The Parenting Chronicles: Lies, Lies, Lies

Everyone has their own opinion about the most important rule of parenting, but you’ll never be able to convince me it isn’t this one: don’t lie to your kids. Ever. About anything.

Maybe I should qualify just a bit: the absolute number one, carved in stone rule is love and protect them at all times and at all costs, but that one should go without saying.

So next one down the list is don’t lie.

Don’t lie because telling the truth is too embarrassing.

Don’t lie because you’re afraid the truth will hurt their feelings.

Don’t lie because you’re afraid the truth will make them go buck wild or reject your religion or push them away from you.

Don’t even lie because you don’t know the answer and don’t have the time/energy/interest to look up the right answer.

Just don’t do it. I’ve been raising kids for 26 years and never once has there been a situation that a lie was the proper response. That doesn’t mean I tell them 100% of the truth 100% of the time. It means I’ve always been able to respond in such a way that I am not lying to them.

If it’s a delicate subject they are asking about, I take age, personality and maturity into account. I take an extra minute to think about what they really want to know.

And I think about how I would want to be answered.

Of course sometimes the answer is truly none of their business or you just don’t know the answer, but there is still no need to lie. Just flat-out tell them that.

*Here’s my fun tip of the day: if they ask you an intensely personal or just plain nosy question (usually one involving your sex life/prior hell-raising activities) that they really do not need an answer for, look them firmly in the eye and ask your own question:

“Do you really want to know the answer?” (If you can cock an eyebrow, this would be an awesome time to throw it in.)

Nine times out of ten they don’t, once they really think about what the answer might be (and the fact that you just might tell them). But if you have a particularly smartass child you very well may get a  “yes.” Sometimes it’s worth telling the absolute truth just to laugh at  see the expression of adolescent horror on their face when your answer sinks in all the way. It’s also a damn good way to make sure the next time you ask if they really want to know they will immediately change the subject.*

If  the time comes that you feel you absolutely have to lie about Uncle Bob being in jail or if you smoked reefer in college, do one more thing. Think about every person you’ve cared about who lied to you, how much it hurt when you found out and how it changed your perception of that person. How would it feel to know your child thinks that way about you?

And if they do think that about you, how likely are they to tell the truth when you absolutely need them to?

I need to do two things for my child – teach them how to be successful adults and keep them safe while they’re learning. One of the vital elements to both of these  is trust. I need to know they really will be where they said they will be.  I simply can’t keep them safe if they  lie to me.

They need to know they can trust me and what I say every single time. That truly is one of the most important things I can give a child.

By Brenda

40-something-something stay home mom, floating somewhere between traditional and strange. I’m addicted to music, making things and my computer.

18 replies on “The Parenting Chronicles: Lies, Lies, Lies”

I still vividly remember how stinking angry and upset I was when my parents eventually told me the reason we hadn’t seen Nana for a while was that she’d had breast cancer and a mastectomy. I was ten at the time, and well-read: I knew well what cancer was. I know they were probably trying to simplify things for us – and for them – but to me it was a massive betrayal because they’d known for a while and hadn’t told us, and had fobbed us off when we asked why we hadn’t visited.

I really do think kids can handle more than some adults think they can, if they’re told clearly and sensitively what they want to know.

I think even if kids can’t 100% handle the truth there are still some times they  need to know.

The exampled I used in another reply is a good one for this – my daughter wasn’t quite ready to handle the idea that sometimes the good guys are bad guys, but she really needed that info so she could help keep herself safe. So I told her as much of the truth as she needed at that moment, and then did everything I could to help heal the hurt.

I pretty much agree with this. Especially when it comes to serious topics. My parents used to lie to us all the time. To spare themselves from embarrassment. To keep us isolated. To keep us believing what they wanted us to. Of course, they say it was “for our own good,” but that is such b.s.

But one thing that I wonder about is the whole Santa Claus/ Tooth Fairy/ etc thing. As someone who was raised not to believe in such things, I wonder why is it okay to lie to your kids about those kind of things? Because it’s fun? (That’s usually the answer I’ve gotten from others.) And I don’t really understand it when people feel sad for me because I never believed in Santa as a kid. Trust me, I had a shitty childhood– but that aspect of it was not me being deprived, IMO.

