Any parent worth their weight in low sodium salt would probably agree, that children should be brought up knowing that it’s wrong to lie. Especially to their parents. But teaching this particular right from wrong can be tricky, especially when trying to push the message home to your child often entails telling a whole range of elaborate and complicated lies to begin with.
Believe it or not, the reason that we lie to our children in this way even has a name. It’s called ‘Parenting by lying’.
So why do we even lie to begin with? Mainly to shield our children from the harsh reality of the world, and to protect their innocence for as long as humanly possible. Children already have quite enough on their plate, trying to get a grasp on their own tiny world, without also needing the complete low down on war, death, natural disasters and the wonders of childbirth.
We also lie to encourage their imagination; to teach them how to fabricate new worlds and interesting characters in their heads, so that they in turn will grow up to concoct intricate tales to tell their own kids.
And of course there are also those lies that we tell because we don’t know the answer to a question, or because we have already lied once, and have to carry on just cover our tracks. And those lies, that if the truth be told, just make our day-to-day life that little bit easier.
Oh what a tangled web we do weave.
“I’ll know if you’re lying to me” is a classic parenting approach that I often use myself.
Of course I won’t know, so that’s a lie for starters. All I’ll actually be doing is fine-tuning my Mummy Radar, making an educated guess and relying heavily on the fact that my trusting daughter still believes that I know everything that she does, says, thinks and feels.
Like a lamb to the slaughter, I’ve seen the fleeting look of panic pass through her eyes when employing this rather underhand tactic. I can hear her brain frantically ticking over as she quickly tries to weigh up whether she’ll be in more trouble for having finished off all of the biscuits, or for pretending that she hasn’t even been near the tin.
Luckily for her on that particular occasion, as she stood there with the last biscuit hidden behind her back, good sense prevailed. She confessed, apologised and promptly offered to make me a cup of tea. To go along with the last surviving biscuit.
Good sense wasn’t even in the vicinity however the time that she blamed her baby brother for the cup of juice spilt all over the floor. The fact that the ‘accused’ was strapped into his bouncer on the other side of the room, and come to think of it, unable to do anything more than wobble, didn’t exactly help her case. As I watched her suddenly clock her serious lack of judgement, the part of me that wasn’t telling her off actually wanted to take pity and explain that there’s no point telling a porky in the first place, if your story doesn’t even stack up.
Maybe I felt sorry for her because I’m probably to blame in the first place. After all, I’ve already shaped her whole childhood with white lies, fiction and complete fantasy. It’s what parents do.
It starts straight out of the womb. As babies they howl and cry. So we jig them around, rub their backs and say “It’s OK, it’s OK” over and over again.
“No it’s not OK”, the babies are probably thinking. “My tummy’s sore, my nappy’s full and quite frankly I’m starting to feel sick from all this bloody rocking”.
From that moment on the lies come thick and fast, tripping off our tongues like seasoned politicians.
Firstly there are those lies that fall into the category of far fetched and thinly veiled threats – If you don’t eat your vegetables you won’t grow up to be big and strong. If you eat your carrots you’ll see in the dark. If you eat your crusts your hair will go curly. If you don’t look after your toys I’ll throw them away. If you hear the ice cream van playing a tune, it’s run out of ice cream. If you say another word you won’t get dinner. If you don’t go to sleep you’ll never wake up tomorrow. If you don’t stop that now I’ll take you straight home. I won’t tell you again.
And my personal favourite – Mummy’s can’t hear when they’re sleeping.
Then there are the 5 main brush off lies that I’m sure most parents tell on average at least 10 times a day.
I’ll think about it – loosely translated to mean ‘It ain’t ever going to happen’
We’ll see – loosely translated to mean ‘You’ll have forgotten in a few hours’
Maybe – loosely translated to mean ‘Never, never, never going to happen’
I’m listening loosely translated to mean ‘I’m not even remotely interested’
I’ll be there in a minute – loosely translated to mean ‘I’ll be there in half an hour when I’ve finished whatever it is I’m doing’
And then there are the Mother of All Lies. The ones that involve a fairy collecting teeth, a bunny dropping off chocolate eggs and a large fat man squeezing himself down the chimney (regardless of whether you have one or not) and leaving a suspicious looking package at the end of your bed.
That last one is actually the stuff of nightmares, is you leave out the flying reindeer and the ‘Ho Ho Ho’. After all, we drill into our kids the danger of talking to strangers, particularly big, bad men. And then we tell them that if they are good, one will be coming into their bedroom late at night and watching them while they sleep. Probably the worst case of mixed messages if ever I heard one.
But of all the lies, the best one that we parents have up our sleeves must be the one regarding those clever little eyes we have in the back of head. This one works especially well when you have as many mirrors in your house as we do. In some parts of our home I really can see round corners, and that includes the fridge, the food cupboard and the biscuit tin.
A few years ago, quite out of the blue, the very existence of my second set of eyes was even confirmed.
My daughter and I went for our visa medical check up, and the doctor in question was giving my eyes the once over with a torch. “So how are my other set of eyes?” I asked him, with a straight face and a hidden smirk. “The ones in the back of your head?” he asked immediately “Oh those look fine too”.
My daughters face was a picture. A mixture of complete disbelief and total awe. “Would you like me to check your other eyes too? he asked my daughter. “But I don’t have any,” she said.”Oh but you do,” he replied “everyone has them, they just don’t work properly until you have your own children”.
He peered into her eyes. “Yes, yours are growing quite nicely.” he confirmed.
My daughter was practically buzzing with excitement when we left the surgery. “I never really believed you Mummy, but the doctor saw mine growing so it MUST be true.” God bless child friendly doctors, they earn every penny and more.
That was of course only a harmless little white lie, the sort which are sometimes said just to be kind. But where I wonder do you draw the line, and how can you teach kids to know the difference between those lies that are ‘OK’ and those that will be categorised as a ‘lifetime grounded to the bedroom’ type offense?
Like when Mummy asks how she looks in her new dress, obviously it’s best not to tell her that her bottom looks like the back end of a bus. Or that the dinner she spent hours cooking tasted horrible. Or that Daddy is definitely loved more because he shouts less.
Needless to say I’m dreading the day that my children find out Father Christmas is just Daddy, a red suit and 3 cushions. Or that the lost teeth that were supposed to become stars, ended up at the back of my jewelery box. Or worse still, that the Christmas Elf that follows them around and watches their every move from October onwards doesn’t actually exist.
Oh how my life isn’t going to be worth living, not least because my daughter (who always likes to state the obvious) will undoubtedly be very quick to point out that not only has her life been one long lie, but I’m the one that’s been telling them.
I feel my payback may be right around the corner, just about the time when the hormones kick in.