Why I'm Ignoring The Tattletale

by Rita Templeton
ssj414 / iStock

I don’t wanna brag, but I’m pretty sure my kids are practicing to be journalists. How can I tell? Because they all seem to have a burning desire to report every little thing. Not only that, but they’re determined to share their stories as quickly as possible, literally clambering over one another in order to be the first one to tell me something, like it’s a breaking story I’m just dying to hear. They’ll shove each other out of the way, try to shout over one another, vying passionately for their words to reach my ears before anyone else’s can.

Only, if they’re going to make it big in the news field someday, they could use a few pointers — namely this: Not everything is worth telling. Sure, I need to know if there’s something noteworthy going on, like, “So-and-so is drawing on the wall with your lipstick!” or “Someone is bleeding!” But tattles of “He said I have too much hair,” and “He tried to put his toe in my cereal,” make me want to lose my shit. And that’s putting it mildly.

As though they needed to be more annoying in nature, these unnecessary tidbits are delivered in the approximate tone of a mosquito with a raging case of PMS. I can always tell when I’m about to hear a doozy, because it’s always prefaced with a shrill whine of “Mom-meeeeeee?” that rises a few octaves from the beginning of the word to the end. And then comes the fun part (and by “fun,” I mean the part that makes me want to pack a bag and run screaming for the horizon): “He said I look different!” “He called me ‘orange’!’” “He said my underwear look like something Big Bird would wear!”

I want my kids to know I’m listening to them. I want them to be able to come to me with important things (keyword: important) and feel confident that I’m not going to brush them off. But how can I get the point across that they should most definitely tell me some things and most definitely leave me the hell alone about the others? It’s one of those frustrating parenting situations that seems almost contradictory — like how we say, “Hey kids, never take candy from strangers under any circumstances except Halloween when you get it from people you don’t know.” It’s hard to make them understand what to categorize as “significant” because in their minds, clearly, someone saying their breath smells like oatmeal is a huge deal, worthy of a sprint across the house and an arm-waving rant.

For the most part, I ignore the ridiculous tattles, because if I act on them, it’s only sending a message that it gets my attention and they should do it again (which they most assuredly should not unless they want me to go off the rails once and for all because OMG).

Take, for example, the other day: “My brother called me a poop face!” one of my sons whined.

“Well,” I said, “are you a poop face?”

He thought about it. “No.”

“Then he’s wrong, and it doesn’t matter. Now go play.”

My rule is, if no one is bleeding or physically hurting someone else or doing something risky, their tattles will be met with either a deaf ear or a straight brush-off. Yes, I want to know if one of my kids is, say, trying to jump off the top bunk, but if the biggest infraction is that “he said I’m shaped like a banana,” they’re on their own.

I consider it a valuable lesson in conflict resolution.