My experience has convinced me that most parents of high school and college-age kids fall into one of two camps:
- those who prefer pretty lies from their children
- those who accept the ugly truth
The main difference between the two is that the former don’t know it, while the latter are acutely aware. Parents who prefer pretty lies are the ones who think,“My child would never do that!”, when everyone else seems to know their child IS the one who is doing that.
I’ve been both parents, so I’m not pointing fingers. My hope is to encourage all of us to evolve into the kind of parents who can handle the truth–be it good, bad or ugly.
It helps to consider that the motive that drives a child to lie is fear:
- Fear of consequences.
- Fear of disappointing someone they care about.
The challenge for parents is to figure out how to minimize fear to determine the truth.
I’m not suggesting minimizing the consequence. I happen to be a BIG fan of natural consequences; they can be a fantastic teacher.
Parent-directed consequences, however, are trickier when dealing with older children, especially if you have a legal adult still living under your roof.
If you have more than one child, it’s probable that what works for one doesn’t work for the others. Some children are more compliant and responsive to correction, and others are wired with a strong sense of entitlement.
Here’s something to consider, though:
“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” (Attribution is debated)
Put another way: “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.”
In other words, when trying to figure out 1)how to get to the heart of your child, and 2) how to deal with lying and whatever is being lied about, you’re going to have to:
• up the ante.
• get smarter.
• try a new approach.
All of this is hard, mentally exhausting, and creatively demanding.
I’m not a “parenting expert” and I don’t have a Ph.D. in child psychology; but I am a mom of 21, 19 and 16-year-old children.
The older my children get, the more I’m concerned about our having open, honest relationships. Not that they have to tell me everything in their lives, but that they know they can if they want to, and I will love and accept them without condition.
Some practices that have helped me along the way:
1. Parent with an endgame in mind.
When I was pregnant, I started watching families with older children, trying to learn and incorporate what I saw other parents seeming to do well. My hope and heart was to raise responsible, respectful, charitable young adults whose company I’d choose even if they weren’t my own.
Though they’re still in school and hardly perfect, who they’re becoming is who I prayed they would be – with a little spice and challenge thrown in.
2. Take a deep breath, step back and pray.
I mean this one, literally and figuratively. If you find yourself beating your head against a wall, consider the above definition of insanity. What you’re doing ain’t working (been there, done that, don’t want the stinkin’ tee shirt).
So consider what you can do differently; try another approach. In a recent, personal parenting challenge, I prayed for the wisdom to see our circumstance in new light with a fresh perspective. I asked myself what approach would reach MY heart. (If you’re interested, this prayer guide has been helpful for my college and high school children.)
Of course not all Simple Mom readers share my faith conviction, but I still believe these principals apply regardless of religious persuasion or lack thereof. Meditation, contemplation and consideration can give your mind the space for new ideas.
3. Acknowledge the positives.
Eliminate the labels “failure” and “disappointment”. You may have failed at something but that doesn’t make you a failure; your child may have disappointed you but she’s not a disappointment.
Focus on the things you’ve done well, where you’ve found satisfaction as a parent; notice the good choices and accomplishments of your child. Once you start naming them, you’ll see even more.
4. Learn from the negatives.
Draw a line connecting cause and effect. If you discover your child has been lying about the bad choices (s)he’s making, take a look at the climate you’re creating for your home.
I am not suggesting your child’s poor decisions are your fault (!); I’m asking you to recognize and dig into the fears that led him/her to lie. Their bad choices are all their own, so let them have ownership; do not let them put on a victim hat by blaming anyone or anything else for the mess they’ve created.
And a word of encouragement–if you have a prodigal, there is always room for hope.
5. Keep sight of the big picture.
When you’re parenting toddlers and tweens, it feels like you’ll never get to the teenage-and-beyond years, and then BAM! They’re here! Extend a lot of grace to yourself; you’re no more perfect than your children. Trust that you’re the best mom (or dad) your kids could have, and that you ARE getting it more right than not.
Recognize that your children are helping to shape and sharpen you, too. Anticipate that some of those mountains you were willing to die on when your kids were younger are more like molehills by the time they’re 20.
And remember: you aren’t raising your babies for yourself, you’re raising them for someone else. One day they will leave the nest.
You needn’t fear the high school and college years! Bumps and bruises along the way are part of the refining process for children AND parents. This season has been a delight to me, in spite of the occasional challenge.
Older parents: what practices or principles can you offer to those who are soon following in your footsteps? Younger parents: what questions do you have we might address in future posts? I’d love to hear from you all!