My son is a liar. Except I am not supposed to say that; I’m supposed to say that he “tells lies.” Except that “lie” is a trigger word for him, so I’m supposed to say things like:
“Tim, I do not understand why another student at your high school–whose name you don’t even know—would just give you his iPod. And then move to California the next day. I think your story may not be completely accurate.”
That’s how I sound on my good days. On my not-so-good days I say things like, “Last week you told me your math was already done and I found out that was a LIE. Why in the world should I believe you tonight when you say your math is done but you left it at school?” (In my defense, he was, in fact, lying about his math.)
On my worst days I say things like, “I’m SO TIRED of being lied to. It’s EXHAUSTING. I can’t believe ANYTHING you say.”
By the grace of God, I don’t think I have ever called my son a liar–to his face. But lying is what my son does. Consistently. Regardless of imposed and natural consequences. For reasons that often don’t make sense.
I found poop under his dresser once and said, “Tim, did the cat poop in here and you just shoved it under your dresser instead of cleaning it up?” He replied, “No. That’s my poop.” (Sadly, I really don’t know if this was a lie.)
I used to take his lies personally. Every lie was an indication that my son didn’t trust me—not to mention an insult to my intelligence. I mean, really, how dumb did he think I was? It used to be that every time I caught Tim in a lie, my anger would spike and it would be all I could do to keep a calm, even voice.
But that was yesterday. Today’s going better. So far.
I will probably always, at some level, take Tim’s lies personally. But it has gotten a little easier over the years. My head has learned that his lies aren’t personal; he lies to everyone. And my head has also learned that his lies are often simply attempts to please me—when I ask him a question, he wants to give me the answer I want to hear—he’s just pretty clueless about what that is.
To be sure, some of his lies are for self-preservation. And I’m getting better about not letting him dig himself in too deeply with these lies. At the point he says that “his friend” moved to California, it’s tempting to let him continue the story, to see how many false and ridiculous details I can get him to make up. But that would not be kind or productive. So I usually don’t do it.
Some of his lies, I have learned, are just involuntary mouth motions, wild guesses because the words, “I don’t know” are physically impossible for him to say. If I ask him when an assignment is due, he’ll say Thursday. Maybe it is due Thursday. Maybe it is due tomorrow, but he doesn’t want to do it tonight. Maybe—and usually my money is on this last option—he has NO IDEA when it is due, but feels obligated to pick a day.
What probably triggers my anger most quickly is when he lies about why he did something. “I missed the bus from my off-site class back to the high school because I just felt like walking. You know, getting some fresh air.” I’m supposed to believe that his decision to walk over two miles couldn’t possibly have been related to the stolen credit card in his pocket and the presence of retail stores on the walking route.
I think the hardest thing about all of the lying is how it impacts our relationship. It’s nearly impossible to have a meaningful relationship with someone who is consistently untruthful. No matter what I ask Tim, there’s about a 50/50 chance he will answer truthfully. So it feels like a waste of time to even talk to him.
Sometimes I choose to waste my time, because it feels like I should have conversations with my son. That’s what parents do.
Sometimes I just turn up the radio because I don’t have the energy to stay calm and remember all of things I am and am not supposed to say should he tell me a lie—which he probably will if we talk more than two minutes.
Relationships are not supposed to be like this. If Tim were my boyfriend, I’d dump him. If he were my boss, I would quit. But he is my son. So I do my best to make the relationship as good as it can be. And I pray for patience and hope and encouragement. A lot.
Practicing Families writers are consistently honest about their own struggles and shortcomings as parents. It is more difficult, though, for parents to share about the truly difficult behaviors of their children. No child or teenager should have their mental illness, addiction, illegal activity, or other significant problems broadcast to the world. Yet the lack of posts about these types of situations can leave some parents feeling isolated in their struggles. So Practicing Families is inviting parents to share anonymously about their deepest challenges with troubled children. No author names will be published and it is understood that names and details in the post have been changed to protect privacy. Please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute to this sporadic series.