Monday, May 20, 2013


When my daughter2 was in the 6th grade she got into some sort of very minor mischief at school, and as a consequence had to eat her lunch one day at a 'special table' up on the stage. Mischief sounds far more ominous than what actually occurred, and in fact I cannot recall now what even happened. I feel certain it involved talking when she shouldn't have been talking, but I think there may have been some hurt feelings along the way too.  

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is this-I found out. To this day my now grown up daughter doesn't know how I found out, but I think we can all acknowledge mothers have their ways.

She had never been in any trouble at school, and while the action was very minor my concern was the bigger picture. One bad decision often leads to another bad decision and that's a lesson some of us never seem to learn. I needed my daughter to understand that we make choices and there are always consequences, for good or ill, to the choices we make. I also wanted her to understand that when the people we interact with on a daily basis are making bad decisions, doing/saying nothing is every bit as much a choice as agreement. I don't want my children doing nothing when they can do something.

When my daughter came home from school that day she carried on as if nothing had happened, so I casually asked, 'Did anything interesting happen at school today?' She gave me some bit of unimportant trivia as middle schoolers and errant politicians are apt to do, but then I looked her in the eye and asked again, "Did anything happen at school today that you'd like to tell me about?"

She thought I knew, suspected but couldn't be sure, and I could see the wheels turning....'How could she possibly know?' 'Did the school call?" 'Why would the school call over something so trivial?' 'Does she really know or is it just my guilty conscience?'

As the wheels spun I added, "Think really hard before you answer."

We've all been there, standing in my daughter's shoes in front of a parent, a boss, a taxpaying citizen of the United States, and run through our list of possible responses. Why is our first instinct almost always for denial instead of the simple or sometimes complicated truth?

My daughter weighed her options, put her head down, and spit out the facts.

More than ten years have passed since that day, and while I don't remember the details of what led to our face to face, I do remember this-she didn't deny it. It was only in facing the cold hard facts that we were able to have an honest conversation. We looked at what led up to her making a bad decision, and how to avoid that the next time she's in a similar situation. There was genuine remorse on her part, and genuine forgiveness on mine.

Forgiveness comes so much easier when we deal in truths. When we don't have to wade through what is real and what isn't, what we can believe and what is being said to make a situation look less awful than it actually is.

Partly what led to the day's misfortune was the particular small group of girls my daughter had decided to hang with that day. They weren't her close friends, they were a handful of girls known to all the moms (and staff) in her grade as girls who tested the limits at every turn.  My daughter was invited to sit with them that day, and while she told me she didn't actually do whatever it was they were punished for, she was guilty by association.

My daughter did try to tell me that what she got in trouble for wasn't nearly as bad as what X got in trouble for. Ha-does any parent ever buy that defense? My reply to that line is always the same...just because someone else did something you see as far worse does not mean what you did wasn't also wrong. We don't hold ourselves up to the lowest common denominator.

Note to 11 year old girls and people entrusted with our country's security, finances, and most of all, our trust-who you surround yourself with matters.  

We talked that day about what my girls will tell you is one of my favorite, and most used words in parenting, and in leadership-perception. 

It matters.

It matters when you're an eleven year old girl opting to throw your lot in with girls you know are on a teacher's radar, and it matters when you're the President of the United States and things are spiraling in a thousand downward directions around you.

I don't care if you're running a multi-million dollar corporation, the United States of America, or the local PTA...when you're the one in charge perception matters. You are it. The one. Where the buck stops whether you like it or not, asked for it or not, deserve it or not.

The one word I want most associated with my children and my husband and most of all, the leader of my country, is integrity. That word is defined as 'adherence to moral and ethical principles, soundness of moral character, honesty'. If a leader lacks integrity, what good is he/she?

Standing in my kitchen that day, in spite of my annoyance, something pricked at my heart. I realized that while I wasn't proud of what led us to the little tete-a-tete, I loved and respected my daughter's willingness to tell the truth. She owned up to her part in whatever happened, claimed responsibility for a bad decision, and for allowing the people around her to carry on without saying, 'hey that's not right'.

Our President and much of his staff could learn a thing or two from an eleven year old girl brave enough to stand eye ball to eye ball with a disappointed mother. 


  1. Very well said. Our 24 year old daugther just told us a few days ago (while we were telling our 11 year old son why we don't him associating with 2 certain classmates who got into BIG trouble), "One of the best things you and Mom did as parents was help us choose good friends."

  2. Joyce, you have such a gift! I have thought this regarding our leadership so many times of late, and wished someone, just some person would demonstrate integrity and do what's right. Thank you for saying it so well for all of us. Incidentally, on the very morning my little granddaughter was to be inducted into the Honor Society (my blog) based on honesty, character and integrity, she was accused of stealing a treat in the lunch line. Of course, she didn't but it gave us an opportunity to help teach and hopefully instill some of the same life lessons you taught your eleven year old. Always do what's right! Thanks again.

  3. oh. so. true! love this, joyce. :)

  4. perfectly said and unfortunately very true

  5. I agree Joyce, but remember, perception is in the eye of the beholder. What you mentioned about now, with our president and govt officials is something I think can be said of ALL politicians, certainly now AND before (including those who Washington 5 years ago). I'm not sure which "issue" you are referring to, perhaps the IRS targeting conservatives & tea party groups? There is always an issue that the media clings to, and loves to use for good debate, which means good ratings. I have considered our present president a real man of integrity, and he has demonstrated to be a caring, thoughtful, family man. A peaceful man. He wants equality - he wants all of us to reap the rewards of a wonderful American life. That is MY perception (so, also my truth). I am hurt when I think other people's perceptions have been swayed. So, then is it the truth? I wish we could use our time & our words for positive feedback - and for respecting the difficult times for the person who holds the office.

