Our family is a little out of the norm because we adopted our 4 sons through fostering. (4 sons. I know, right? Can’t even blame it on ‘having an accident.’) Anyway, because of the situations that they endured early in their life, they have a lot of history. As they grew older and more aware of being adopted and what had been their very rough beginnings, they asked questions that would have some painful answers. Having training and reading on adoption, we knew what was coming. Yet, well-meaning and totally ignorant friends and loved ones gave dozens of ‘alternate versions’ of the truth to try and tell them. My husband and I called them ‘lies’.
First of all, give children credit for being every bit as perceptive as they are. Even parents have a ‘tell’ when being less than completely truthful. I remember answering my boys with ‘maybe’. After a while, they would drop their shoulders and as they walked away say, ‘that just means no.’ When I thought about it, about 90% of the time, they were right. So, I changed my answer to ‘probably not.’ Now ‘probably not’ has several benefits for a parent; you have lowered expectations so any future answer to the contrary will be a welcome surprise; it gives you the option of ultimately saying ‘yes’ without sounding like they wore you down or you changed your mind; if you are truly undecided or too busy to give an intelligent answer it will buy you some time. ‘Probably’ by itself is more positive and can be followed with a list of conditions that have to be perfect for the request to be fulfilled. You can throw in weather conditions, health, tiredness rating, chore completion, all kinds of caveats.
Probably, however, is contagious and can be used against you. Case in point, when asking a son if he could take the garbage out before my husband came home and felt he had to do it. My son replied, ”Probably, after I finish my homework.” Nicely played. You have to admire how he wove a condition into that statement that involved something totally responsible-finishing homework. As you might have guessed, my husband ended up taking the garbage out. “Didn’t finish my homework. I would have gotten it eventually.” Right.
Seriously, we are very candid, which means sometimes harshly honest with our boys. We tell them that while they may not always like to hear what we say to them, they can have confidence in the fact that it is the truth. Yes, we still believe truth is worth saving, because trust is its close companion. Truth with its benefits and consequences, is the foundation of faith, relationships, society. Will I still struggle when my now young men ask me even harder questions…probably 😉