Barbara: Tattling—is it the lowest thing you can do as a child? Mean, ugly, stupid?
Did you grow up with this belief? Do you still believe it?
Okay, now … why?
I read this article in our national paper the other day and it brought me back to those years as a young parent when tattling and all the coping strategies that go with it became my responsibility. I’d grown up, as almost everyone I knew, to believe that tattletales were pernicious, mean and small-minded people. That children who tattled deserved my scorn. That I should “ignore it/them” and they would learn to work it out. But as a young parent, I was also now an adult, and as an adult I’d come to learn that the expression “tattletale” only applies to children and their problems. Because, of course, adults who point a finger are usually considered brave, righteous, or “whistleblowers”. And don’t these brave whistleblowers or victims often speak about how difficult it is for them to decide to say something against their aggressor or wrongdoer, and that they felt wrong to do so, and that they only agreed after much soul-searching and support? Aren’t we all familiar to some degree with this strange disassociation between what’s right, and then standing up for what’s right? And is it possible that maybe this disassociation began when, as kids, we were repeatedly told to work it out ourselves, that tattling was the worst, most base thing we could do, and that—in the unbelievably inflammatory language of the clinical psychologist/writer of this article—“everybody knows that tattletales are on the upper rungs of those who should be despised.” Really???!!!
I could go on and on about the unbelievably inflammatory language of this guy’s article, but I’m not here to discuss his choice of words or his ideology. No, it’s my blog so I’m here to discuss my own.
Now I am not a clinical psychologist, but I am sure that if someone is doing something wrong, something physically or emotionally (let’s call it what it is) abusive, especially if the people involved are young children to whom EVERYTHING FEELS LIKE AN EPIC EVENT, isn’t this the best, most purposeful time to take a few minutes out of our day to offer up a life lesson? To delineate for both children involved what is right and wrong? To lend a loving and supportive ear when one or both of them feel maligned? To prove to them that the home, the sacred circle that it is, is the best and safest place to air grievances and be heard and gently directed?
I know it’s annoying to hear “the whine”. I do. I was there. I know it can come at the worst possible time, say, in the middle of some really pivotal part of that novel you’re writing. I also know it can feel like “the whine” is caught on some loop, like a scratch in a record, replaying the same refrain over and over and over again. I know this. I also know—from experience—that the grievance, however trivial it seems to you—will have powerful triggers in both kids involved. I mean, sure, you may still not make everyone happy (in that moment), I certainly remember often leaving the discussion almost at square one and even with a frustrated (from me), “Well, you’ll have to work it out yourselves then!”, but I definitely remember most “tattles” ending in a kind of détente, where, at the very least, there was a calmer “agree to disagree” feeling. I also know very well that, if both sides have been heard, if all grievances have been aired, even if no satisfying outcome was achieved, those bickering, “tattling” kids will grow up with a sure sense that there is no shame in revealing your pain and that fair play is possible, and with some sense that, occasionally, it turns out that just because you feel wronged doesn’t mean you are wronged. PS: If your kids know you’re gonna wanna talk about the tattle, a) they will surely have their debating skills right up to snuff, which is great for their communications skills, and b) because they know you’re gonna wanna talk about it, they will also only bring you grievances they think are worth the effort!
As a parent, I realize now that the tattling phase really only lasts a few years. What’s a few minutes out of those days spent communicating with your child that hitting their sister (or stealing from them, or calling them a name) is not okay, that you hear them, and that there is some loving order in a chaotic world? Is our traditional approach to tattlers a lazy parent’s way out? Worse, does it condition the bad habit of suppression when we are hurt?
Or is the writer of this article right when he says that, by allowing the tattle, we are “currying favour at the expense of another” and forming “divisive bad habits”, and that the best and only way for us to deal with our children’s grievances is to ignore them?
Deb: Fascinating! Here is what I was brought up to believe and rather than changing it when raising the boy, I held fast to its model. I was taught that it isn’t right and nobody needs to know which kid took the last cookie or who threw the mud ball. I was taught to believe that I should tell when the person was hurting someone emotionally or physically or breaking the law. Anything beneath that was none of my beeswax. I was taught that if I was being pulled into something unsavory that I should own up to who is doing the pulling. Beyond that—stay out of it. In the professional world, as far as I can see, it has to be the same rules. Cheaters, liars, thieves, beware. Everyone else, just watch out for smartphones!!!