Lying to kids isn’t a new concept. From funny lies like “the Halloween Goblin ate the rest of your candy,” to seasonal lies like “the Elf on the Shelf is watching,” to exasperated lies like “we can’t go to the store because all of the stores are closed, yes, all of them!” Most parents have told their fair share of fibs, and I have definitely told mine.
For the most part the lies I’ve told my daughter have been white lies. “Sorry sweetheart, the cookies are all gone. Gee, I don’t know what happened to them!” or “No, you can’t use my phone because the battery is dead!” While these haven’t been big lies, over time I noticed them becoming my default habit of avoiding the truth for my own convenience. Instead of holding strong to the boundaries I set for my daughter, and taking responsibility for them, I wimped out. By lying I blamed anything but myself for my own parenting. And after awhile, it started to weigh on me. If these lies were really so harmless, why couldn’t I just tell the truth in the first place?
The moment this thinking truly changed came the day after my daughter attended a birthday party. Each child was sent home from the party with a bag of candy as a parting gift. While my daughter was busy playing, I inspected the contents of the bag. I was already frustrated that the bag had made its way home. Our usual party treat strategy was letting my daughter have fun, eat and drink anything that she wanted, but leave it all behind once the party was over. Somehow, however, this treat bag slipped through the cracks, and even worse, included a big fat red sucker. Between the potential for cavities and the abundance of artificial food coloring and flavors, the sucker pushed me over the edge. (Okay, so maybe I should have mentioned that I’m one of those moms.) I knew my daughter would notice if I threw out the entire bag of candy, but she might not notice one missing sucker. That thing was a goner! I dumped it in the trash, and put the candy bag back onto the counter.
Later that day I heard my daughter shriek, “Oh no! Where is my sucker?” She walked over to me and looked up with big eyes saying, “Mama, do you know what happened to the sucker in my treat bag? It was here and now it’s gone.”
I felt my lips form the words ‘I don’t know,’ as I anticipated the screams and tantrum that would surely follow if I told her the truth. But I hesitated because I was tired of lying. This was my boundary; I was the parent. I had rules and standards, and if I couldn’t help my daughter to understand what those were and the reasons behind them, what was the point of having boundaries at all?
“Honey,” I said, bracing myself, “I threw the sucker away.”
She paused, looked at me, and said, “Oh. Because it had the bad chemicals?”
“Yes honey, that’s why. It’s also not very good for your teeth.”
She then set the treat bag back on the kitchen counter, and bounded off to play, completely unphased by the exchange. I was stunned, and felt ashamed that I had considered doing anything other than telling her the truth in the first place. I want her to be honest with me. I want us to have a relationship based on trust and love, so what was I doing messing around with these lies?
I also realized that I was losing teachable moments by lying. Telling the truth means sharing why our family rules are the way they are. It means explaining the reasons why my daughter can’t always have or do exactly what she wants when she wants. While this particular moment was small, it adds up to important understanding about family, life and relationships.
I don’t tell my daughter white lies anymore, though I do sometimes edit the truth to reflect her age and emotional development. Messy details are often left out, but I tell her what she needs to know to understand. It takes time, and is sometimes inconvenient and exhausting, but I’m not parenting for the short term. I’m looking ahead at the woman I hope to help my daughter become, and the loving and honest mother I strive to always be.