Not long ago, my neighbor and I took our daughters (who have become quite the little “besties”) to the movies. On the way to the theater, we stopped at the grocery store, and I swung in to pick up some $1 boxes of Junior Mints for us to enjoy during the show. The movie came and went, and I didn’t think anything about it.
A few days later though, my daughter and I were sitting at the dinner table, when she asked me this question:
“Mom, you know how at the movie theater there are signs that say ‘No outside food or drink?'”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Then why did we take candy from the grocery store into the theater? That doesn’t seem very honest.”
Ouch. The truth hurts, doesn’t it?
Was my move savy? Yes.
Was it economical? You bet.
But was it honest?
No. She was right. It wasn’t honest at all. It was sneaky. And it was beyond my usual character. I’m honest “to a fault” some would say (if there even is such a thing).
So I answered honestly that sneaking candy into the movie theater wasn’t honest. But she continued to press.
“If it wasn’t honest, then why was it ok for us to do it?”
Yikes! My sweet daughter assumed it was OK. Of course she did! Because I’m her mommy, and she trusts that I will try to lead her to do what’s right. So if I snuck candy into the movie theater, then it must have been OK, despite what the sign said.
My palms began to sweat, and I began to shake in my boots as I contemplated how I was I going to answer this question. Would I survive this interrogation by my ten year old? (Someone has taught her well in that department, by the way.)
For a split second, I thought about defending my actions.
After all, everyone knows that the theater concession stand prices are nothing short of highway robbery, and I was just being “prudent.”
I thought about justifying my choice, citing the fact that I’d already done plenty to support Cinemark with the $20 price of admission and the $12 price of drinks.
And I thought about excusing my behavior because it’s normal. Everyone does it, after all, and the movie theater seems to be doing just fine.
But I didn’t.
I knew those were only thinly-veiled excuses, not legitimate justifications for my actions, and my daughter would either see right through them or be confused by them. I owe her more than that. As her mom, I owe her a series of life lessons, and one of them, is a lesson in the value of honesty.
I admitted that it wasn’t honest, and I made no excuses. I confessed that what I did was wrong.
She smiled. And that was the end of it. The next time we went to the movies, we passed on candy altogether and just settled on some drinks. This was both economical (relatively speaking because … heavens … those prices) and honest.
A win win in my book.
But it got me thinking about the messages we send to our children everyday about
what our version of “honesty” looks like.
The subtle ways in which we teach our children that honesty is a context-based analysis that’s driven by our preferences and convenience. That lying is OK. And that being sneaky is too.
Like when we …
Lie about the age of our children to get a discounted rate. (“If anyone asks you today, you’re 4, not 5.”)
Switch the iPhone to speaker to continue a conversation in a school zone. (Despite the fact that the sign says “no cells phones.” Period.)
Tell a fib to a police officer as an excuse for speeding. (“My son is potty training, and he really, really needs to go to the bathroom!)
Or when we share a buffet meal with a small child rather than purchase another plate. (And on this point, let me just say that there should be legislation to require that children under the age of 3 get to eat free at all buffets. Talk about highway robbery!)
These are just a few common examples of the subtle ways in which we bend the rules to serve our preferences. I’m sure you can think of others because the list goes on and on.
None of them are earth-shattering.
And none of them will likely yield devastating consequences.
But we’re called to a higher standard. To do what’s right for right’s sake, of course. But beyond that most basic premise, we’re called to lead by our example. Each time we’re contemplating bending the rules, we must consider the impact our actions may have on our children. What message are we communicating?
Because the truth is that every time we choose to tell a little “white lie,” live beyond the rules, or engage in some sneaky conduct, we’re diluting the meaning of honesty in the minds of our kids.
We’re skewing the standard.
And we’re telling them — whether we intend to or not — that pursuing our personal agendas serves a higher purpose than being honest.
It’s a grave mistake. And a missed opportunity. Because we teach the best lessons to our kids when we rise to the standard even when it cramps our style. Even when it’s inconvenient. And even when it costs us more money.
Rest assured that the value of the lesson our kids learn from our honesty in these inconvenient scenarios far exceeds the price differential between Junior Mints at the concession stand and Junior Mints at the grocery store! These are life lessons that will carry them into their future and help them navigate many complex scenarios in the years to come.
I don’t know about you, but as for me and mine, we’ve decided that’s a price differential worth paying!
So what about you? Are you leading well in the area of teaching honesty to your children?