Friend: “James, did you like the chicken?”
James: “No thank you.”
Me: “James, that’s very rude!”
James, looking upset: “Okay.”
Friend, graciously: “It’s okay James—it might have been a bit overcooked.”
Younger child at the park: “Hey, do you want to come to my house and play?"
Child stands there.
Me, whispering: “Tell him you are busy playing with your sister, but maybe another time.”
James: “I don’t want to go there another time! Don’t make me!”
Potential friend walks away dejectedly; his mom gives James a dirty look.
James farts loudly in class. Instead of trying to cover it up, James lifts one butt cheek off of the chair to fart wholeheartedly, smiles widely, and gives the class a double thumbs-up. Because farting is just part of life, right?
As you would expect, none of these situations have happy endings. Someone on the receiving end of James’s honesty is usually hurt or offended, and I have often been left trying to make excuses for James while he is off crying about it somewhere. As he gets older, I have been told more and more that James needs to “grow up,” “be nice,” “just try to get along,” or “pretend.”
I feel that it is imperative to point out that this issue is not about manners. James says “Hello, how are you?” and “Thanks for the ride—have a nice day!” to taxi drivers. He says “please” and “thank you” to everyone, and readily compliments friends and strangers alike with “You’re awesome!”, “I like your cool shoes!”, or “I love you!”
In reality, James is just as uncomfortable as the little boy who asked him to come over and play, and he feels sincerely bad when he realizes that his “No I don’t like your chicken” just hurt someone’s feelings. Raising two other typical children, it’s a constant in-my-face irony that my two little liars (said in the most affectionate way) will effortlessly do better socially than my 100-percent honest and sincere child.
Should we be teaching our children to lie at all? Would it be better if we all just told the truth? Shouldn’t I celebrate that my special needs child is so refreshingly honest? Why is sincerity so underappreciated? What’s the best approach to teach “lying” to a special needs child, if for no other reason than to help him navigate a very complex social landscape?
I don’t actually have answers to those questions, only opinions (which would take another five pages to explain). Hopefully, this won’t make you rethink lying (I don’t want to know what you really think of my hairstyle!). I’m definitely not trying to give a lecture on why we should all tell the truth and nothing but the truth. I mean, think about how much harder it would make things, how many friends you might have (or not have), how unhappy you might feel sometimes. And maybe next time you see someone like James struggling to “just get along,” you can hang on to that empathy, lie a little, and act like his brutal honesty doesn’t bother you in the least.
Have you had similar experiences? Whether lighthearted gaffs or gut-wrenching moments of embarassment, no doubt other parents will relate. Share your stories at facebook.com/nymetroparents or on Twitter @nymetroparents #whitelies.