I am going to admit something. I lie to my children. And I know that my children lie to me. (Well, maybe not 2-year-old Jacob, since he’s only 2. But 5-year-old Hannah? No doubt.) And I’m not really all that concerned about it.
I think that it’s important to be honest with children about information that they need. Telling your kids that babies are found under cabbage leaves in the garden is a bad idea. There are certainly many times when honesty is called for. But there are probably just as many times when honesty isn’t called for. Or when, at minimum, being totally truthful is not going to help anyone.
Here are a few examples of lies that I tell my kids:
- I ‘do’ Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.
- When my daughter catches me with a mouthful of chocolate, and I don’t want her to have any, and she asks me what I’m eating, I mumble, “Nuts,” and try to keep my chocolate breath away from her.
- When we had a TV and I was tired of the TV battles, I would tell my daughter that there were no kids shows on the TiVo that she could watch right now.
- I will deliberately pretend not to have heard a news story on the radio when I don’t feel prepared to explain what ‘sexual assault’ means on the way to swimming lessons.
- I have withheld the full truth about certain family situations from my daughter, because I don’t want to run the risk that she will spill the beans inappropriately.
It’s possible that I’m teaching my children to lie, by lying to them myself. But I highly doubt that they could somehow make it to adulthood without learning this lesson. I am also pretty sure that I wouldn’t want them to. There are times when keeping your mouth shut, or bending the truth to spare someone’s feelings, are appropriate. My children need to learn that we don’t give true-but-hurtful answers without thinking it through.
Social niceties are well and good, but what of the situations where my children lie to me? Again, I highly doubt that they could make it to adulthood without lying to their mother. Or at least trying to lie to their mother. Is there a teenager alive who is completely honest and forthright with their parents on all occasions? And, moreover, would it be a good thing if they were? We are all entitled to our private thoughts and our private actions, and I’m not so sure that denying an adolescent their measure of privacy is a good thing.
Something that has become apparent to me, though, is that children are much worse liars than they think they are. So much worse. The attempts at obfuscation from my daughter are often embarrassingly bad. Like this classic gem: “Don’t look at me right now Mom, I don’t want you to see what I’m doing!” While her poker face has gotten a little better with time, I would give myself pretty good odds in the ‘Is She Lying?’ game show. And I wonder whether there will truly come a point where she’s as sly as she thinks she is. Looking at the evidence, I have my doubts. I also have my doubts that I was as sly as I thought I was.
If I don’t emphasize the virtue of honesty, what do I do? I suppose that my aim is to try to teach my children to use their judgment and make appropriate decisions, relative to their age and abilities. And even with that stated goal, I understand that there will still be mistakes and misfires. But what is most important to me is that in general I can trust my kids to make their own choices and follow through. Whether they tell me the full truth about those choices is less important to me, if I have confidence in my children in general. And I’ll probably know more than I let on, if my opinions about not-so-slyness prove true.
Of course, these words are coming from a woman with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. Will I feel differently when I have a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old? Maybe. But for now, I will have enjoyed my chocolate in peace thanks to a few white lies. I have my priorities, people. Chocolate is paramount.
What about you? Do you strive to always be completely honest with your children? When do you think lying is OK, and when do you think it’s not OK? And what do you teach your children about honesty? I’d love to hear! No lie.
PS – July’s Crafting my Life series is about role models. On the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be the day after tomorrow, I will include a link up. To participate, write a post or track down a post you’ve written on the subject sometime in the past, and add yourself to the list. Check out the link-ups from January, February and March to get a feel for how it works.