When my daughter was three years old, she developed a terror of monsters around the time our old cat, Sybil, died, and we moved into our current house. A week after Sybil's demise, we got a new cat, Bella. A new, monster-eating cat.
I am not above a parental lie. In this case, I saw it as fiction; I am a storyteller. I wrote, in fact, an entire story about it, which I told my daughter I read in the Mommy Handbook. (She thinks I received this tome in the hospital and keep in my closet.) Chapter 13 is on monsters, and this is what it says:
Bella eats the monsters.
She says they taste divine.
Sometimes she adds some meatballs,
sometimes a glass of wine.
She likes them best with ketchup
or a bit of curry spice.
Bella spoons the monsters in soups or over rice.
I'm not positive that now, at five, she doesn't still believe that cats eat monsters. When Bella died last summer, she inquired quietly about our new cat Petunia's monster-eating resume, which I assured her was Olympic quality, her reputation preceding her in six states.
It's not the first lie I've told. I tell her Santa has e-mail. I tell her I had to take a class before I could become a mommy. I tell her I have to go before the Mommy Board every month and assure them I'm making her eat her vegetables and go to sleep on time. We all have accountability, you see, I say. Even mommies.
I have a friend whose two-year-old lied about hiding food in his milk until she asked him what she'd see when she played back the video.
Is it possible to parent without lying? Are all lies, well, lies? Just another parenting ethical dilemma. It seems it's nearly impossible to be perfect, especially when you're dealing with a little id who believes everything you say and whose imagination rules her days and nights, sometimes to her own detriment.
Nancy at Parents With Attitude wrote something a while back that captures my feelings on *certain* stories or half-truths or outright lies we tell our kids:
Not only do I think it’s okay to lie to kids. I think it’s important to lie to them. Lies we tell to children are really more like over simplifications. Because, as Jack “St” Nicholas says in A Few Good Men, they “can’t handle the truth”. There are things they need to know something but not everything about.
Monsters in general seem to fit that bill. Monsters aren't real, but try convincing a small child of that at 8 p.m. It's impossible to convince a child her imagination isn't real. It feels very real to her. She can see the monsters, or she thinks she can. Is it most important to be honest or to comfort? I think, when you're talking about imaginary beings, Justine at Parent By Heart is right: imagination is the only way to trump imagination.
So there are lies about imaginary figures, and then there are other lies. Lies that let people off the hook. Lies that let people down easy. Lies that shroud death and illness and mean kids on the playground.
Carrien at She Laughs at the Days writes:
Children believe what you tell them, whether you mean to do it or not. Children pin their hopes on the most careless of words. Children read promises into vague suggestions even. So please. don't. ever. tell a child that you will do something that you don't in fact intend to do.
When it comes to things I say I'll do, I try very hard to follow through. I hate hypocrites and loath to be one, though I fall down occasionally. I also don't believe in sugar-coating the real world or reinforcing social norms if they don't have any rationality behind them. Some things aren't right, they just are, and life is easier if you just accept that and learn to function within the structure. There are some lies I will not tell a child:
- You'll use everything you learn in school when you're an adult. Hell, no, you won't. Try your best at everything in school to figure out what you're good at, then later you can disregard what you don't like. Later, as in "when you can pay your own rent."
- Bad grades will ruin your chances in life. Very little can completely ruin your chances in life. Don't be so dramatic. Do yourself a favor: Get good grades and stack the deck. Why not?
- All people are nice. Actually, no, some people are bitter, hateful beings. You can usually tell within five seconds, though, so just avoid those people.
- If you keep looking at me like that, your face will freeze that way. One of the dumbest lies I've ever heard. Why, Mother, why?
- The knock-off is just as good as the real thing. It is so totally not. If you want the real thing, start saving your pennies. It will take a while, but when you finally get that real thing, it will be more satisfying than 5,000 knock-offs.
- The customer is always right. This is just carte blanche to behave like a rude ignoramus to a sales clerk who is probably just trying to get through the day. Also? The minute the economy turns, you may find yourself paying $13 in restocking fees in order to return a duvet you bought FROM AN INTERNET WAREHOUSE.
And there is one statement I repeat often and never fictionalize or exaggerate: I will always love you.
What lies do you tell your kids? Have they backfired?
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