateful for, and has had a profound influence on me as a parent. I strive to be truthful with my own children, even when it is awkward or inconvenient.

A few days ago I read an article about all the harmless (?) lies that moms tell kids.  It was somewhat humorous, but as I read through it, I thought about it a little more seriously than I was probably meant to.  The lies were nearly all to avoid conflict.  I don't want to sound all Judgy MacJudgerson or anything, but it made me uncomfortable.  I wondered if the kids were just learning to be passive-aggressive, because that is how most of the examples came across to me.

I am not good at pretense.  Mind games in fiction are fun.  In real life, though, they give me a headache.  And, frequently, heartache.  To me, one of the greatest benefits of peaceful parenting is the authenticity.

It has forced me to be relentlessly honest with myself about what I want for my children, to examine my motives and confront some things like pride, selfishness and anger that I would much rather sweep under the rug.  

I don't get into mind games, worrying that my babies are trying to manipulate me into meeting their needs.  I can take my babies' cries at face value and not constantly second-guess my own instincts.

I have had to learn to be clearer in my communication, and to be direct about my needs.  Instead of giving my children vague directions like, "Be careful!", I now am more likely to say, "Walk slowly."

Also, contrary to popular myth, gentle parenting doesn't mean that you say things like, "Oh, sweetie, you don't want to hit your brother, do you?  Let's play nice now, okay?" in a sugary, sing-song voice.  My kids would probably ignore that--I certainly would.  I can use a firm, even stern voice and issue direct orders.  "Stop.  Hitting hurts," and follow through on it.

I am also honest about sadness, anger and frustration.  My kids can sense how I am feeling, anyway, and how can I teach them to handle those feelings themselves if they never see me model how?

Obviously, we need to take care with our words.  Yet, I have come to see that the barbed comments that poison and stay under our skin long after the initial sting are not really truth--they are twisted expressions of the speaker's hurts.  Truthful, authentic communication is not about blaming and lashing out at others.  It is expressing our needs and emotions.  If you haven't yet read Nonviolent Communication, check out a copy.  It is amazing how freeing it is to communicate honestly and accurately.

Sometimes, the truth does bring conflict that we would rather avoid to the surface.  It can be messy and unpleasant.  But I think it is even harder when try to cover things up.  Even if it makes us miserable for a short time, there is ultimately great freedom in being authentic with ourselves and our families.


Zephan said...

I have a fiery temper, and despite all my efforts often end up exasperated and shouting.... one of the greatest gifts I think I can give to my children is to own up to my mistakes. I go and calm down, tell them mummy needs some time out, and then I come back and apologise. I explain that I was angry, but that I need to work on not taking it out on them.
I also had to be very honest with them from a young age. My husband is an alcoholic and for a period of time couldn't live with us. What could I tell them that wouldn't cause issues for the future? That Dad didn't want to live with us? Any other "nice" excuse? I told them the truth. That Dad drank too much beer, and when he does that he can't live with us because he does mean things. Their Dad is no sober, and they know and appreciate the effort he has and is making. They also from a very young age understand the destructive force that is alcohol abuse.
Truthfulness, and acknowledging the "not so pretty things" are huge tools we can give our children in preparation for the rest of their lives.

dulce de leche said...

Thank you so much for sharing that, Zephan. You are so right about apologizing to our children! And what a graceful way you handled such a difficult time with their father. I am so happy for you all that he is sober now.