I walked into the kitchen this morning to grab a snack while working on my phone. My five year old daughter called to me from the other room.
“Daddy, can you draw a face on this for me?”
I was in the middle of work, trying to get a quick bit of nutrients and return to my office. I was distracted. I didn’t feel like scrawling a face on a piece of packaging plastic with a mashed up pink marker. I responded,
“I’m not good at drawing faces honey.”
It is true that I’m not good at drawing faces, at least relative to an average person over the age of eight. But my daughter already knows that. She knows I’m not the best artist in the family. She knows my son and my wife can both draw a better face than I can. But she also knows I can do one better than her. She asked knowing full well the extent and limits of my abilities. So she called me out.
“Just do your best. Just like I do my best.”
“Just do your best” is one of those phrases I use all the time as a parent, and it usually feels good. It’s not condemning or harsh or full of phony, undeserved praise. When your kid says, “But I’m not good at X!” parents can calmly say, “Just do your best!” We wouldn’t want them to let fear of imperfection stop them, right?
In this case, I wasn’t getting called out for fear of failure. I wasn’t avoiding face-drawing because I was afraid the face wouldn’t look good. I’m way past that point. I was getting called out for lying. I was trying to pull a fast one on my daughter instead of just using direct, clear, honest communication. Kids aren’t that easy to fool.
I really had two choices. Draw the face or don’t draw the face. Either one would have been morally and practically acceptable. If I chose not to draw the face, the best thing would have been to give an honest reason. “I’m sorry honey, I’m in the middle of some other things. I’ll do it later if you still want me to.” or simply, “Hon I’m not going to draw a face right now.”
Those may sound harsh, at least compared to drawing the face. But they’re less harsh than the lie I tried to get away with. My daughter knows my lack of artistic skill is not the reason I didn’t want to draw a face in that moment. So deflecting with that not only indicated I didn’t want to draw, but also that I didn’t respect her enough to just say so.
She got distracted drawing and went about her business, as I did mine. I don’t think any major damage was done. Still, not my finest moment in parenting.
It was a good reminder of how often and how easily we slip into dishonest forms of communication. If it goes far enough, it can lead to self-deception, where we actually start to believe our false reasons for action or inaction.
If only I could bring my kids with me 24/7 to call me on my BS.