One of the core values in the Willis household is honesty. Our kids know that they can get in trouble for lots of things, but lying tops the list of deadly sins. We put so much value on honesty because we want our kids to realize that love is built on trust. So if we want to keep our family strong, we’ve got to always tell each other the truth.
We went through several years when the kids learned this tell-the-truth lesson so well that it nearly backfired on us. They assumed that because the truth was so important, if they considered something to be true, they could say it out loud. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad thing until we had some very embarrassing interactions in public.
Here are a few examples from the long list of unfiltered “truths” that my children spoke to strangers in public:
“Wow, you have a huge belly!”
“You look really old like Yoda.”
“You smell funny.”
“Why are you dressed like that? Are you poor?”
“Are you going to feed milk to the baby from your nipples?”
That last one actually referred to me. Apparently, I have “man boobs.”
As you can imagine, we preferred to keep these kinds of phrases from being blurted out in public to complete strangers. My first thought was, “Let’s just stop taking the kids to Walmart!” For some reason, a lot of these incidents seemed to happen at Walmart. Kids seem to behave better when we’re at Target.
We knew that isolating the kids in solitary confinement until adulthood wouldn’t work, so we needed a new strategy that kept the emphasis on truth but also put a filter in the process. Our friends, the Asselin family, had a policy that worked great, so we stole theirs.
They taught their kids that they weren’t allowed to say anything to anyone unless it met three criteria:
- It had to be true.
- It had to be kind.
- It had to be necessary.
This became a mantra of ours as well. We told our kids that truth was vital, but the truth alone wasn’t enough. You could say something that was technically right, but if you said it without love and compassion, you were still wrong.
“We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.” —Ephesians 4:15
We quickly got some real-world testing grounds to try the new policy. We were at the grocery store, and the boys were hovering around the cart looking for candy to sneak in while I wasn’t looking. An elderly lady limped past on her cane, and I held my breath as the boys started to say something. They quickly caught themselves and bit their tongues. Then, while she was still just a few steps away, they shouted with pride, “Dad! We did it! That really old lady just walked by, and we didn’t even tell her that she looked old like Yoda!”
I patted the boys on the head while giving an awkward smile to the sweet lady who heard every word of their commentary. Like most life lessons, this was a work in progress, but I’m happy to report that the boys are getting better with it every day.
This story above is from my new book “The Seven Laws of Love: Essential Principles for Building Stronger Relationships.” For more tools to help you build a stronger family, check out my new book by clicking here.
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