In the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, a young mother named Katie is dismayed at the bleak, physically challenging life that lies ahead. She wonders to her mother how she can create a better world for her new daughter.
The old woman, an uneducated Austrian immigrant, counsels Katie to teach her daughter about Santa Claus and fairies. Katie thinks this sounds ridiculous. I love the wisdom in her mother’s answer:
“Because ... the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination ... .”
When it benefits your children, it’s OK to bend the truth. It’s acceptable to share stories and legends that feed your kids’ imaginations and introduce them to worlds magical and beautiful.
Blatantly lying to your kids about important issues on a regular basis is one thing. But cushioning their worlds by withholding or filtering harmful information won’t hurt them. When is it OK to fib to your kids, and what is the right way to do it?
“Well, I believe in Santa Claus.” (Feed your kids’ imaginations)
The world of Santa, elves, fairies and the Easter Bunny is part of the magic of childhood. Don’t ruin the wonder of magic by prematurely announcing that such characters aren’t real. Feed your children’s imaginations. Allow them to enjoy the anticipation of the Tooth Fairy’s arrival.
“Sorry, that bike is too expensive.” (Preserve a surprise)
Part of the joy of parenthood is surprising our kids with much-desired toys. Sometimes a birthday or Christmas approaches and we have the treasured gift wrapped and stashed away. You don’t want your child to have even an inkling that the gift will soon be his. So, you improvise.
It’s not really lying to state, “Sorry, the bike costs a lot.” You’re just throwing your kid off track to keep the surprise intact.
“I never text and drive.” (Ensure your kids’ safety)
Texting while driving is stupid and risky. However, I have been known to pull out my phone at a long stoplight. After the light turns green, I try to ditch the phone immediately. If you bend the rules on this one, better to never do it in with your kids in the car.
Soon enough, your kids will be driving. They’ll remember all of your foolhardy actions and think, “How bad can it be? I’ve seen Mom do it.” Your kids’ safety should always come first in your life. Keep them safe while you drive, and try to set an example through both your actions and your words.
“Oh, Dad and I were just talking.” (Guard your privacy)
You need alone time with your spouse. Your intimacy is a significant part of your marriage. When your children beat at the door during your “alone time” and demand to know what you’ve been doing, of course you don’t want to share the details. Be vague and explain that Mom and Dad need to talk privately sometimes.
“Babies come from moms’ tummies.” (Don’t give too much away too soon)
Don’t burden your young children with information they don’t need. You know your child. When it is time for the birds and bees talk, take into account your kid’s age and maturity level and cater your discussion accordingly.
“I love your sense of style.” (Avoid hurt feelings)
When your little fashion plate combines offbeat patterns, colors and styles, praise her ingenuity. The outfit might make you cringe, but parents should always encourage their kids’ creativity. Soon enough, they’ll grow up, attend junior high, and feel like they have to mirror their peers.
When it preserves their tender feelings, encourages their imaginations and helps ensure their safety, feel free to lie to your kids.