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Look beyond the lies

Look beyond the lies
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First Published: Fri, Jan 14 2011. 09 43 PM IST

Let go: Make light of some of your child’s lies. Thinkstock
Let go: Make light of some of your child’s lies. Thinkstock
Updated: Fri, Jan 14 2011. 09 43 PM IST
My 11-year-old has begun to lie a lot. While he lies about things that could get him into trouble, what worries me is that he also lies when he doesn’t need to. Sometimes it becomes quite elaborate and convoluted. To add to it, his 13-year-old sister catches him out, literally playing detective. I have tried to let some of his lies pass, but she simply will not. How do I deal with both of them? One, I want to get him to stop lying, and two, I want her to let it go and not play judge-jury with him.
Okay, you have a bit of a double whammy to deal with. Quite naturally, your older child feels that “something has to be done” about her brother’s lying, as she has a well-developed sense of truth and falsehood—something we want our children to possess. However, as an adult, you must be aware that you have to let some of those whoppers go past, else you end up “catching out” and “cross-examining” him all the time.
Let go: Make light of some of your child’s lies. Thinkstock
First, let’s talk about your son’s lying. Children lie, as you said, to cover up mistakes and faults, but they lie also as part of an evolving inner universe—this is where the convoluted stories come from. They’re discovering new things in the outside world, and somehow want to make it their own. So, for instance, one 10-year-old who was fascinated with the circus would routinely tell people that she had “an uncle” in the circus. Or that her “friend’s uncle” was in the circus, or that an aunt could tame lions, etc. It’s all part of discovering the outer world and wanting to “own” part of it. It’s something that will pass, I can assure you.
So you have to pick which of the tall tales you will let go and which of them you will laughingly tell him are lies he should stop telling. If you keep trying to “get to the bottom” of each lie, it just turns into a catch-me-if-you-can game with the child, which is exhausting for you. You could also sometimes give him a “ya, right” kind of look, which says that you don’t believe him. Ignoring also helps a child realize that the stories are not getting him anywhere.
Another thing is that you could lead your child to take this “lying” and weave it into stories, perhaps for children a little younger than him. This way, you signal that his claims are in the area of falsehood, but can be taken to the level of make-believe and become a healthier activity.
As for your daughter, you would need to take her aside and tell her that you are aware that he’s lying, and that you’re dealing with it in your own way. Assure her that you are not taken in by his stories—her concern must be that he’s “getting away” with the tall claims. Do reiterate to her that you need her help in handling this, and she should not jump on him each time if you are to steer him away from this habit. Perhaps then she will not feel that she has to police him all the time.
My 15-year-old son is extremely dependent on my wife and wants her around all the time. I travel a lot, so she is the more hands-on parent, but now that I see other boys his age, I feel he is turning into a real mama’s boy. Sometimes I feel he’s simply using her not only as an emotional crutch but also as a secretary-driver. She does his project work for him, way beyond just helping; she goes for haircuts with him; she even buys his clothes and underclothes. I have tried to bring this up with them but both say “we don’t mind, so what’s your problem?”. Isn’t this unhealthy? What can I do about it?
You seem to have become quite an outsider in this equation—a predicament that many travel-for-work dads face. In your home, things seem to have overtaken you in a way, and now you find yourself being firmly told to “mind your own business”!
Pampered: After an age, being a ‘mama’s boy’ is not appropriate. Thinkstock
Perhaps your son needed you to be more involved and hands-on, but that does not seem to have happened. The cocoon is so complete, currently, between mother and son that you are finding it difficult to be heard and taken seriously. This is not a great position to be in for you as a father, and also for your son, where he has had such sketchy access to you as a parent. You seem to be mainly a provider, and not a parent right now, to him as well as to your wife.
However, that does not mean you don’t have a say in what you may see as a parenting issue that needs addressing. There are many such families, where the roles are sharply etched, and while this may work on many counts, it is precisely situations like this that quite urgently and seriously need the emotional perspective and intervention of the father.
While your wife and son seem to be comfortable in this co-dependence—she feels needed and indispensable and he feels mollycoddled and cosseted—you have rightly felt that this is not appropriate and needs to change.
How do you go about intervening? First, you need to be more present in your son’s life on a daily basis. You would have to find ways to do this, ideally by cutting down on travel, or at least start by being in daily contact with him. Also, when you are in town, perhaps you can schedule things so that you gently but firmly take some of his mother’s chores away from her and do them yourself—you can take him shopping for his underclothes, and you can make it clear that it’s just not on that he goes with his mother any more. The argument that “it’s been done this way up to now, so why change anything” does not hold, because he is a young male now, and that’s the simple reason why his mom can’t and shouldn’t be doing this kind of stuff for him. Second, get involved and find out how much of his school work he is simply being lazy about because he has secretary-mom to do it for him.
Find ways to get involved in a loving and sensitive way, and avoid labelling him a sissy or mama’s boy. Simply get on with reworking your way systematically and meaningfully into your boy’s life, and also getting your wife to let go of him in some key areas of his daily routine and general needs.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jan 14 2011. 09 43 PM IST