I Tell My Kids Not to Lie, But I Lie to Them
The only time I watch daytime TV these days is at my semi-annual visit to the dentist. Lying reclined in the chair, drooling all over a stranger, I am a captive audience for talk shows. At my most recent check-up, I found myself snorting with laughter (ill-advised during the polishing procedure) as the guest, a parenting personality, described telling their kids that Disney World was only open certain days a year, and that’s why they couldn’t go all the time.
Much to the dismay of the dentist, I found myself nodding vigorously at the ensuing conversation about lying to our kids. Yup, I’m guilty of it too.
This causes me much angst, as I truly value honesty. I get so upset with my children when they lie, but that’s hypocritical of me, as I do it too. As I ponder how I’ve dipped my toes into the sea of falsehoods I realize the magnitude of my lies, and the reasons for the deception, certainly vary.
There are the lies that I somehow think help me to parent better, like when I told the children that I can review the video footage from the security cameras to find out who said or did what when mediating a fight between them.
And then there is the falsehood that their toothbrushes are linked to my phone via an app that tells me about how often and for how long they brushed their teeth.
Then there are the lies of convenience – no, the candy store is closed. No, I don’t have the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies. These lies don’t come out all the time – sometimes I gather up my energy and tell the truth and “explain” things with my best parenting wisdom and patience. Other times, though – when I’m tired, stressed, or have already “parented” a million times that hour, the lie slips out as a defence mechanism. It ain’t pretty, but that’s survival.
Some lies are to preserve magic and innocence, of course. Santa, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, that darn Elf on the Shelf – these are all lies. Elaborate, costly lies that we utter in the name of making childhood somehow more full of wonder. We’re ok with those lies – so really – can’t we be similarly fine with the lies that buy us busy, exhausted parents a reprieve from the requests, fights, questions and checking up?
Of course, the biggest lies of all are the ones that aren’t funny at all. When I brightly tell my kids that I always look on the positive side, and don’t allow myself to get anxious about illness, disease or death – that’s just a big fat lie. Of course I think about horrible things, from death to illness, all the time. I can worry myself sick about it. I can imagine truly horrible things happening – and yet that doesn’t help these little souls. So I lie and tell them that everything is going to be ok (it may, but not forever). I lie and tell them that nothing bad is going to happen (eventually, something bad will happen to them. It’s inevitable). I tell them that Canada is a safe and caring place (it is – sometimes) and that we are fortunate to be safe, happy and healthy (not a lie).
I do lie to my kids – but lately, I’ve been holding myself more accountable. Recently, I’ve tried to be more honest and do my best to explain the reasons for my answers and actions. I try to convey the range of factors that can affect a decision to a request (e.g., we can’t go to the candy store because we already had a treat today, or there isn’t enough money in the budget for more new books today). I endeavour not to lean on an easy lie. But I also don’t judge myself too harshly when it happens.
Parenting is hard. Adults aren’t perfect. Sometimes we hit a home run with parenting. Other times, it’s not so pretty. I don’t think I lie with evil intent, or with malice. I actually do it because I want my kids to be happy, healthy and strong – and sometimes that means safeguarding some of my time and energy (and budget) to be a happy, healthy and strong parent to them.
So please don’t beat yourself up if, like me, you sometimes fib. We’ll all get better eventually, and we might even fess up to our falsehoods. And even if we don’t, our kids will realize – when they’re older, say – that Disneyworld is hardly ever closed.