Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It Was Not Our Intent To Turn Them Against Her

While we were at Greg's parent's house last week, his mother showed us a drawing that she had found while sorting through some of her papers.  I've mentioned before that she is a good artist, and this was a pencil sketch of a cute little old colum-fronted building that she drew as a young student while visiting the lovely Łazienki Park in Warsaw.  The picture was awesome.  I expressed how impressed I was with it and we talked about it for a minute.  

As soon as Babcia (grandma in Polish) left the room, David confided to me in a whisper, "I don't believe that she really drew that."  I asked him why not, but I think I already knew the answer, even if it wasn't' the one he gave.  

I've mentioned before that honesty in Poland is a relative thing.  There are very few people (if any) that I would call strictly honest.  It is absolutely accepted that people lie to get ahead or to impress or avoid offending people etc.  Often people lie for no apparent reason.  It's just almost a part of the culture.  

Greg's mother (who I love!!) often gets caught in these little lies.  She only gets caught because she tells them to the kids and then we tell them that she doesn't exactly mean that, but she's just saying it.  Like she was going to run downstairs to a neighbor's apartment and Evie asked to go with her.  We had heard her make the phone call and all she said was, "Hey, Ula, can I come down for a minute?  Okay, I'm coming."  Her response to Evie's request to be allowed to come was, "Oh, well, you know what?  Ula is just on her way out the door because she's has someplace to go, so I'm just going to be very quick."  This may possibly have been true, but I don't believe that my mother in-law knew it.  Why couldn't she have just said, "Nope, not this time, Ev.  I'm coming right back.  Maybe next time." ?

A few years ago we were visiting and there was a Scooby-Doo marathon on.  The kids were crazy about Scooby-Doo and when they told Babcia that they couldn't believe how many episodes were coming on she told them, "Well, when I knew you were coming I called them and told them that my grandkids like Scooby-Doo and asked them to please play a lot of them."  This is such a tiny little innocent lie, and a kind of cute one (she's really cute with the kids) but when they get older they will look back on it, and many other similar lies and wonder how often she ever spoke the truth.  

That's what has happened with Greg.  He doesn't trust his mother.  He loves her, but he rarely takes her at her word.  He has lost a bit of respect for her over the years as he realizes just how often he was lied to as a child.  It has had a huge impact on the kind of father he is.  (and is probably part of what makes him a little cynical--although he hates to be called that)

In Poland lying to children is very common practice.  You hear it all the time even in public, "No, we can't buy a sucker, those suckers are only for adults." or a very common one we heard at a dance class, "Okay, see that door over there?  If you kids don't listen, a dragon will come out of the door and eat you!"  or, "you can't push that button or it will explode!"

It seems these little lies are told mostly to make excuses.  I admit they demonstrate a bit of creativity on the part of the adult, but they serve no real purpose, and I think they will backfire. While children may listen for now, soon they will realize that those things don't happen and will stop trusting their parents, even when they are giving sound advice or legitimate excuses.   

And how much better for children to learn to do things for the right reason in the first place!  You don't push the button because it might ruin part of the appliance.  You can't have a sucker because I don't want a sticky mess in the car or we're eating dinner soon.  Come on!  These things help children to actually understand the world around them and how and why they should behave certain ways.  It's so logical.  

This is the reason that Greg is so extremely opposed to The Great Santa Deception, as I've started to call it.  Why would you lie to your child about something?  Then one day they find out that you were lying and orchestrating this whole sequence of events year after year to make them believe something that is false and in no way necessary for their growth.  (I'll say here that I understand the appeal of Santa and the doing good/giving to others etc.  It's not like I hate Santa.  I think he's very nice.  I just wish, he were a little more real so people wouldn't have to lie to their kids!  :)  Also, Santa comes to our house and the kids always look forward to  his coming with much anticipation, just like in any other home.  The difference is that ours know that he's us.  We talk about him as Santa, and anyone might assume that they believe in him, but they're in on the whole thing.  And I think they love it all just as much as other kids.  They have known from the time, when Evie was barely two, and Greg told her that Santa isn't real and shocked and upset me (we hadn't discussed how to deal with Santa before at all).  So please know that I would very likely have been in on The Great Santa Deception, too if it hadn't been for Greg.  And now look at what he's done to me!  Yikes!  He's so persuasive!  (may he never persuade me to go along with all of his views! ;)

I don't mean to pass judgement on people who do Santa, of course.  I'm just explaining a bit of background on why we don't.  And I'm not even sure that we should point out when Greg's mother lies to the kids.  Iit started when they were really little and they would excitedly come and tell us something that Babcia had said or done which we knew wasn't true.  We didn't feel it was our responsibility to go along with her stories.  We do tell her, though.  Once in a while we will say something like, "Well, not really, of course, Babcia's just playing."  Or even, "Oh, you can just tell them the truth, don't worry about it."  So she knows that we don't go for that kind of thing.

