Last week, you impressed me to the max with your diaper changing skills. . .that I didn’t know you had, and that I likely would rather you not employ again. I found some poopy wet wipes in the bathroom trash can and asked you how they got there. You first made up a story involving the dog, but when pressed you looked at me with very big, guilty, sad eyes and told me the story of how you changed Romeo’s diaper because “it makes him sad to be stinky,” and you know how tired I am of changing his poopy diapers (Your words. I’ve never actually said that. lol). You said you used your stool and changed him on the changing table and cleaned up all the poop and washed your hands and WOW that was a lot for a four year old!
So after explaining to you that even though it was VERY nice of you to try and do something for me that was so helpful, changing poopy diapers is a grown-up job and we’d like you to ask for help next time, you smiled and nodded and it seemed all was well. Fast forward to tonight.
As I was tucking you into bed tonight, I noticed some brown stains on the bottom of your comforter. When I asked you what they were, the all-too-familiar wide-eyed guilty look overtook your face and tears began to pool. And that’s when it all came spilling out. You DIDN’T actually change Romeo on his changing table. He climbed up into your top bunk and you changed him there on your comforter. And there was poop all over your comforter. Because you made up the story about the changing table and I had no idea that your comforter had poop on it and needed to be washed.
I will admit this information took me by surprise and frustrated me. You are going through a phase where it’s hard to know when you’re telling the truth. You spin stories for fun but you also lie a lot for fear of “getting into trouble” when you cross a boundary. And so we had a very long conversation tonight about honesty and consequences.
I explained to you that if I had known your bedding was dirty, I would have washed it for you before now. I asked you why you didn’t tell me in the first place and you said what I expected. That you didn’t want to get in trouble. I explained that you were now in trouble for lying to me, but if the honest story had been told when it happened, there would have been no further consequences AND you would not have had a stinky comforter in your bed all week. And I banned your favorite TV show for the day tomorrow as a consequence for the lying.
As you began to sob about your loss of privilege, I knew it was time for another conversation, so I pulled you into my lap and held your shaking body until you calmed a bit. I asked you what you were feeling and you muttered something that didn’t make sense about doing all the chores. I asked if you felt like I don’t love you anymore and you started sobbing harder and nodded. I reassured you that I will always love you. No matter what. Even when you lie. Even when you’re mad at me. AND that telling the truth doesn’t just keep you out of trouble (because you may still get in trouble sometimes if the truth is you did something you shouldn’t have), but lying will always get you into trouble.
I told you I was sad that you lied to me because I would have helped you clean up your bed. I told you I was disappointed that you lied to me because I want you to feel like you can safely tell me anything. I told you I was still proud of how capable you were when changing your brother’s diaper, and that it was actually very smart to make sure he was on your comforter to keep the mess off the rest of your bed. I told you that if you keep lying to me the way you have been lately, I will start to think you’re lying all the time, even when you’re telling the truth. And THAT’s when I saw the light go on in your mind.
“You mean when I tell the truth you won’t believe me?”
“Well, if you keep telling me lies, I will start to think you’re lying even when you’re not. But if you tell me the truth, even when you might get in a little trouble, I will believe you when you tell me things.”
At 4, I did not expect you to really comprehend that concept, but it seemed to really sink in. We talked about you listening to your inside helper when you think you might want to lie and using your “feeling muscles” to tell me the truth when it feels scary. We talked about feeling proud for the way you changed your brother’s diaper, feeling sad to lose your TV show, feeling scared to tell me the truth and feeling sad about the thought that I might not believe you sometime. And there we were, holding “good” feelings and “bad” feelings together, all in one place. That most uncomfortable of sensations that even adults struggle with. You and I did it. . .and it was wonderful and horrible and painful and joyful all at once.
As we took each feeling out and examined it together, I realized just how emotionally aware you have become lately. And so in spite of this lying phase, I’m sitting here now alone thinking about how thankful I am that you’re getting this feeling thing. And that you’re starting to understand natural consequences (i.e. chronic lying leads to doubting your honesty).
As your warm, sweet little arms gave me my final goodnight hug tonight, I left your room truly believing that next time, telling the truth in the face of crossing a line might be a little easier for you. And as usual, you, my little hurricane, have pushed the limits of my mind when it comes to what you’re capable of. But I’m so glad you’re mine to learn from. Even when it’s exhausting. Because you’re worth it.