The Little White Lies Parents Tell

The Little White Lies Parents Tell

guilty face

I’ve written before about how my old opinions about parenting went right out the window as soon as I actually had a kid.  No screentime before age 2, all home-made baby food, never losing my temper… yeah, I didn’t stick to any of those.  But here’s another opinion from that list that I hope I can actually follow through on: not lying to my son.

I’m not making an argument for 100% candor.  There are concepts that are too mature for my almost-2-year-old son, and complexities that I put in simpler terms that he can understand.  What I’m talking about is the little white lies of convenience – the things that come out of our mouths without much thought at all, that aren’t true but make life a little easier for the immediate moment.  Things like “we can’t go to the toy store today, it’s closed,” or telling a one-year-old “the phone’s gone!” when you actually just stuck it under a newspaper.  Subconsciously it’s easy to think oh she’s too little to understand anyway, so what’s the big deal?  

But maybe it is a big deal.  As parents, one of our many roles is to help our kids make sense of the world.  The weight of that responsibility is pretty huge. Is telling our children blatantly nonsensical things for the sake of convenience really consistent with our larger parenting goals?  Putting my phone under the newspaper doesn’t mean it’s magically gone (and in fact – pardon the psychology nerd digression – grasping the concept of object permanence is one of the key developmental steps for a young baby).  It might seem like a really subtle difference or a matter of semantics, but instead I just say “we’re all done with the phone now.”  It’s not a lie, and it delivers the same result.

The little lies we tell also erode our authority as parents.  It’s ok to just tell our kids that we can’t go to the toy store today.  Period.  There doesn’t have to be a complex justification.  Making up a bogus excuse seems to be some vague attempt to avoid being the bad guy.  But the underlying message is that we’d always let our kids have their way if we could – circumstances beyond our control are to blame for the times we have to tell them “no”.   This isn’t the message I want to send my son.  There’s no reason for me to shy away from being one in charge (if I let the toddler take the reins, it would be ice cream for three meals a day and hours of binge-watching train videos).

And frankly, these lies usually don’t even work that well!  Our kids will figure our pretty quickly that their face won’t really “freeze that way.”  If I tell my son the basketball game is over (when it’s just a commercial break) to get him to go to bed, it’s really easy for him to see through the lie when he hears the game resume while he’s upstairs brushing his teeth.  (And yeah, my son got weirdly into March Madness.  Go figure!) I don’t want to plant seeds of doubt in my son’s mind that will make him question if everything we tell him is B.S.

So in a couple years when my son is more verbal, or when we hit the “why” stage, maybe I’ll be singing another tune.  But for now I’m sticking with the truth.


4 thoughts on “The Little White Lies Parents Tell

  1. You’re right and I couldn’t agree more! Usually a simple explanation of the truth is sufficient. For instance ‘we can’t stay because the playground is closing’ will very quickly get picked up on! But ‘we have to leave now before it gets too dark to see’ will do the job.

    There’s only one lie that I am going to continue for as long as I think I can pull it off for and it’s the Santa and Tooth Fairy lie. Some parents will say that this is just cruel- but the way I see it children are only young for a short time and I don’t think that there is any real harm done when they do find out. I’ve recently told my 11 year old about the Tooth Fairy and she was a little sad but she then grew excited to know that she now gets to be the Tooth Fairy for her sister when she loses her first tooth.

    Every family and child is different and whichever way each parents chooses to deal with this subject is best left for them to decide- but I looooove the excitement that Santa and Tink bring to my kids lives. Thanks for sharing xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel exactly the same way! I remember so vividly the magic of believing in Santa, and I would never deny my son that same excitement and sense of mystery. I know there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue, but for me this is just one of the joys of childhood that I want my son to experience.

      Liked by 1 person

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