It is innate to always want to protect your children, to believe everything they say, to take their side before actually getting all of the information first. I know these things because I am a mom; I've been one for 28 years. I suppose that is why it takes a while to reprogram one's mind to take in the truth that your children are in fact not perfect.
When that first child is born, parents sit and just stare at the beauty and innocence of that tiny little wonder. How precious...how sweet...how long will it be before they become a "Real" child? OK... I realize that may sound like a line from Pinocchio, but that's the way those of us who have or have had many children think sometimes. I can still recall a dinner party with some friends that Robby and I were attending when Caitlin was a freshman in high school. Now, all of her friends were the oldest in their respective families; she was the youngest. We had already been through three teenage boys and knew exactly what teenagers were capable of; even good ones. So, when the subject of our teenagers came up and knowing how to determine if they were telling us the truth, one mom stated that it was her theory, "To believe in their innocence until they give you a reason to believe they are guilty." Robby barely let those words hang in the air before he voiced his own theory..."If their mouth is open, they are lying." GREAT...Well, I'm not sure I would have put it that way but in retrospect I suppose it was true.
As parents, Robby and I always told our children that there were consequences to pay for every action. One could choose to do something, but if we found out about it (and we eventually would...), there would be a price to pay. We believe in discipline; without it, the animals would be running the zoo...and that wasn't about to happen at our household. Discipline and values, however, begin at a very young age. And it is not easy (I know that sounds very cliche'...) for parents, either; often times, it is like punishing themselves to implement the consequences and STICK WITH THEM.
Once when the children were young, I went to visit a local fabric store in town; it was about a 40 minute round trip. As I packed Caitlin around on my hip to find my purchases, the boys stood over to the side looking at the buttons and notions. After checking out, I loaded all four children back into the mini van and headed back home. After our 20 minute ride, we got unloaded and I began to piddle around the house when I noticed the boys emptying something from their pockets. A closer look revealed that they each had pockets full of buttons! OH MY GOSH!...My kids had stolen buttons from the fabric store. I confronted my little darlings by asking what they had. They showed me the buttons and I promptly told them that they had stolen them from the store. Their eyes became wide when I used the word "stolen", but not as wide as they would become when I told them I would be taking them back to there to tell the owner that they had "stolen" his buttons and apologize to him. Now, I knew the owner, personally, and called him ahead of time. He knew the trip would be long for me and told me that it wouldn't be necessary. I insisted making it a "learning situation" and told him we would be there shortly. I escorted three little boys into the store with heads tucked down in humility. They walked up to the man and said, "We're sorry...we stole these buttons from you." And they poured all of the buttons onto the counter. He accepted their apology and we were again on our way. We continued to shop at that fabric shop in town and every time, for quite a while, as we got ready to leave, the boys would turn their pockets inside out and say, "We don't have any buttons..."
The button incident was only the beginning of the discipline era for my children. I'm not saying to never believe your children, but listen carefully to what they are saying; don't just automatically take their side because they are your child. Children (teenagers, in particular...) are very smart. As Ryan once told me, "I'll tell you the truth...you just have to ask the right question."