Little White Lies – when is lying to your kids okay?
Posted by i wonder what she's thinking
I haven’t quite figured out the criteria for when I should lie to my kid and when to be honest. Everyone has a different perspective of this, and I’m still trying to establish my own opinion.
There was a time when my son asked grandma why the cat died. Grandma explained honestly that the cat died because she was very old. My mind went into panic mode. To my son, a teenager is very old. Not to mention me. Or grandma. I could almost see the little ferret running around in his brain making the connections. He asked “How old?” “I replied “three hundred.” Phew, dodged that bullet. Except, my good friend called me on it. She asked how I could be so insistent on being honest about something like sex, but I can lie about things like death?
Well, that’s why I’m writing this post. I’m putting my thoughts down on paper so that I can try to untangle them.
My mom told me something to the effect that when you have a bright, precocious child, you don’t want to give them so much information that you make them neurotic. Sometimes you can go overboard, and then they go overboard. Keep it simple. I felt like this situation fit the criteria. If I told him that the cat was 19 years old and died of age, I think he would go into a full-fledged state of panic.
There are a lot of parenting advice people that say that you need to talk about sex honestly and matter-of-fact with your kids. Answer what they’re asking, but don’t go giving them a bunch of information that they didn’t ask for. I’ve tried to follow this advice, and so far my kids are taking it in like it’s no big deal.
See this video for a perfect example of talking to your kid about sex. (HILARIOUS!) Wait… finish reading, then click on it.
Sex is a real-life thing. I don’t want my kids to learn about it in a way that isn’t sensitive to the feelings involved and the responsibility that goes with it. I feel that it’s my job to prepare them for things like sex, so they don’t learn about it from an uncomfortable teenaged situation that they’re unprepared for. Same with drugs. And alcohol. And social skills. Their friends aren’t going to explain the concept of being in a loving, committed, adult relationship when they explain sex to your child. Your kids will learn the cold, hard, dirty facts. The last thing you want is for your child’s sexual education to come from playboy magazines, and someone’s mom’s copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. Kids asking questions about these things is a golden opportunity for a parent to instill values, ethics, confidence and responsibility into the minds of their children.
By teaching them the facts as they grow up, it’ll be a lot smaller of a pill for them to swallow. You can’t teach values in one conversation, they have to learn it repeatedly, over time. Things they could learn at age one might be a simple thing, like having respect for their bodies by using proper terminology for their bits. A girl should be confident that they have a vagina, not embarrassed by it. Not so confident that they strip down naked in public and flaunt it. That’s where the “respect yourself by keeping some things private” conversation would fit in.
Being honest will teach your kids confidence about the questions they are asking, because you are taking them seriously. Imagine the embarrassment your child would face if they repeated a smart-ass, made-up answer to a serious question to their buddies. (i.e. “other peoples private parts are poisonous unless you marry that person. If you touch them, you will get really sick, and might die.) It’s our duty as parents to be honest about the things that matter.
Over-sharing is the part you have to watch out for though. That’s where the gray area begins. There has to be a point where you say “that’s enough for today, we’ll get into more details about that when you and I both agree that you’re ready for them.” Keep in mind that what you teach your kids, they are going to share with others.
The part where I feel like little white lies are acceptable is with the stuff that doesn’t matter. That’s where I like to have a little fun every once in a while. Sometimes I forget to filter my smart-ass comments. I forget that I’m talking to a child, for one thing. And I also forget that my kids are likely going to repeat this information to someone.
Sometimes the “stories” I tell my kids aren’t exactly lies, they are just embellishments of the truth. Sometimes they are, in fact, outright lies. I tend to tell “stories” to my kids when they ask me silly questions and I feel like they warrant silly answers. I tend to over-exaggerate the truth when there’s a lesson I can work into the scenario.
Like “why did the ants come into our house.” “Because you left all your toys on the floor and the ants thought you were inviting them over to play.”
“Why does that man have tattoos all over his body?” “For decoration.”
“Why do those clouds look different from the ones over there?” “For decoration.”
“What are you putting on your eyes” “Mascara” “Why?” “For decoration.”
(Remember those two little words people, they are the ticket out of a long drawn-out conversation that you sometimes don’t have time for.)
I told my little one, “If you don’t wear a shirt and shoes, they won’t let you into the restaurant and you’ll have to go home.” This one was followed by my son’s statement that “if my sister doesn’t wear any clothes, she won’t know how to get home, and she’ll stand in the middle of the road, and the cars will squish her.” Miss Sassypants got dressed pretty quick.
Well, I don’t know that I’m completely untangled yet, but I think I’ve said enough for today. I will leave you with one more “too honest” remark I made to my son…
“Mommy, Grandma said her cat is in heaven,” “Okay, do you have questions about that?” “Well, are all cats in heaven?” “No sweetie, only the dead ones.”