I am a liar. I lie daily to my children, if not two or three times a day. Some of these lies are mere bluffs. Imagine my lovely four-year-old refusing to brush her teeth before bed. Frustrated, I tell her that if she isn't polishing her pearly whites by the time I count to three, she's in time out. Actually, there is no way I am going to prolong the bedtime routine another five-minutes while she loudly moans behind her bedroom door waking her younger sister. However this one little fib accomplishes my main objective; it's a quicker path to me being able to type at my computer with a glass of white wine, and the current season of Real Housewives of Any City playing on Bravo.
My lies vary in great degree. There are small lies like "Sure I'll buy you that princess ball gown for your birthday!" The truth is that I am just attempting to make it through Target without a colossal breakdown and her birthday is over five months away, so the possibility that she will remember this request come April is less than the chance of Elmo being hit by a runaway bus.
There are also big lies, such as, "Neko (our cat) went to live on a big farm where she will be able to play with other cats and dogs." We all know what the farm metaphor really stands for, but at the time I wasn't prepared to tell my then three-year-old about the harsh realities of pets and death. I was grateful for such a simple alternative explanation.
As parents we lie for various reasons. Many of them are for the benefit of our children, but in the spirit of "truthiness" the majority of these deceptions are for our own sake. Here are just a few of the reasons we so readily bend the truth with our little ones:
1. To save time. On a typical weekday morning I am in a rush to wrangle two kids into their car seats and make it to preschool by 8:45. In the process one asks, "Can we watch Team Umizumi this afternoon?" Instead of explaining that there will be no time, what with the myriad of errands I need to accomplish, including toting both girls to the doctor's office for their annual flu shots, I simply respond, "We'll see." The child, satisfied with the reply, climbs into the car.
2. We lie because sometimes we don't know all the answers. "Mommy, why is that flower blue?" Having no clue, and knowing that admitting this will get me nowhere with this particular toddler, I respond, "So that it can combine with the red flowers to make purple ones."
3. We lie because it is often easier than telling the truth. "If you don't eat your vegetables, you won't grow big and strong." To be honest, I've known plenty of children who refused all things green or orange and lived to be healthy adults. However, explaining nutritional wellbeing, the national obesity epidemic, and the value of consuming one's daily vitamins is futile with the four-and-under crowd.
4. We lie to be nice. "I made you a beautiful picture of a butterfly. Do you like it?" Umm... what butterfly? All I see is a pink scribble next to a green one. "I love it!"
5. We lie to keep their innocence. That is what Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy really are -- lies we perpetuate to keep our children innocent, young, and believing in magic. Some may argue that this is wrong, but maybe the real harm is not fostering their beliefs in fairy tales.
6. We lie to protect ourselves. For parents, simple lies to avoid the subject of death, flow from our mouths like cheap from Target. When seeing a dead pigeon on the sidewalk, I have effortlessly fibbed, "Oh Honey, he is just sleeping." While I do want to protect my girls from sorrow, I know that the larger part of me is lying to guard my own anxiety with mortality.
I am not advocating dishonest parenting. I know fully well that these are just excuses for my behavior. I've read the articles that explain how children learn to lie from their parents and that by the age of four children already lie at least once every two hours. Yet I still hope to raise my own girls to be honest and trustworthy. That said, I am still not sure if I am ready to give up my white lies; I just foresee too many extended conversations delaying getting out the door for school, prolonging bedtime, and requiring me to explain the intricacies of human reproduction to a child that sleeps in Dora the Explorer diapers.