Top 10 Lies (Half-Truths) Parents Tell Their Children
Is it Ever Right to Lie to Your Children?
Warning: I'm going to tell you right upfront that you're probably not going to agree with everything I say in this article.
After my spouse and I were married, through no choice of our own, we waited to have kids. We both wanted a whole bunch of kids - I seem to remember discussing numbers ranging anywhere from 5 to 10 kids (What we're we thinking?).
Well, for the first ten years of our marriage, we had all sorts of medical and infertility problems. We spent a fortune on doctors and treatments that filled us with hope but in the end, did not deliver on their promise.
The worst part of it all was the continual stream of friends calling us with the blessed news that they were expecting. We were happy for our expectant friends, however, we hated getting all those phone calls.
The Lies Parents Tell
The reason I tell you all this is to say that when our children finally came along, we were both ten years further down the road and possibly a bit more aware of what a true blessing children can be (I'm continually reminding myself of this as my 16 and 18 year old daughters bicker and fight to the death over who is the best looking singer in the latest and greatest boy band). So, before I have to be medicated or restrained, take a trip with me in the old time machine and go back with me about 18 years.
(Insert strange, time-traveller sound effects here)
There we are. Can you see us? We're that happy couple sitting over there just getting the news that we are finally expecting. As a youngish couple in our thirties, this is a time of parental bliss. That first child is finally on the way and everything is brightly tinted in beautiful pastel colors, rainbows and all things "baby."
We love this beautiful place, this world of expectant parents. So many expectations and plans for our child. Look, there we are - talking to one of our friends who now has 3 older children. One of the things I noticed about this other couple was the things they would tell their kids - the half-truths or lies; "Get down off those stairs or I'm going to kill you!" or "Sitting too close to the TV will rot your brain" or "eat that food, it's delicious - you'll love it."
Over the next few months, we noticed other parents and the things they would tell their kids. Fabricated stories that described mythical bearded men who could fly around the world in a single night delivering toys. An anthropomorphic rabbit that carries a basket filled with decorated eggs. The winged creature that somehow enters a child's room in the dead of night, absconds with a bit of their skull and leaves a token amount of money.
OK, so these prevarications of the truth are what parents call harmless "white lies." Most parents have no problem perpetuating these myths because, after all, what harm could they possibly do?
A Lesson From the Motion Picture, "Liar, Liar"
Sure, most parents tell lies to their kids but is there another way to handle this? Could parents actually be truthful and avoid telling lies to their children? In the motion picture "Liar, Liar" (starring Jim Carey) that very question is addressed.
From the child's standpoint, discovering a parent who lies can be devastating. The little boy in this movie story is devastated when he discovers his lawyer father not only lies as a part of a normal day's work, but also habitually lies to everyone - including him. In the end, this movie actually has a good, encouraging message that people should be honest - especially parents.
You have to remember that the whole world to a young child is primarily made up of time with Mom, Dad and possibly siblings. On top of that, kids are naturally trusting. So, why would a parent what to mess that up? As new parents, that's what we were asking ourselves as we brought our first child home.
A Funny Story About the Dangers of Lying
When our children were very young, about 2 and 4 years of age, we learned a very powerful lesson about the dangers of even telling a little white lie. In an attempt to avoid getting involved in a long conversation with my mother (She calls several times a week), my brother asked my 4-year-old daughter if she would answer the telephone. In a whispering tone, he instructed her to tell Grandma that he was not at home - which she did. Well, sort of.
After a long pause and several minutes looking intently at my brother who was wildly flailing his arms like a third base coach giving an obvious signal for a base runner to steal home, my daughter said in a clear voice, "Hold on, Grandma. He's telling me that he's not here right now and he doesn't really want to talk."
Later, I explained to my brother that we try to encourage our kids to speak truthfully. He told me he never thought of "telling someone a family member isn't home" as a lie, but would have to reconsider his view on that. We believe that giving a signal to kids that it's OK to lie in one situation but not in another is a double standard.
By the way, whenever Grandma calls my brothers house, she still doesn't believe he's not at home - even when he's not!
This is the Part Where We'll Probably Disagree
So there we were, shiny new parents with our first child now home. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. What would we do? How would we raise our child? Who gave these two messed up people permission to have a child? How on earth are we even qualified to raise a puppy, let alone a human being? We were very aware of how important this endeavor would be and we wanted to do everything perfectly.
