06/06/2012 01:24 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2012

Liar, Liar

We don't get to eat together as a family very often, so I was thrilled when we had a rare meal together a few weeks ago. In the midst of this blissful family tableau, my husband picked up a spoon, turned to Little Dude and said, "Ok, watch. I'm going to put this spoon on my forehead and when I take my hand away, it's going to stay on my head. Ready?"

Little Dude, always up for a game, shouted, "Ready, Daddy!"

"Are you really ready? Here we go!"

My husband took his hand away and the spoon clattered to the table.

Little Dude looked a bit confused.

"See, the spoon fell. And you knew that was going to happen, right?"

Little Dude nodded. My husband gave him a warm smile.

"And that's why you should never trust what adults tell you."

Both of them immediately burst out laughing, which was a good thing, because it drowned out the sound of me banging my head against the table.

I try hard to tell my son the truth so he can, in fact, trust what I say. I need him to believe that getting hit by a car will hurt and that's why he has to hold my hand when he crosses the street or that vegetables are full of vitamins and help his bones and muscles grow. My parents also told me that lying was a very, very, very bad thing, so I don't like to do it. The problem is, I lie to Little Dude all the freaking time, and I cannot have my husband outing me. Because, mixed in with all the truths I tell him -- truths that by the way, do keep him safe and happy and healthy -- are lots of tiny (and no so tiny) fibs, falsehoods, and mischaracterizations that also keep him safe and happy and healthy and keep me sane.

Being a grown-up is seriously confusing. Lying is very, very, very bad and leads to all sorts of trust issues, like the time I told Little Dude there were no more cupcakes and he walked into the kitchen 10 minutes later to find me stuffing my face with the last crumbs of a delicious chocolate iced confection. Now he won't leave the kitchen until I prove we're out of his treat of choice. That being said, I have no problem lying to my kid. (Subversive Husband is mocking me now. He remembers a time, before we had Little Dude, when I would have been horrified at the idea of lying to children. I was all, "I would never do that! You have to be straight with kids, you can't lie to them or they won't trust you." Yes, honey, I've learned my lesson.) If discretion is the better part of valor, the occasional lie is a necessary part of parenting.

There are the usual deceptions -- Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I don't lose much sleep over imaginary friends. I don't even really consider them lies. These are tales and myths and stories I tell Little Dude because it's more fun to believe in magic than not to believe. I make sure he believes in these secretive gift-givers so that his childhood is bright and shiny and full of wonder. He won't suffer too much, although people in my family have been known to react strongly to being lied to. Upon discovering Santa wasn't real, one of my cousins ran through the house shouting "Lies! Lies! It's all Lies!"

Then there are the slightly bigger untruths, the lies that I could probably avoid telling, but don't because they make things so much easier. Things like, we can't go to the library because it is closed, or the grocery store ran out of marshmallows. I could just confess that we don't have time to go to the library and remind him that sugary treats are bad for our teeth. Sometimes I do. But anyone with a 4-year-old knows that sometimes, on rare occasion, THEY AREN'T RATIONAL. They don't listen or accept "no" for an answer. I don't always have the energy to deal with the tantrum or tears, so I lie. I don't lose much sleep over these either.

Then there are the big lies. Things I gloss over or flat out dissemble about because I think Little Dude is too young to handle the truth. Lies I couldn't and wouldn't tell my 16-year-old stepson. I'm not saying I regret these particular falsehoods, but I'm willing to admit they exist in a grey area.

For example, some of you might have heard that this year was the hundred anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Little Dude was obsessed with the National Geographic magazine dedicated to the event. He pored over the pictures of the ship, the diagrams of its sinking and its location when it hit the iceberg. It was bedtime reading for a week. Then one night he asked me if everyone on the ship made it off safely. "Of course they did." I said emphatically. Because no way in hell I'm telling a preschooler who is scared of the dark and believes in monsters that over 1500 people died a horrible, frightening death. Never going to happen.

Both he and I slept better that night.

Yet, as is the case with most of my attempts to get away with something, my attempt to change history did not work out. I came home from work a few days later and the first words out of Little Dude's mouth were "Mommy, you were wrong. Daddy told me that people did die on the boat that sank. We watched a movie and they died." Faced with my patented "death stare," Sheepish Husband explained that he had gone looking for some educational computer graphics of the sinking to show Little Dude and accidentally clicked on the scene from James Cameron's blockbuster where the Titanic splits in half, goes vertical and people fall screaming to their deaths. My husband informed me that although Little Dude figured out that people did die on the Titanic, he was OK because he assured Little Dude that all the kids and dogs survived. We have since hidden that National Geographic and have been focusing on happy things like gardening.

Might some parents have told their kids the truth, or some version of it? Sure. Do I understand that? Yes. Will kids stop trusting us if we lie to them about important things? I think so. Certainly, a desire to protect kids doesn't give us carte blanche to lie about anything at any time. But when they're little, and the truth doesn't serve a purpose, I'll stick with the lie when I think my son is better off protected for just a short while from the knowledge that the world is a scary and unjust place. Even if that makes me a big fat liar.