When the subject is parenting, everybody lies. There are the lies we tell our children ("Of course there is a Santa Claus;" "Mommies always come back"), the lies we tell our partners ("Yes, I stuck to the bedtime routine while you were out") and the lies we tell ourselves ("I don't miss my old life one bit").
Then there are the lies we tell other parents. The Netmums website took a look at one of these this week, finding that more than one-third of online respondents lie about their children's sleep habits -- pretending the little ones are sleeping through the night when really they aren't.
Why do we lie to each other? Netmums concludes it's because we think everyone else is perfect at this parenting stuff and we fear being judged. Thinking back on my own lies, I realized many do fall into this category. When friends asked how the early days were going, I didn't mention that I cried constantly and wished I could give the baby back. When talk turned to setting rules for toddlers, I alluded to limits on TV time and junk food without mentioning how often those limits were exceeded (or, to be completely honest, totally ignored). When others rhapsodized about how their teens told them everything, I didn't admit to the silent chasms opening between me and my sons. I made all these choices because I was pretty sure I was doing it wrong and others were doing it right.
But most of my lies -- the much more important ones -- were rooted in something else entirely. Like the fact that anxiety, not illness, brought one boy home from sleepaway camp after only a few days. Or the number of tutors it took to navigate high school. Or the details of a kidney condition that left us frightened about the future.
I lied not to protect myself, but because these were not my truths to tell. In all of these cases and so many more (I can't tell you about the more, for the same reason I didn't admit to these in real time), it was their privacy I was guarding, their secrets I was keeping.
You can argue that we aren't really helping our kids with our veil of untruth. In an essay about lying on HuffPost Parents today, Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser talks about fellow blogger Katie Allison Granju, and the years Granju spent writing about parenting without once mentioning that her son, Henry, had been wrestling with drug addiction. "She hadn't written about his struggle or her family's to help him, or his rehab experiences, until he'd relapsed and endured a beating and was left helpless at the scene -- from which he never fully recovered," Buttenwieser writes. After Henry died from that beating, she writes, Granju "confessed that she did not believe her silence had helped her son nor protected him -- and that it certainly hadn't helped her as a parent."
As Granju well knows, there is something lost in all the lying. It perpetuates the fable that everyone else has got this down, and we are the only ones struggling. It robs us of support -- had I confessed my postpartum demons more freely, I would have gotten the help I needed much sooner; had Granju written of Henry's drug use earlier, who knows what help that might have brought -- and it deprives others of our hard-won wisdom. It leaves us parenting in a Potemkin village, when we desperately need a real, three-dimensional one.
The solution? To tell the truth more freely -- when we can. If it is our own image we are defending, that is not a reason to lie, however tempting that might be.
But if it is our child's, then fabricate as needed. In both cases, take some comfort from the fact that everyone around you is doing the same.