"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
August 30, 2012
The (Fake) Secret Is Out!
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

In Primary a few weeks ago, my daughter drew a picture of our family. Off to the side, she drew an additional child. When her teacher asked about the picture, my daughter named all of our family members and then said that the additional child was her “sister who we don’t have.”

After Primary, her teacher, quite moved, showed me the picture and told me how very sorry she was for our loss. I was confused, because we have not had a loss. I guess she assumed I had been pregnant and miscarried. It was awkward and I didn’t know how to respond to her condolences. So I just said, “Thank you,” and headed for the door.

A week later, another sister asked about my job. I told her about a big project I am working on, and she told me that I don’t need to stress right now, with the baby coming and all.

Holy cow! I’m not pregnant!

I didn’t say anything. Just beat another hasty retreat. At the time I thought she’d figure it out in another three months, but now I’m wondering if I should have corrected her.

Answer:

Yes. You should have corrected both of them immediately. The situations were unexpected, and I sympathize with your retreat under fire. But it is not right to allow people to believe things about you that are not true.

A concerned but relieved, “Oh — no, no. We didn’t have a loss. Sylvia just has a vivid imagination,” would have done for the first situation. The teacher would have been more relieved than embarrassed. A surprised, “I’m not pregnant,” would have done for the second.

But you did not correct them. And now you’ll have to set the record straight.

The issue is not whether these sisters made wild assumptions about you, or whether they deserve to labor under their delusions, or whether it would have been awkward to correct them, or whether you care what they think.

Nor is the issue that you have somehow been railroaded into revealing personal information. There was no pressure here, and no personal information was (or will be, once you set the record straight) actually revealed.

The issue is that you have allowed them to believe something about you that is not true. And it is not a socially acceptable deception, such as allowing someone to think you liked her salad when you did not, or answering that you were “fine” when you were not. You have allowed them to think that something happened to you that did not happen. And that is different than the gracious going-along of everyday life.

To the first sister, find a time when you’ll have a minute or two to talk privately, either in person or on the telephone. If you want to have this conversation via text or email, first ask yourself if you will mind when your message is forwarded to everyone you know and posted on Facebook. Because that is the risk you take with written communication. If you decide to take the risk, draft your message carefully to achieve the appropriate tone.

You want to be sincere, but keep it simple.

“Mary,” you’ll say, “I’m a little embarrassed, but do you remember when Sylvia drew that family picture the other day? With the “sister we don’t have”? Hopefully, the teacher will nod. “Well,” you’ll continue, “I think I left you with the wrong idea when we talked about it. The “sister we don’t have” is just imaginary. There’s no sad story. I was just so surprised by her picture that I didn’t know what to say.”

She will probably respond graciously and with some relief or embarrassment.

And she will know that you respect her; that you care enough about her to make sure she does not continue to believe something that is not true. You will save her from the embarrassment of telling anyone else about the tender moment of seeing your daughter’s picture of her “sister.” And you will ensure that she will never again assume anything based on a child’s drawing.

The situation with the second sister is a little different because, as you pointed out, it will become apparent in the next few months that you are not pregnant.

If you interact with this sister frequently, she is likely to keep asking you about the pregnancy. Therefore, I would just tell her that you are not pregnant. The next time you see her, you could say, “Joan, when we were talking the other day, you seemed to think I was pregnant. I was surprised, because I’m not pregnant. I just wanted to clear that up.”

Do not make any reference to a pudgy midsection, if you have one. A pudgy midsection is no excuse for assuming that a person is pregnant.

You might also choose this approach if you think Joan is out telling the entire ward that you are pregnant. It’s annoying that you have to deny something that was never true, but if you believe the alternative is quashing the ward whisper mill, you might choose to do so.

Joan will probably be embarrassed, but that is not your fault. Certainly, in the future she will remember that pregnancy is never to be assumed unless announced to you by the pregnant person herself. But let’s give Joan a break and imagine that some other seemingly-reliable source told her you were pregnant, and she believed it in good faith.

The other solution is to let her figure it out in the coming months. I think this is all right if you don’t speak to or see her very often. But be aware that she might ask you about it later, at which point you will have to tell her that you were not pregnant when you spoke before.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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