I like to follow up someone feeling sad for me about this by asking how it felt when they found out their parents lied to them for years about Santa. Some have said “mildly disappointed”; some have said “really upset.” Most still think it was worth it. My fiance said he had a mixture of emotions: from disappointment that it wasn’t real to relief that he didn’t really like Santa’s presents better. He still thinks we should perpetuate the lie up if/when we have kids. I’m not convinced.

I was going to talk about the Santa issue in this piece, but it kept wanting to hijack the whole thing. There will be a follow up to this piece addressing it.

For now I’ll simply say this:  there is no difference to me. It’s still lying, and I absolutely regret being sucked into telling those lies to my older kids. This time around I will not be teaching my little guy about Santa or the Tooth fairy or the Easter Bunny.

I agree wholeheartedly. Lies aren’t good for anyone. Another thing you can do, if you aren’t sure how much to say, is answer only the question that was asked. A lot of times, we answer the questions we think someone is leading up to, but especially with small kids if you simply answer the actual question they asked they will walk away happy.

I thought about this a lot when we were stuck around the BIL, his wife, and their kids. I don’t know if there was outright lying, but there was definitely some avoidance of the truth. The father of the two older boys had killed himself a couple years ago. These boys were not told. This didn’t make sense to me. With how many people were in their family, it was inevitable that they’d hear from SOMEONE. And as it turns out, they did, about a year ago. But the oldest one (now 11) didn’t broach the topic until a couple months ago. That means that the poor kid was stewing on it for MONTHS before he finally got up the courage to ask about it.

Additionally, in the time we had to live with them, the BIL was in some trouble with the law (he still is, I believe…), and at one point he got arrested. They bailed him out of jail, but he was MIA a couple days. The kids weren’t told about it.

This upset me, too. I get the idea of not wanting to make them worry, but it bothered me deeply. There didn’t seem to be much reason, in my mind, in keeping it from them. Especially since it seemed likely he was going to be put away for a little while, so they were going to find out eventually.

I think what bothers me most is when this attitude continues far past the point where the kids could handle it, even when the kids aren’t kids anymore. I recall when I was still speaking with my parents, one of my breaking points was this sort of a deal. They had gotten in a big car accident but didn’t tell me about it. I find out two weeks later because I get an angry call from my grandmother because I hadn’t shown that I cared at all about it. Because she didn’t know I didn’t KNOW about it. Even though I had explicitly told them the last time something big happened that I didn’t want them to keep things from me.

But my parents didn’t seem to think much of bending the truth as long as it was going to “protect” me. Even when I told them that’s not what I wanted.

Do you think that’s part of overprotectiveness? As in, our children are innocent and shouldn’t be burdened with this, so we have to shield them from it?

I think a lot of times it’s exactly that – parents are so concerned with hurting/scaring the kids they try to make things less grim.  (I’m thinking of when my oldest found out that not all cops are ‘good guys’ – she was devastated and I wanted to lie so, so bad, just to ease her mind)

But yeah, all too often parents lie because they themselves can’t handle the truth. They don’t want to face the questions they think will come, don’t want to deal with unpleasant things, so they convince themselves they are doing the right thing. That it doesn’t matter.

I remember when I was about ten, and living with my father and his girlfriend after some…drama with my mother and her boyfriend. She pulled me out of school one day giving some bogus excuse to the staff (the reality was, my father was in jail) and when I pressed her on it, she tried to explain to me how it was a ‘white lie’ and how white lies were okay. Even back then, my BSometer was in full-force on that one. Who gets to decide what’s an ‘okay’ lie? Is it to make it easier on you or easier on them? It just made me feel like she wasn’t trustworthy (which was ultimately true anyway), and that I couldn’t trust people ever if they just felt free to determine at will what truth/lie they felt like communicating. That’s a horrible precedent to set for a kid!

I don’t think my mother has ever actually lied to me, and I do genuinely appreciate that fact.  As you mention, though, she hasn’t been 100% truth 100% of the time, and I think that’s fair.

It’s been pretty hilarious as an adult, though, asking her if she ever smoked pot.  Somehow, she always manages to change the subject…..

My mom was always the kind to do the white lies deal, and while I understand why she did (a big part is how and when she was raised), it still always cast a shadow I didn’t want my own kids to have.

And I bet there are some impressive moves involved with avoiding that subject :-D

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