I love honesty. I love being on the receiving end of it, even when it’s hard to hear. I love telling the truth in pretty much all circumstances. I grew up in a household that really valued honesty as a core virtue. Lying was the biggest sin there was. I’d like to have lived my whole life never telling a lie.
Then I had kids.
I always swore I’d never lie to them. Kids deserve the truth, I thought. But raising them has changed my mind.
Parenting has taught me many things: since having kids I’ve become better at running my household, managing my time, keeping my temper, taking care of myself. I can change a diaper, a tire, a lightbulb and my mind faster than I could before I had kids. But one of the big things parenting has taught me is that honesty is not always the best policy.
I won’t say I’m a world-class liar now by any means. You do not want me as a bridge partner. But I’ve learned there’s a time and place for a well-intentioned fib.
At least I’ve never stooped to pretending I don’t know my kids, like my husband’s mother once did when he crashed his bike into a little old lady crossing the street. “Who’s child is that?” that woman yelled and his mom shrugged as if she’d never seen him before. Not saying I haven’t been tempted, but I’ve so far resisted the urge.
I’ve given in to plenty of other urges though.
There are the lies being a parent prompts me to tell everyone else. The polite ones:
- I’d love to come to your birthday party! I just adore bouncy castles full of three-year-olds!
- Susie is such a sweet child! So polite. I’m sure the hair-pulling was just one little incident.
- What a thoughtful gift! We really needed another battery-operated blinky beepy toy.
- She doesn’t really think you’re boring. She’s just saying that. You know how three-year-olds are.
The faking-it-till I make it ones:
- I usually pack snacks/wipes/tissues/pants, but just this one time I forgot.
- If you don’t stop pulling your sister’s hair, I am going to breathe fire like a dragon!
- I totally meant to do that.
There are the little lies I tell my kids:
- I’d love to play trains with you!
- I want to read an entire Magic Treehouse book right now!
- No, I didn’t want that cookie. Go ahead!
Most of that falls into the category of humoring them. They’re the small untruths I dig up when I hear my mother’s voice in the back of my head reminding me that these kids will only be small and precious for a few heartbeats, and I’d better enjoy them while I can. Even if that means playing trains instead of checking my email, or reading the entire Rainbow Fairy series aloud while the memoir I was enjoying languishes on my desk.
There are bigger lies, too, the ones I wish were true. I say, “We have plenty of money,” then sit down with my husband after bedtime and try to wrestle our budget into making that true. It only almost works. I tell the kids Mommy and Daddy always make up after a fight because we’re never really mad at each other. The truth is sometimes we just storm off angry and unresolved. Sometimes, I suffer from Maternal Imposter Syndrome: I pretend I know what I’m doing as a mom so they won’t see how much I’m making it up as I go along.
Then there are the really big fibs. My girls believe that all illnesses more serious than the flu can be readily treated and cured, and that all natural disasters happen far away. I know I shouldn’t mislead them about these things, but it’s so tempting. I can soothe their little fears and at the same time quell my own larger worries about the state of the world just by uttering the magic words, “It’s all going to be OK.” They’ll learn soon enough how often those words are a calming lie.
Of course my best moments as a mom are the ones where I rise above temptation and find my way past frustration to real honesty. Not the surface level honesty that lets me vent about how frustrating and crazy-making raising children really is, though of course there’s a place for that.
Not even the big, dark honesty so many of my blogging peers do so well. There’s something magical about the searing honesty of Monica’s recent post on fighting or Katie’s confession that she loves her son more than her daughter. That kind of honesty is like a flame: it burns away the BS, but it can also hurt. Sometimes, I need to speak out like that about something painful or shameful, and I love the opportunity being a writer gives me to do so.
But that’s not my favorite flavor of honesty. The honesty I seek is the kind that comes from getting to your truth and sharing it with love. The kind you get when what you wish was true becomes what is true. For example, being able to say “I’d love to read you a story, but I’d like to choose a book we both like.” Or even just being able to say “I love you” and mean it with my whole being. It’s the honesty I can have access to when I’m in flow, bringing my best self to my work as a mom, being fully present with my kids.
At moments like that, I can tell my kids the hard truths with love and grace. When our cat was dying, I was painfully honest. I told them the cat was dying and it was time to say goodbye. I didn’t sugar-coat it with stories about kitty heaven or pretend he would get well. I just talked about all the great times we’d had together, and how it was time to let go because he was very sick. I let them see me cry.
Those are my best moments, but not all my moments. Many days, a little lie goes a long way towards keeping the peace. Pretending helps me fake it till I make it.
Does being a parent prompt you to lie? What not-so-true things do you say to your kids, or to other people about them?
Read 6 other parents’ thoughts on what parenting made them better at