Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My 11-year-old daughter is going through a phase right now of extreme, black-and-white thinking. Right is right and wrong is wrong. This is challenging sometimes.
My mother-in-law loves to host but it’s pretty obvious she buys entire meals pre-packaged from a grocery store chain and passes them off as hers. The adults just pretend we don’t know.
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Earlier this week my sister-in-law brought this up in a joking way and she, my husband, and I had a laugh about it. Well, my daughter heard this and confronted us about Grandma’s cooking. We tried to explain to her that it’s a kindness not to say, “You didn’t take the garbage out so I saw the takeout containers.” My daughter replied with, “So when you told Grandma her potatoes tasted good it was a LIE?”
She is right, really. We all sort of lie, and so does Grandma.
My daughter told us in no uncertain terms that she will not pretend that Grandma cooked the meal. She is also rather frosty toward us for our willing participation in this, her word, charade, and asked, “What else has Grandma been lying about?”
My husband thinks we should just let this play out, and that our daughter will not be able to look her grandmother in the eye and actually say this stuff.
I am almost positive our daughter will say this stuff, and maybe we should warn his mother. Any advice?
We All Sort of Lie
Off the record, please don’t correct your future journalist/scientist/prosecutor too successfully.
On the record, the most important thing here is your daughter’s socialization. You can accomplish that whether you warn Grandma or not – because the consequences of not warning her just aren’t that dire, and because your mission is unchanged regardless. Your daughter has forced you to defend beliefs you probably haven’t examined for a long time, if ever, as kids do so mind-blowingly well.
So find a way to justify your approach to honesty that withstands scrutiny … or admit your daughter is right. “It’s a kindness” is fine as far as it goes, but where specifically are the lines between cruelty and kindness, and kindness and deceit?
Whether you tip off Grandma or let her startled face be part of your daughter’s education, the next dinner will be instructive for your daughter.
So, yeah, I’m giving you nothing. Tell us how it went!
Re: Potatoes: The problem isn’t Grandma’s cooking, it’s the catty and careless way the other adults mock her behind her back.
You’re right, of course, though I think it’s grayer than you suggest. Laughter can be affectionate, too.
Re: Potatoes: As I’ve explained to my own daughter, it is not “honesty” to express every stray thought (wow, you’re really fat; what’s that smell?), even if true. That’s what toddlers do.
As we begin to grow up (yeah, I’d shamelessly play on her desire to be adult), we are more able to hold feelings, situations, and honesty in tension.
A filter is not the same as being dishonest. Grandma knows she didn’t cook and so does everyone else, so you’re not “saving” anyone from anything by announcing it, you’re just creating hurt feelings.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.