09/27/2013 09:53 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Who Taught My Perfect Child to Manipulate Me?

"I don't want to go to sleep. I'm gonna stay up and make things for the poor kids," my daughter said. She was only 4 at the time, but it was in that moment that I knew I had my work cut out for me. I also knew my daughter was headed to one of two very special places... a convent, or a very lucrative career producing reality television.

It wasn't the first time she had attempted to manipulate me, and certainly wouldn't be the last. Still, I was surprised by how soon it happened.

Then just the other day, my husband received a call from kindergarten explaining how my daughter claimed she wasn't given enough lunch from home, and wanted to purchase hot lunch. Whether the school called to notify us of the request for dietary reasons or because of the $10 charge we'd incur for a last minute food order, I am unsure. Either way, she scored the bean burrito she was looking for.

Later that day, as my husband escorted my daughter and her BFF out to the parking lot for pick-up, a rookie error was made. The BFF was excited to share that she, too, had gotten a last minute hot lunch. Best friends through all of pre-Kindergarten, we knew that this friend routinely brought lunch from home. And though there was no seafood on the menu that day, something smelled fishy.

A quick text or two later, we knew we had been scammed. As it turns out, students that purchase hot lunch wear a special sticker on their shirt and while there is nothing cool about the sticker, it is still a sticker, which is like crack for young children. My daughter had asked for hot lunch several times the week before, which my husband and I discouraged, in exchange for hyping up all her "favorites" we packed from home. Obviously, she wasn't buying it. So two best friends with a combined age of 10 concocted a scam, and it worked like a charm.

Was it innocent? Sure. Was it tasty? God knows I wouldn't have chosen bean burrito day to be "starving." But was it a tad alarming? Absolutely. In fact, I am quite familiar with the sneaky look she likely had on her face while implementing the plan. I doubt my daughter will retain much recollection of the event outside of the note that I will make in her baby book because of it, but still my mind is spinning.

Is our ability (or inability) to manipulate a result of nature or nurture? I certainly don't think I have taught my daughter to scheme, or be dishonest. In fact, I have tried to instill quite the opposite traits. But you know what? She is damn smart, and I am beginning to learn how that intelligence can come with an alarming risk.

If my mother made one parenting mistake, it was leading us at too young an age to believe that there is a difference between a lie and a fib. Somehow adding the words "little" and "white" before the word "lie" made it excusable. As an adult, I completely understand her justification because clearly some mistruths are way more damaging than others, but this lesson is not one I look forward to teaching my own children.

I don't want them thinking that some lies are okay. Surely there is a time for pretend. I want their minds to run wild during imaginative play. I want them to be practicing neurosurgeons on one day and stay-at-home moms the next. I want them to love dance class more than soccer, and then soccer more than dance in the same afternoon.

Simply put, I want my children to experience all that they can in order to prepare and educate them for the best decisions they can make as they grow. And, I want them to do so in the most truthful and upstanding way possible.

I'm just trying to figure out how the bean burrito fits into that equation.


Read more of Karri-Leigh's essays on her blog, Dirty Laundry & Dirty Diapers.