You can't handle the truth!

August 13,2008
Skaddadle
Todd Lieman( )
It’s one of those classic “guy movie” scenes – a showdown between box office super heroes: Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson (in A Few Good Men). Yes, women may like this movie too (just as a few of them may like Caddyshack or Fletch, but it’s really a “guy thing” more often than not). Regardless – male or female – we all know the exchange as Cruise’s character pesters Nicholson’s on the witness stand. Finally cracking, Nicholson blares, “You can’t handle the truth!” Can our kids?

As I was driving K-Man to school today, he said, “I don’t want to go to this school. I want to go to a new school.” I reassured him that we would look for a new school, as soon as we could. This was basically a lie. The other day K-Man wanted to see fire trucks. I told him that the firefighters were likely out on a call and if they weren’t, that the fire trucks were sleeping after a long, hard day. This, too, was basically not so true. It got me thinking about what we tell our kids and how truthful we are with them. Sure, some of the information we tell them is sometimes designed to help them understand why they can’t get something they want (e.g., the doors at the firehouse are closed because the fire trucks are sleeping). But…is it bad?

There are an absolute myriad “half-truths” that I tell K-Man each and every day. They range from information about his school, to treats he might want after dinner. The goal of every single one (or most of them, anyway) of my made-up stories is to avoid upsetting the kid. And, no…it’s not that I’m trying to give him what he wants whenever he wants it. It’s more about what I wrote earlier – that I'm trying to help him understand something that he might not otherwise be able to figure out just yet.

But in some ways, I feel like I’m doing the kid a disservice. Perhaps I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps I’m not giving him a chance to understand the reality. “Sorry, K-Man, the fire station is closed.” Period. Perhaps I should be giving him the opportunity to melt down and then learn from that experience. “No. We’re not going to have treats after dinner tonight.” (Versus telling him that we will and then diverting his attention so that he forgets.)

I have noticed, as he’s gotten “older” and a bit more able to comprehend things, that I’m more open to telling him “the truth.” For example, one day when he noticed the doors closed at the fire station, he said, “Oh, look, the fire trucks are sleeping.” At that point, I did explain that they weren’t really asleep, but instead the fire station was just closed. He replied, “No, Daddy. The fire trucks are sleeping!” He was adamant. At that point, who was I to argue?

It just seems like such a fine line – one of many we face as parents, no doubt. It’s just another balancing act (like work and family). How much “truth” do we tell our little ones? And how much can they actually handle? I’m sure the answers to these questions have much to do with the age of our kids. But, since K-Man seems to like the idea of the fire trucks being asleep, does he tell his friends this? And, if he does – is that even a problem? I have no idea.

Then again – some of our most basic traditions are based on stories, which are pretty much lies. You know what/who I mean: The Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, Hanukkah Harry. So there’s that whole debate, too. Are those stories okay because of their deep seeded roots in our cultural traditions? Again…I have no idea.

In the meantime, I do think it’s time I start giving him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it’s time to let him decide whether…he can indeed handle the truth.