Probably a lot of people would not consider this a very important thing, or would even think it was wrong to tell the kids about and wouldn't want to turn them against the poor lady.  But our kids love their Babcia!  I think it helps them to know about one of her weaknesses, and to understand that lying can have the opposite effect than what is intended.  (And the kids totally haven't turned against her!)

(Teachers often tell these kinds of lies to their students.  Also, one of Evie's best friends constantly tells them to her friends and expects them to believe her:  Ten of her teeth fell out once when she bit into a roll or that she saw a real "water nymph" and took a picture of it etc.)

30 comments:

Kaylynn said...

I tried to tell my kids that I was Santa. We talked about it at dinner, how it was me that was the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa, ect, ect. They didn't believe a word. They still believe in Santa Claus. I think they understand that I'm the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny. But Santa, he is real, and he really leaves presents for us!
Good post, it was interesting to hear about Poland's culture. I think it's very important to be honest with kids.

CaJoh said...

I think my parents pulled me aside one time and told me not to bring up that Santa isn't real to their friend's youngest son to whom I was friends with. I guess I never remembered when I found out, but I still keep the whole "there's a little Santa in all of us" attitude.

Kazzy said...

Interesting post, Lisa, about training our kids to understand cause and effect. I always enjoyed those little moments of honesty with my kids, like explaining why it isn't always the best idea to eat a donut ten minutes before dinner, etc. We call them teaching opportunities, right? As you mentioned with your MIL I agree that many times people resort to the fantastical when they are trying to be creative, or even when they are feeling a bit lazy (ironically). Your kids seem bright enough to start discerning between these things. They are lucky to learn these skills nice and early!

gramalee said...

:) Do you remember Bill Cosby and the navel story? You know, he's playing with his belly button and his mother explains what will happen if he keeps it up! I bet you can find it (at least audio) on the net somewhere. What a crack up! Poles are not the only folks who do this type of "training" for their kids.
I wish I had Babcia's charm!
xo

OnGod'sErrand said...

I must confess that perhaps I am "guilty" as Babcia. Many call it teasing---but you're right. In reality, we're not being honest or we're messing with our kids' heads. Not sure I can put imagination to rest completely, but you did give me perspective.

Lara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lara said...

I have a friend who doesn't believe in the great Santa deception either, and I have always admired her for it. I worry about what my kids will think when they finally get it. Even though I don't remember being traumatized over it...it did just seem like the natural progression.

This was an excellent post, gives us all something to think about concerning honesty and hyperbole.

McEwens said...

WOW, sad that lying is so accepted. I understand teaching about Santa.. but on the general things, HOW do you raise honest children in a society that accepts lies???

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Great. Now I feel guilt. Did you see my post today? (Just between you and me, my kids knew that I was joking, and they understood my point.) I do think you make an important point.

Josi said...

What an interesting cultural aspect--I've had the same thoughts with Santa, and if the kids ask, we tell them, but I think you've done everything just as you should.

One of my favorite parent lies was a girl asked her mother if it hurt to have a baby, mom said "Only if you don't go to college" The girl was about sixteen before she said, "Wait a minute."

Barbaloot said...

This post made me laugh cuz I used to work with a Polish lady who once told me all about some revolution she had taken part of and all her friends were killed, and she was the only one who escaped alive and was a refugee. I was totally shocked and impressed-till my boss told me it was less than likely it was the truth. Sad day for me. I thought I knew a Polish refugee!

Becky said...

That would be so hard for me to deal with! I'm a big fat coward about any sort of conflict whatsoever, so I'd probably be too chicken to say, "Oh, that's not what she meant." You seem to handle it beautifully, though.

What the Hecklinger?! said...

