What a hard week it’s been.
It started a few weeks ago, actually, when it was brought to my attention that my kid’s clothes were not smelling as fresh as they should. It turned out that “Em” decided she would prevent herself from having to fold too many of her clothes after washing them. So she’d wear them a few times between washes so that her portion of the load was smaller.
I totally understand her hatred of laundry, it’s not my favorite chore either. I tried to make her understand the social and personal ramifications for wearing the same garments multiple times before washings. And to help her to “remember” to put her clothes in the hamper, the hamper now resides in my room. She has to go into my room each night and put away the clothes she wore.
And to be honest, I didn’t check up on her to make sure she did it. When she’s getting ready for bed, I’m doing dishes or paying bills or other household chores that I don’t like. And I started to forget to check the hamper each night to make sure the pile inside was growing.
I should have been checking.
Tonight we did laundry so that we could have the time tomorrow to go to a friend’s birthday party (this weekend is our “busy” weekend of household chores). While we were waiting for dirty clothes to magically become clean, we did a little organizing, putting some tubs of miscellaneous things in Em’s closet; she can’t reach the shelves, so they are reserved for extra storage of stuff. When I was in her closet, I saw a carry-on duffel bag of hers stuffed full of clothes. When I asked what they were, she said she would put her dirty clothes in there and then when it was full she’d take it to my room.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell if that’s true or a lie as I haven’t been really paying attention. And unfortunately this compounds onto the lying problem we’ve been having lately. Lies about clothes, lies about breakfast, lies about snacks… Stupid lies about stupid things. Like today, my mom asked Em what she’d had to eat up to that moment. Em replied “Cheerios with sugar on top.” When my mom asked who put the sugar on top, me or her, Em was silent (indicating a lie in the works). After a few more tries, mom finally got Em to say that she’d had Froot Loops for breakfast. Mom was at a loss as to why Em would lie about what she’d had for breakfast. Later Em told me that she lied because she’d wanted Froot Loops for a snack, and she knew if she said she’d had Froot Loops for breakfast, she wouldn’t be allowed to have them for a snack.
Stupid lies. It’s never because she broke something or stole something or did something she knows is a big “no-no” (coloring on the walls, going outside by herself, etc.); it’s always something trivial. Needing to go to the bathroom, eating candy when we’re not looking, putting clothes away, washing her hands. Stupid lies.
My problem is how to punish her for lying. Just telling her that she’s breaking “God’s rules and Mommy’s rules” isn’t working, she LOVES cleaning (not her clothes, just in general) so I can’t use extra chores as incentive to not lie, and knowing that she’s losing the trust of the people around her by lying isn’t working. I’d resorted to taking away Dolphie, her beloved stuffed animal dolphin, the one where we both panicked when we thought we’d lost her in the parking lot in our complex and I tried to figure out if I could get a replica at the Aquarium of the Pacific on my lunch break. Em swears she can’t sleep without Dolphie. So removal of access to Dolphie it is, as the only other punishment I see fit is doing laundry, but really my budget can’t handle $2 a load every time she lies.
So at her first lie earlier this week, I took away Dolphie. Actually, I didn’t. I took away Blankie because Em looked so distressed at the thought of not having Dolphie for one night that I struck a bargain: two nights of no Blankie and she could keep Dolphie. I broke the cardinal rule: don’t be wishy-washy. No means no, and consequences to rules always follow when the rule has been broken, no matter what. It was the first time I’d broken the parenting rule of sticking to the rules. So perhaps I reinforced the lying.
Except that when she lied again the next day, I took away Dolphie and Blankie. I could hear her sobbing over the loud stripper-music playing in a scene of “Flashdance” that I was watching in the living room. After a very dramatic cry that she couldn’t sleep without Dolphie, I told Em that she would just have to not sleep quietly and I re-explained why she couldn’t have Dolphie and Blankie. She wasn’t awake much longer, likely because she wore herself out with the sobbing.
Each day since then she’s still been telling lies and each night she’s been sleeping without Dolphie and Blankie, crying herself to sleep. It breaks my heart to hear her cry like that, knowing that to her, sleeping without Dolphie or Blankie is like me trying to fall asleep without being allowed to roll onto my side: it just feels impossible and it even hurts a little. But I gotta stick to my guns.
Tonight, though, just ended up being even worse. After finding the dirty clothes in her luggage, I stumbled upon more clothes, these ones clean, on the other side of her closet. Clothes that she hadn’t wanted to put away because “putting away clothes is boring.” Oy. We had the “life is sometimes boring” speech and then I had her gather up those clothes so I could put them away somewhere else for awhile, telling her that if she didn’t care to put her clothes away, she didn’t care where they were and that since she wasn’t taking good care of them, she wouldn’t get to take care of them at all.
So those clothes are in my room for now. She has plenty of clothes to wear until the next laundry day, but some of these clothes she wears every two weeks for school spirit days. I don’t know when I’ll be giving them back to her to put away in her closet; I don’t know what goal I have for her to earn them back.
My real problem is what to do next if she continues to lie and hide things; I can’t be around her 24/7 to make sure she does what she’s supposed to. And I don’t want to do that, she needs to learn to decide for herself if she wants to do the right thing or the wrong thing. But if the lying and the poor choices continue regardless of her not having Dolphie, Blankie or her clothes (some of which are so new they still have the tags on them!), what’s the next step? I could always take away activities she doesn’t have to do, but that punishes more people than just her in the long run.
No kids’ groups and choir? She’s singing at Easter worship in a few weeks and has the annual kids and youth fundraising Variety Show this Sunday. We’ve committed to being in those activities.
No dance on Thursdays? I’ve already paid the deposit for her recital costumes and the teachers have already choreographed the dances based on the number of students in the class, counting on Em remaining in the class.
No birthday party tomorrow? That’s a possible consequence, but we’ve already bought the present and RSVP’d and it’s not fair to bail on his party when we have invited him to Em’s party next weekend.
And I can’t just cancel her birthday party if the lying continues, can I? I mean, I could, but would it be fair? No.
So, I’ve run out of ideas. How do I curb the lying and the misleading without watching over her every available second I have? Nothing I’ve done seems severe enough for her to decide the punishment is not worth the behavior.
I’m at a loss.