This past weekend, I told a fairly significant “white lie” to my mother-in-law, out of kindness, in front of all four of my kids. My mother-in-law, who suffers from fairly severe dementia, lives in a locked unit of a nursing home. She recognized my husband, but struggled to put a name to his face.
When she asked where we were staying, I said we were staying with my husband’s older sister. We weren’t. We were staying with my husband’s stepmom. In a split-second, I made a decision that to tell her the truth would be too confusing, and possibly hurtful.
Incredibly, all four of my kids went along with it, although they did ask me later why I’d told a lie.
I’ve discussed the concept of “little white lies” and “lying out of kindness” with my kids before. Two of my kids have Asperger Syndrome, and social niceties aren’t intuitive to them. For example, I had to explicitly teach my daughter than when someone says, “Do I look okay?” they’re not necessarily looking for the honest answer. They’re looking for reassurance.
Questions like, “Do you like my new haircut?” or “Do I look fat in this dress?” require more finesse than my Aspie daughter is inherently capable of. While her twin sister can absorb that kind of thing just by observing other people’s interactions, it has to be taught to my daughter with Asperger. Given an explanation and a script, however, and she’s golden. Contrary to popular myth, people with Asperger Syndrome are very much capable of empathy, and certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
So, yes, I actively teach my kids to lie. We talk about the difference between lying to spare someone’s feelings, and lying to weasel your way out of trouble.
I know it can be a slippery slope. There’s a fine line between not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, and not wanting to disappoint someone (like a teacher or parent). I’m really curious about what boundaries other parents set for their kids about lying. This topic is still a work in progress in our family, and I could use your advice.
What do you teach your kids about when (if ever) lying is appropriate? How do you explain the difference between a “white lie” and a regular lie? Let me know in the comments!