My husband had asked me three times already.
We were driving to church and I was visibly upset about a situation that had come up rather quickly just prior to our leaving the house. I was trying to keep it together so as to avoid messing up my makeup and letting my carefully corralled emotions loose right before I walked in the door of the church. I had given myself a stern pep talk and just the right amount of distraction to keep it all at bay. I knew if I talked about it, it would be over and I would turn into a sobbing, snotting, puffy faced, puddle of sad. So, instead, I uttered the all too familiar words wives and mothers everywhere have on the “voicemail message” of our hearts:
It was my four year old that busted me right away.
From the backseat, a smug and triumphant little voice piped, “No she’s not Daddy, she’s telling a lie.”
The little tattle tale.
She was probably excited to catch someone else being naughty for once, and even better, an adult. And you know what? She was right. I was lying.
Through. My. Teeth.
Why do we do that?
I started thinking about it that night after I had calmed down and processed through those feelings. It occurred to me that my daughter hadn’t even been looking at me when she made her observation or listening to anything I was saying aside from “I’m fine”. She was way in the backseat and I was in the front.
This thought brought another realization; that she had likely been OBSERVING me before that, and observing her father…silently. Absorbing the whole scene. She had been watching me try to bottle up inconvenient emotions for a later time, and, I thought soberly, learning that that’s what adults, and in particular mommies do, when they are sad.
The message I sent to her with my lie is the opposite of what I want HER to do with her emotions. I tell her all the time to “share” her feelings and to use her “words” to tell me how she feels. That it all matters. That I want to know it all so she never needs to lie, because I want to know her needs, and her truth. So it must have been pretty confusing to have an adult both lie AND stuff their feelings right in front of her, and not just any adult, but her own mama.
Okay, look. I know. Sometimes, you can’t just DEAL with your stuff right when it happens. I get it. ALL moms know that there is precious little time in the day for a mini emotional breakdown of any kind, let alone on the WAY to somewhere. But there has to be a better way….
What kind of message are we sending to our girls (and boys) when we tell them that our (and consequently their) big feelings are inconvenient, and not important enough to been seen, heard, and validated? What are we modeling when we choose to be guarded with our emotions because we think our spouses or someone else won’t “get it” or won’t respond with one of the things on our mental list of “acceptable responses”?
What our children see and hear when we do these things is that feelings are inconvenient, and not as important as whatever thing is happening right then, and that the people who are the very closest to us, can’t be trusted with them. They learn that we shouldn’t be in public with big feelings, because having them could “ruin something”.
Decades of evidence based studies in psychology back what my heart already knows. This is not a message I want to send my little girl and boy. They need to know that emotions are acceptable and normal, nothing to fear, and are more important than the tyranny of the urgent.
So I’m really gonna try to stop lying. About this stuff and all the other stuff too.
Upon further reflection, I realized that this pattern of deception takes some other cleverly disguised forms in my life…
“Sure, I would love to”….when I really don’t want to.
“I’ll do it”…when I know good and well that I just can’t take on another project.
“Ok, let’s go see/do this thing/event”…when I am maxed out and really need to just schedule times to rest and relax.
Most importantly, I am going to stop lying about how I feel in front of my kids and my husband.
When I’m sad or mad, even if it’s at a really inconvenient time like right before church or an appointment, or the grocery store, or the school pickup line, I’ll just let the tears come and explain that, “Mommy is feeling (insert current emotion) about something in her life and she just needs to work through it and come out on the other side. Maybe a hug would help.” Then I’m going to face wherever I’m going with a splotchy face and ruined makeup because you know what?
I have a little girl and a little boy who need to know that it’s okay to tell the truth about how you feel. And I have a husband who needs to know I trust him with my “stuff”. After all, I chose him to do this life with, and being vulnerable is part of that.
Vulnerability isn’t so bad. In fact, I want my daughter to know that being vulnerable and authentic is exactly what I want to be; for myself, and for her. And I’m kind of tired of getting called out by a kid anyway.
So let’s stop lying moms, because our truth matters, and they are always watching us to see if theirs matters too.