I have it on pretty good faith that three-year-olds don’t really engage in torturing their parents with manipulative mind games.
But yeesh, sometimes the things they say and do get bewildering and exasperating.
It’s after dinner, time for Amy to clean up her things before getting ready for bed. I’m in the kitchen doing dishes. She says, “Mom, I was telling the ___ story!” (I don’t remember which story it was.) I say back, “You’re supposed to be cleaning, not telling stories.”
In the ideal world — well, in the ideal world we wouldn’t be having this conversation but bear with me — in the ideal world, that would be the end of it. She’d stop telling stories and get back to her work.
But no — “I was cleaning up AND telling the story.” My reply: “You need to clean up WITHOUT telling stories.” (I hate these perhaps-perhaps-not-manipulative loop-hole findings.)
But it gets worse, because then she says “I don’t know what you mean.”
In case she just didn’t hear me right, I repeat: “Clean up WITHOUT telling stories.”
And she repeats, “I don’t know what you mean,” this time in her “Don’t you dare” mama impression voice.
And I lost it.
I want to be the kind of parent who trusts her kid — who believes her. But I am aware that kids do, in fact, sometimes lie, for a variety of reasons. So, knowing when she’s telling the truth and when she’s lying seems to be an important goal (along with exploring the reason for the lie). But it’s not always obvious.
I really don’t understand how she could not know what I meant by cleaning up without telling a story. But maybe in her mind she did have some kind of confusion about it?
When you suspect someone is lying, asking them if they are lying is not always the most prudent course of action. For one thing, you couldn’t be sure if they would give a true reply.
Always believing is naive and clearly impractical. Always disbelieving is not nice, nor is it conducive to building trust and truthfulness.
Trying to navigate the narrow road of wisdom is, as I said, sometimes bewildering and exasperating.
I go into her room and climb into bed beside her to apologize for having lost it, and to gently probe into whether she really understood me about cleaning up or not. The investigation was inconclusive and I soon dropped it.
I moved on to talking about trust and believing what she says, and I asked if she remembered the story of the boy who cried “Wolf!” — she said yes, and then I asked more questions — like what was the boy’s job — and she kept answering “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember,” but in the same rather sing-song unthinking voice she uses to answer similar questions like “What did you do in Sunday School today” or “Tell me about one of the works you did at preschool today.”
May I remind you that my child has a prodigious memory and is rather articulate for her age? So you can see why I get a little suspicious with such answers, especially when Sunday School or preschool just finished minutes ago.
I forget how exactly the discussion continued, but basically we got to talking about how I thought maybe what she wanted was for me to tell her the story, and that’s why she was saying she didn’t know or remember. She agreed (again, you can never tell if she’s agreeing because she thinks that’s what I want to hear, or because I was right in my guess).
I suggested she say what she wants — she could say something like “I don’t want to say the answer; I want you to tell the story instead.”
So I asked the questions again and she correctly answered them, and then she asked me to tell the story and I did.
We prayed, and that was all. I still feel just a little bit crazy.