How wrong is it to lie to your children? I mean we tell all those elaborate fibs about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and that Mischievous Magic Gnome that sometimes locks mommy and daddy in their room for no apparent reason in the middle of the day… Um… Of course, not everyone celebrates the same…things… I’m just saying we go to a lot of trouble for this stuff. Milk and Cookies. Hiding eggs. Risking life and limb to sneak into a dark and treacherously messy room to exchange that little tooth for a dollar. It’s like a game for grownups. A few nights a year, we pretend to be covert agents. Tell me you’ve never played the Mission Impossible theme music in your head as you slide your hand under that pillow. It can’t really just be me.
I’ve heard of people who get really bent out of shape about these kinds of lies. They feel betrayed. They trusted their parents and how could they dare tell these blatant lies to an innocent, impressionistic child? Really? Personally, I think these people are WAY too sensitive. Seriously, grow up. I love that my parents cared enough to give me a little magic in this otherwise grim and unsympathetic world. No matter how cold the world becomes, at least I believed in something magical at least once in my life.
But what about all those other lies? As parents, we want so badly to protect them from the world. And as such, there are truths that we’re not immediately comfortable with. Like where meat comes from. No mom is in any hurry to tell her children where pork chops come from. Or cheeseburgers. Or Chicken McNuggets. And we certainly can’t discuss sex with our children! God no! We cannot possibly tell them where babies really come from. We invent stories of noble storks and magical cabbage patches to explain away those perfectly natural, if incredibly uncomfortable questions about the origins of our individual lives. And really, after we’re all grown up, we look back on those lies we were told with heartfelt gratitude. Because Mom DID NOT DO THAT. End of story. And if birth is an awkward subject, death is unthinkable. Family pets don’t die. They just go away. The goldfish is just taking the toilet back home to his family who live out in the ocean. Sparky didn’t get run over, he just ran away. Great Grandma moved to Florida. We don’t even realize how many lies we tell.
And then there are the lies we can’t help but want to tell them. After you’ve spent all day cleaning that messy closet, don’t you just want to tell them about the child-devouring monster that lives in there so they’ll stay the hell out of it and leave it nice and clean? Because you know otherwise it’s going to be trashed by bedtime. Aren’t you at least a little bit tempted? And what better way to keep them out of the basement? Or the attic? Or the cabinet where you keep your Spice Girls doll collection? Or…you know…whatever you happen to be into… All I’m saying is that fear is a powerful motivator, people! Parents have been using the boogeyman and his kind to keep kids in line since the dark ages. To this day, I’ve never incurred the wrath of the unthinkable demon that dwells in my dad’s dresser… (Mental note: sometimes when we outgrow the fantasy, what remains is infinitely more terrifying…)
And really, it’s not exactly a lie that too much candy will give you nightmares. I mean it could…right? Maybe? I mean it never gave me nightmares, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen to my kids… Better safe than sorry, right? And so what if I don’t have proof that my favorite kinds of candy just happen to cause the worst nightmares? It’s still a valid theory.
Is it wrong to tell them that it’s against the law to take them to the ice cream shop because you forgot to renew your ice cream buying permit? Should I feel bad for showing my kids a picture of Hiroshima and telling them that’s what happens when a child shakes the soda her dad asked her to bring him from the fridge? What about saying we can’t get a puppy because we live next to a Lutheran church? (It’s a religious thing. I don’t really get it.) We can’t buy that doll because it might offend certain social stereotypes. You can’t spend the night at Billy’s house because his parents are communist spies. Little things like that. Like when you tell them they need to take a nap because you need to take a nap. Or that they need to eat more Brussels sprouts because they’re good for them, not because you hate them and don’t want to have to finish off the dish.
I’m just saying that sometimes a little white lie can’t hurt. And if Santa Claus can really come down the chimney once a year, when we don’t even have a fireplace, why can’t a few nightmares help ensure that they leave some of that candy for me? I don’t think it’s all that unreasonable.