I wasn't sure what I was going to do about Santa and wondered if it would traumatize my kids when they learned that he was false.

But then I realized that my parents are the most honest people on the planet, and they let us believe in Santa, and I have never once resented them for that evil deceptive plot. One day I believed in Santa, then next, I didn't. I don't even remember when it happened. But I will always treasure the memory of those Christmases that were sprinkled with that little bit of what-if magic. I think it's good for kids to believe in magic--which is probably why my kid is a little overboard with his imagination... :)

Jillybean said...

I agree with Hecklinger. I don't ever remember being upset when I found out about Santa. I never looked at it as being lied to, and I certainly wasn't devistated when I found out. Instead, I felt like I was in on it, helping my mom with shopping until my brother learned who Santa was.

But then again, I once told my son that zucchini tasted like chocolate.

That Girl in Brazil said...

WOW, our thoughts are completely in sync.

I told my kids about Santa this year, but I was having an anxiety attack the whole time. I just don't really understand WHY we do it.

I don't like lies. Period.

Melanie J said...

I think you're right on about how telling the truth just makes so much sense. Not to mention being the right thing to do. The trick I'm trying to learn now is how to teach my kids to recognize when people are lying because my oldest boy is at the age where the boys in his grade are all telling whoppers to impress each other and I'm trying to help him sort fact from fiction. It's hard work!

Sue Q said...

Santa can either be a magical part of childhood, or it can be abused as a manipulative tactic to instill good behavior in children via bribery. I have issues with this, too. We do have our own version of Santa in our house, but only because we read a really awesome book called "Santa was a Real Person". I can't remember the author off hand, but I do know it was written years ago. Anyway, we read it as a family every December, and we talk about the Spirit of Santa and then we each get to play Santa for someone else during the holidays.

I have relatives that treat this subject very differently. They have created this image of Santa that strikes fear in even their youngest child, with the threat of coal in the stocking (and worse!), but inevitably the child repents on Christmas Eve because Christmas morning there's gobs of loot under the tree. The kids have learned how to work the system over the years, so the discipline tactic seems to have missed it's mark....

Lying to a child seems mean and cruel, and the fantasy part of childhood (tooth fairy, etc) walks a fine line, but I think as long as the kids understand it is fun and games and not reality, it's what makes childhood magical and can help develop their sense of imagination. That sounds like a total oxymoron, but whatever.

Ola Zan said...

I think children in Poland and probably in other parts of the world, too deserve a lot more respect. They don't need to be lied to in order to do the right out of fear. The other thing lies in our communism "legacy". Who cares about school appliances... It belongs to everyone. It's better to say "a dragon will come out". Exerting fear is a communistic method of having people do what you want them to do.

Heidi Ashworth said...

This is a fascinating look into a different culture. I totally get why you refrain from the Santa thing under the circumstances.

elesa said...

Hey! Half way through this post I was thinking "This is exactly why I don't do Santa." And then you went off on your Santa thing and I was like "Woah! Look at that!" (yeah, my thought processes are pretty deep). It is nice to find someone else who feels the same way about Santa that my and my husband do. Thanks for sharing!

Erin said...

Wow, the thought of telling half-truths to my kids like that kind of turns my stomach. Even when our kids ask about Santa, we ask them, "Is it fun to believe in him? Do you want to believe?" We have never lied and said no he's not real.

But I understand that it is a culture thing. I would personally have a hard time with it though!

Annette Lyon said...

Honesty is huge for me--I've lost friendships over "white" lies. I just feel betrayed over being lied to. And then there's the whole temple recommend question thing. I have plenty (!) of faults, but none of them are on that list. I may be obnoxious about it, but I really cringe when I hear any kind of dishonesty, no matter how small.

MelancholySmile said...

Fascinating! It's amazing to me so much of what I take for granted {accrediting it to common sense} is actually cultural. Although, I think your husband is right when it comes to the Great Santa Deception. Or at least, a large part of me agrees. J and I debated this long before we had kids, and only came to a peaceful conclusion in counseling {um that was NOT the reason we were in counseling, incidentally.} I had quite a serious childhood. We were always quite poor and stressed and as the oldest, I felt responsible to fix things even though I didn't have that kind of power. I hated Christmas because of the financial strain, and hated hearing my siblings ask for things we couldn't afford. I hated the myth of Santa and the whole materialism aspect of Christmas. I was determined to avoid that with my children. We've had to compromise. We try to have a spiritual Christmas. We don't have images of Santa, or visit him at the mall, or even talk about him much. But we allow them to believe in Santa, and part of allowing is me letting them have a childhood. I no longer hate christmas. I've learned to relax and see the 'magic' of it. But I still hope that they don't mourn much when they find out the truth about the old fraud. :)

Heather of the EO said...