  6. Superbly written! Wish many leaders had learned this lesson in childhood.

  7. Hi Marla -

    I agree perception is in the eye of the beholder, and most politicians seem to struggle with the truth. I don't think the fact that our current president's predecessor made bad decisions lets this one off the hook for his own. I don't think the fact that politicians on both sides notoriously use creative language to answer questions is okay, no matter which side of the fence you're on.

    Every President, no matter what they preside over, deals with the fallout of the one before. My impression is our current President never accepts responsibility for any action occuring on his watch. If it's not his predecessors fault, then it's someone not doing their job, and I do think as President that is his problem. He chooses his staff and his spokespeople. The leader of any organization is the one who sets the tone.

    Of the current stories brewing I find Benghazi deeply disturbing. To the point I made in my post...whatever he knew, didn't know, did or didn't do, and even whether anything could have been done still remains to be answered. I don't want to debate the points in a comment, but aside from whatever fact is sorted from fiction there is this undisputed point-the President went to Las Vegas campaigning the day after an embassy bombing where people died under horrific circumstances, and many question marks remained. That to me is extremely bad judgement. I actually don't care if he was on the phone to someone the entire 24 hours after, or if there was nothing he could do from I said, it's about perception sometimes, and in the case of Benghazi his behavior lookseally really bad. Sometimes we say no to something we want to do or have planned and counted on because of how it will be perceived. That's what I want my kids to know.

    As far as being swayed, I'm not sure what you mean? Swayed by the media? I think everyone is swayed by the media to a certain degree. I'm not a member of the Tea Party and I have friends and family members that run the range of political bent. Ilisten to news from many stations, no single source. Mostly though, I watch if actions match words.

    I don't think his parenting skills need to be scrutinized, but his leadership and the decsions he makes and doesn't make in regards to this country are fair game. I also think we're in a scary place, where we are not permitted to question anything a leader does without it being ruled political. Everything is political these days because the country is so divided. Just because an issue seems to hurt or favor one party over another, doesn't mean it shouldn't be examined. We still need to be able to ask questions and get answers without fear of recrimination. We need the media to do so as well.

    I appreciate your comment...if others chime in I hope they will show the same courtesy in their response.

  8. You have said this VERY well. A hard truth to learn and yet a most important one. Couldn't agree more with this.

  9. My kids (the boys, specifically) have learned the lesson of 'guilty by association' and that perception is very important especially in the world we live in today where hardly nothing is private.

    I agree with your post and your follow up comment.

  10. Very thoughtful and well written. I wish some of our politicians had had you for a mother.

  11. I basically always tell my mom when I got in trouble at school. I never did anything that bad, but I always told her when she picked me up. Until sixth grade, it was only once or twice a year.

    In sixth grade, I got in trouble three times, all in the same week. One Tuesday, a girl was put in charge of secretly marking people who were talking in line. I was talking with our mutual friend, but the girl didn't want our friend to be mad, so I was marked twice and the friend got off scott free. That Friday, somebody at my table did something that made me laugh. Two minutes later, I was called out into the hall and thought I was going to die because surely she wanted to discuss my behavior. Turns out, she was telling me that she talked to the parents of a boy who was giving me a rough time. When I told my mom, she laughed so hard she had to pull the car over, because I didn't even do anything that bad.

  12. You definitely need to run for office of some kind Joyce. You're so articulate and so RIGHT on - I'm sure your community (or city or state or country) could use you in some kind of office!

  13. As I've said before about many of your posts, this should be published!! A very well thought out post and so full of truth!!!!

  14. Joyce, I enjoy the discussion - I hope you realize that. And, I realize I tend to have rose-colored glasses on when I am watching & hearing from the leaders I prefer. I am probably more willing to easily "excuse" them - which isn't right. I am participating in an "Honesty Experiment" on line this month - and so I am more tuned in to my own faults when it comes to being honest, but I'm also trying to listen more honestly to others too. My point was that there is lying done on both political sides, and the media LOVES to plays off it...if politicians agree what would the newspeople have to talk about?!?! ha! I happen to believe Obama & Clinton when they said they didn't know. Should they have? Perhaps. Govt is many layered and everyone is covering up stuff to hold on to jobs. should Bush had better knowledge of what was going on/NOT going on in Iraq? Probably...but "his people" gave him the wrong info too, and so I hold him accountable for a war & thousands of deaths that were senseless. Oh why can't we just "give peace a chance?" and be allowed to forgive - and love??? That's why I pray!!! Take care Joyce! ( :

  15. Beautiful... and as a mama to an 11-year-old girl, this SO resonates. My hubs always tells the kids about when he got in trouble at school, and like your daughter, didn't know that his parents knew. Waltzed home after school only to find his parents both sitting on the living room couch waiting for him, paddle resting on their laps. He said his heart sunk to his toes and he went white... my MIL says it was all she could do not to laugh, he looked like a deer caught in headlights! Humility goes a long way... :)

  16. I'm bothered by many things these days, ESPECIALLY what's going on in Washington!

    My perception is that integrity seems to have fallen by the wayside, and is a thing of the past...

    because if our current president's lips are moving, he's lying and covering up!

  17. Thoughtful post. I liked reading all of the comments. I feel like the President (like most) entered Washington with the best of intentions and the politics of Congress reeled him into the cesspool. The cesspool part is probably part of many people's perspectives.
    It's a good lesson to learn at an early age, although too many get hung up on it. I think of the girls who have had compromising photos taken when they have made one bad decision and when the photos are spread on Twitter or Facebook they can't break free of those perceptions. It's hard when one mistake can lead to a life of disappointment or ridicule. Then the lesson might be that it doesn't matter what people think because you aren't who they think you are :)