All my best parenting moments happen in the car. Last year, I taught my children about reproduction in the car. The year before that, I ruined Christmas from behind the steering wheel when I told them Santa wasn’t real. This year, I taught my daughter how to keep her pants from bursting into flames.
Sweet Bodacious and I were driving down the road last week discussing an invitation to a playdate with a school friend. She wanted to go, but she wanted to stay home, too. The struggle of extroverted introverts is real, y’all. She began to discuss ways she could extricate herself from the day, each scenario more and more elaborate. If, after an hour or two of playing and she was ready to come home, what should she say? She didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or put anyone out. Should she fake another engagement, say she had a tummy ache? Or maybe she should bring up her allergies and segue into a sinus headache?
You can judge me all you want, because this is all my fault. I am in full support of the white lie when it comes to kindness. For instance, when someone says, “How do I look?” before going onto the stage, I would dutifully say, “Fabulous!” or “I love your hair!” instead of, “I hate your shirt, you look jaundiced.” I want to be an encourager, not a discourager.
I am a people-pleaser and I hate to hurt people’s feelings. I will do things I do not want to do in order to get along or make other people happy. I am always afraid that if I am honest, direct, I will say the wrong thing, or hurt feelings in ways that are not easily forgiven.
A few years ago, I had a housekeeper that I just loved. In the beginning, she was fantastic. But after the second year, she became increasingly unreliable. And she wasn’t cleaning very well anymore, either. I knew it was time to let her go but I just did not know how. I didn’t want her to feel bad about the job she had been doing, nor did I want to create a financial hardship for her. Instead I just kept thanking her and paying her and quietly resenting the situation. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and I snapped. I called my longtime friend and Spice Girl bestie, Posh. I begged her to fire the cleaner for me.
Before becoming a wife and mother, Posh was a big corporate boss and trainer. Before that, she was a bar tender and server. She practically invented the polite, but firm, no. Which, in turn, is exactly what she gave me. Posh told me that I was old enough to tell someone that things had to change. And then she made me practice with her.
As I listened to my precious child rehearse her litany of excuses, I heard Posh’s voice all over again.
Sigh. It really is time to change. I don’t want Bodacious to make “yes” her default response. Children need to know how to say no, because when they get comfortable with little no’s, the bigger no’s are easier to manage. I don’t want telling “little” lies to become her default, either. Little lies have a tendency to lead to bigger lies, and just like the old “liar, liar, pants on fire” nursery rhyme promises, lies have a tendency to burn us. I can’t have my reluctance to be straightforward make my daughter spontaneously combust. And don’t we all really want the people in our lives to just be honest with us, anyway?
I pulled the car over and told her that I had not been a very good example for her, that I wanted her to learn to be more like her Auntie Posh. I told her that being honest, with kindness, was the very best way to handle the situation.
And then we practiced saying, “Thank you for having me, I am ready to go home now. Please call my mom.”
And you know what? She did it! She played for about two hours, then my phone rang.
Her friend’s mom was on the other end.
“She said she was ready to go home, can you come get her now?”
Success! No one stretched the truth or had their clothes burst into flames, and we both learned a little something about being direct. Her Auntie Posh will be proud of us both.