When Is a Lie Not a Lie?
A little girl, named Mary, is coming home from school without her mother meeting her for the first time. When she arrives home, her mother is full of questions: “How did it go?” “Were you okay?’ “Who did you walk home with?” “Which way did you come.” “Did you walk by the stores?” Mary answered each question, until mother came to the last one, and then she answered “Yes, I walked by the stores.” But she hadn’t walked by the stores. Later she wondered why she had misled her mother. It wasn’t in her character to tell a lie.
The answer to her questioning wasn’t available to her, but it is to us. Perhaps she felt that since she was old enough to walk home alone, she was old enough to have a secret from her mother. It was a symbol of her budding sense of independence. So in a way, it wasn’t really a lie, it was a secret she wanted to keep to herself.
Think about the preschool child and secrets. Tell a child a secret and then tell them not to reveal the secret to anyone, and watch them struggle. It isn’t long before they share the secret in some way. They are not developmentally able to keep a secret yet. If there is not another person to share the secret with, they will come back to the person who told them the secret, and then say to them, “I have a secret.” And then they tell the secret. They just can’t hold on to a secret yet.
It takes a developing sense of individuality to be able to hold onto a secret. In fact, it is our secrets which help to give us our sense of identity. Watch an elementary age boy say to your son, “I have a secret, and I’m not telling.” Your son will beg, cajole, plead, and even attempt to bribe his friend into telling him the secret. Maybe his friend will tell him, or maybe his friend will make up a secret to tell. There is also a sense of power in holding onto a secret in that situation.
Think also of all the secrets at Christmas. That’s part of why children love that holiday. They secretly prepare a gift for the parent, and the parents are secretive about the gifts for their children. Think also of the secret languages kids create, or the fascination with invisible ink. When a child develops a secret language with a friend or a sibling, it forms a special bond between the only ones who understand the secret language. We all can remember our own fascination with secrets when we were still children. In the next posting, we’ll look at secrets and adults.
Question: What are some of your memories as a child about having secrets?