Ms. Ranjini is a psychologist and I met her during the contact classes that were being conducted for the Counseling and Psychotherapy course that I was pursuing. In fact, it was she who recognized me from my participation in the DISHA programs at Ammanni College in Malleswaram, where she was employed as a counselor. Even after finishing the course, we’ve kept in touch and so, Ranjini responded to my question at the start of this blogging month.
She wrote to me about two things – one, her experience as teacher, and two – an important aspect of parenting. The teacher experience I will have to keep for another time because it’s a topic that requires detailed, nuanced handling. The parenting aspect is what I’m writing about today.
Ranjini wrote: “One lesson I learned from my kids is to never lie to them. My daughter caught me a couple of times when I had lied to her, of course, in her good interests….but it was very embarrassing for me and from that day, I have been practicing to be as truthful as possible with my daughter.”
I really appreciate Ranjini for her honesty in sharing this and even more for letting that embarrassment drive her to change her approach.
I’m sure many of us have had similar situations when we’ve been forced to be economical with the the truth – all in the name of protecting our children from harm, or to give a simplistic explanation for a complex situation they aren’t old enough to understand. Of course it isn’t possible to be 100 percent truthful all the time and you need to be sensitive to the impacts of your truths on the child, too. And yet, it's better to say, "You are too young to understand this now. I will tell you later" rather than fibbing.
But I think the broader point Ranjini is making, is that of avoiding lying to children out of our own sheer laziness. Especially if your kids have a lot of questions, it can be a long-drawn procedure to explain something to them – more so when dealing with the gray areas in the realm of human relationships. And yet, we owe it to our children to take the trouble to be as honest as their understanding permits, and not take the easy way out just to save ourselves from heartache.
When we try explaining things to them, it actually helps clarify our own thought processes, and can be a wonderfully insightful exercise. The innocent “why” or “why not” of a child can be the beginning of a deeper soul-searching for us parents. Also, by adopting this method, we are training our children in how to reason things out and take decisions.
Writing about this reminds me of my own experience. When our son S was about 3 or 4 years old, my husband had to occasionally travel out of Bangalore on official work. Given his obvious attachment to his Appa, we all assumed S would be miserable to know Appa isn’t going to be around for 2 days. So, whenever S asked for his Appa, he was told that his father was going to be coming later, or that Appa came and went when he was napping in the afternoon, and so on…For a few days even after my husband returned, S kept showing signs of anxiety whenever Appa wasn’t near him.
Realizing this, the next time my husband went out of town, I decided that we wouldn’t lie to S. Before he left, Appa told S that he was going to be away for one day, and that he would be coming back on such and such day. Later during the day, whenever S asked for Appa, I reminded him of what he had been told. Of course there were tears, and of course he pined for Appa off and on, but by and large, he wasn’t as cranky or anxious as the previous time.
That incident set the foundation for what continues to be an honest two-way communication. Even today, when he doubts what someone is telling him, he turns to me with questions, knowing fully well that his Amma will give him the true version and even help him understand why that other person wasn’t being honest. By God’s grace, so far, I have been able to do just that….And this openness from our side has led to him cultivating the same direct approach. He trusts us and we trust him.
I pray that Ranjini's efforts at being truthful with her daughter will pay equally rich dividends...