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.