So many times adults seem to forget that children are people. Just shorter people. :) They deserve the truth.

It sounds like in Poland stretching the truth to anyone of any age is acceptable. I suppose people there just get so used to it they don't even think anything of it. Which is sad, and much like many things in our culture that shouldn't be...but are.

Alison Wonderland said...

First of all YAY, you're back!!!

Second, now you're making me think that we shouldn't do the whole Santa thing. (Although I think they're starting to catch on and just notsaying anything about it.)

David, Jamie, and Carsyn Sibert said...

I am a perpetrator of the lies in which I told Carsyn. "Get out of the bathtub or the Monster will suck you down the drain." When she did not listen fully I made growling noises. She freaked! It was funny. I also told her that if she is not in bed before 9pm then a monster would come and eat her. I think that parents do this because they just get tired of the NO factor. It is nice to tell your child the truth, but if you are tired of the stupidity (of what I like to call it) of a child. You do what you do.

And for the Santa thing. Poles have it wrong saying that all gifts are from Santa. That is retarded. Some gifts come from Santa. Santa is the child's innocence. It gives a sense of a magical thing. Christmas is a time of magic. (And also the Celebration of Christ, even though he was not born Christmas) it is just good to have magic in these things. Otherwise your kids grow up being cynical and unimaginative. Imagination is crucial. Michael Jackson couldn't be a child now look at him. :o)

pam at beyondjustmom said...

I think the cultural aspect of this is really interesting. I grew up in the Southwest where the "art of the tall tale" still thrives, and it adds a bit of color and texture to life. Growing up there, you also learn to recognize the kidding and not take it too seriously but tune into the intended message--so I wouldn't exactly label it as lying. An example: At our wedding, countless relatives shook my husband's hand and threatened bodily harm (in very colorful ways)if he ever mistreated me. He (a midwesterner) was completely freaked out by these threats. I, however, didn't see them as serious threats at all. It was just their version of humor to show how much they cared about me. We still debate about this, but we were raised in different cultures, even inside the U.S. I really, really miss some of that joking by metaphor that I don't see much in the midwest.
In my opinion, there is a fine line between lying and kidding, and they are not exactly the same thing. I'm not trying to bend the truth, I just hope that we don't lose some of the color, texture, and fun that comes with tall tales or some of those "techniques", as long as they are taken in stride and don't build mistrust.
Hope that makes some sense.

Sheri said...

When my kids asked if santa was real, I told them the truth, that he is an idea.. and explained it to them.. My sister gives her kids each three presents, because that is how many Jesus gave. I never thought about the way Polish people always lie to kids, but when I read it.. I realized that it bugged me to.. could just never put it into words. You should mention how they spoil kids rotten, and try to give them candy when they throw tantrums!

charrette said...

Some great food for thought here. Fascinating that people would lie to seek approval, at the same time risking complete distrust when they're discovered.

I don't think we often consider the effect even a small, innocuous courtesy lie can have.

And I am convinced that DIShonesty is connected to every crime, sin, and heartache.

Good to have you back...we've missed you!

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

Very fascinating post especially because I'm so familiar with it. When I was growing up in the Philippines I learned by example that it is better to lie than to offend someone or be rude to someone. It's like when someone asks if a dress makes them look fat and we deny it. This may be harmless, but in other situations lying to avoid offending can be bad. Filipinos usually say "Yes" when asked to do something even if they don't really want to do it, and they end up just flaking out on you. As for Santa, I haven't really thought this one through. Our kids are teen-agers now, and they seemed unharmed by the Santa myth. They seemed to have made a distinction (thank goodness) between the lies we told them that fall in the category of cultural "make-believe" (fairies, mermaids, monsters) and blatant more harmful lies which we hope they know we don't tell. Honesty is always the best policy, so it is so admirable that your kids are raised in that kind of home.