Maybe we were sort of unrealistic in our thinking, but we really did intend to take this parenting thing seriously. By that, I'm not implicating any other parents and how they raise their own kids. I just know for us, we wanted to do it a certain way - to us, that was the right way. Lying to our kids - in any way, shape or form - was not included in that "right" way.
What's So Bad About Little White Lies?
Another thing we noticed was that all those expectant couples that used to call us during our decade of infertility now had older kids, some of whom had developed problems with lying. That made us think. We just figured that if we told our kids lies, no matter how seemingly insignificant, it would give them permission to lie.
As Shakepseare put it, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." No matter what you call it, a lie is still a lie - and you're fooling yourself if you think kids don't know this.
"Well," some parents would say, "we lie to our kids to protect them." At first that seems like a perfectly logical reason to prevaricate, but it is still lying. Sometimes parents are unsure about how to deal with the tough situations so they make something up to protect their children.
Top 10 Lies or Half-Truths Parents Tell Their Kids
1) Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy (Have you ever met them?)
2) I love your art/craft/song - whatever (If everything a child does is great, how will they aspire to do even more? Be supportive but also encourage them to do more)
3) This won't take long (Have you forgotten how long a half hour seems to a kid?)
4) We're almost there (You know you're still 12 hours from your destination. Tell them the time it takes or have them watch for certain numbers on the clock, etc.)
5) This will not hurt (Really? That must be why they're screaming)
6) Try this, it's delicious (carrots give you night vision, etc. Some kids are simply not going to like certain foods)
7) You're beautiful and unique (Yes, your kids are truly beautiful but not to everyone - just be sure to tell them about the inner beauty. And if kids are unique, why are they always trying to look like someone else? Don't just give a pat answer. Encourage them to be unique, to discover their own abilities or style)
8) Babies are delivered by a stork (If you're still using this one, well, good luck!)
9) That's the end of the Story (Be honest, tell them you're just too tired to read anymore)
10) It doesn't matter who wins (OK, real-world reality check. In some circumstance - fair or not - winning matters in this world)
Worse, sometimes parents lie because it's just simply more convenient than taking time with a child and explaining something or helping them work through a difficult time (BTW, isn't that what parenting is about?).
For example, telling a child the family pet has gone to live on a farm somewhere far away when the animal is actually dead. This can easily backfire and cause even more problems down the road.
Now, don't get me wrong, explanations need to be age-appropriate. Children of a very young age do not need a long, detailed explanation of death or dying.
How about telling young children that a person is very sick and could not get well, even with the doctors help. They will understand that and probably won't need to know any more. Parents should help kids deal with the hard issues of life, but on a level which they can handle these difficult situations.
Kids Should Always Know You Love Them - No Matter What
As parents, we decided that our kids should grow up in an environment where it was perfectly safe to tell the truth. Now, we were very clear that lying had consequences but telling the truth was always preferable. This took a great deal of self-control on our parts. We trained ourselves to not react harshly when our young daughters came to us and told the truth. We also made it a very positive experience when they chose to be truthful.
We happily discovered that making a safe environment to tell us anything paid off big-time when our kids became teenagers. They now feel like they can tell us anything, no matter how shocking, and we will remain calm and controlled. Our primary goal was to let them know that whatever they told us, we would always love them - even though there would be consequences from telling a lie. We figured it was easier on them to learn these lessons at home where consequences were minimal and somewhat controllable.
At least, that's the way we handled it.
The Bottom Line on Lying to Kids
SO if you're still reading and haven't thrown something at your computer screen by now, here's the long and short of it.
I don't ever want to lie to my kids. If that is offensive to you, I apologize but it's how I feel about this. I'm not telling you how to raise your kids, I'm just saying this is the path we have taken. In my opinion, looking back, I know it was the right decision for us. I truly believe my family is closer and open because of the path we have chosen.
While I do believe one should never lie to their children, I also believe that discretion is also necessary in certain situations, especially when dealing with very young children.
We live in a world that makes it easy to lie and even ignores consequences. Some folks are forgiven, some even praised for lying. "A lie is still a lie, no matter what everyone else is doing, even if it seems right - it's still a lie," as my dearly departed Nana used to tell me.
It's never too late to start down a new path. Perhaps our story - and the stories of others who have chosen this path - will encourage you and your family to take a different approach in the future.