September 30, 2009

I swear to tell the truth

"A lie has speed, but truth has endurance."
~Edgar J. Mohn

Do you regularly lie to your children? According to Science Daily, parents often lie to their kids to get compliance or to make them happy.

The researchers refer to this practice as "parenting by lying." "We are surprised by how often parenting by lying takes place," said Lee. "Moreover, our findings showed that even the parents who most strongly promoted the importance of honesty with their children engaged in parenting by lying."

Since reading this last week, I've been trying to keep track of - if or when - I lie to the kids. My initial thinking was that I don't tell fibs, but I do omit things. I wouldn't dream of making up imaginary creatures like a pacifier fairy, but we do get visits from Santa Claus at Christmas. I've never said Santa was real. I've just never said he's NOT real.
In fact, I may be too honest with my kids. I usually admit to being too busy, tired, irritated, hungry, etc. to do things. Most of the time I do them anyway, but I am upfront about my intentions to only participate for a few minutes in those cases. I also don't gush all over their drawings, dances, jokes, songs, robots, or ideas. I look for talking points, and ask questions, offer compliments where I am genuinely interested, and encourage effort where I know more can be made.

But then I found myself saying we were out of something or refusing to consent to an activity, and not giving the real reason. I wonder how often I do this without realizing it? For example, when asked if I had any more tape for a box today; I said no. It was easier than explaining and possibly starting an argument. The truth is that we do have tape, two kinds even. Robotson then went and found the tape gun. If I had been honest and told him that I didn't want him using any tape because: 1. I have very little left 2. He uses too much 3. He won't let me help him use less. I could have avoided the lie. He probably still would have gone to get the tape gun, but at least my integrity would have been intact. Definitely something I want to be more aware of in the future.

Have you ever looked up the word 'lie' in Wikipedia? My gosh there are a lot of different kinds of lies!


  1. Interesting question. I guess what I do is withdraw information that I don't consider age-appropriate. I am like you - I am trying to honestly state my feelings and thoughts. Still, there is a limit as to what a three year old can understand and accept, so, in my mind, certain fibs are simply unavoidable.

  2. I KNOW I fib, don't share everything with my son, etc. I wonder if being all truthful, all the time is for the better. It would make for an interesting experiment!

  3. I definitely work on not lying. I am also definitely guilty of withholding info or being vague enough that I feel I haven't lied. I only do it when I feel the need to protect the kids. We do the whole Santa thing to. Last year my 8 yo started asking me if I believed in Santa. I would say things like, "every body has a different idea of what Santa means," or "What do you believe, that's what matters." So I don't lie to them, but know they don't need all the info that I have stored in my head at this point in their lives. Good topic!

  4. I make a conscious effort not to lie. So we don't do Santa, and we don't do the tooth fairy (but I've asked my son if he'd like to do it when his first tooth falls out).

    I will look out for any lies in the next few days, and see if I am as honest as I say!

    (Perhaps it's because I am a such an unconvincing liar anyway!)

  5. Do I lie to my kids? In general I try not to. But there are some lies (as defined in the Wikipedia article) I engage in on a regular basis:

    Jocose lies. I like to call these "messing with the kids" are (usually outrageous) statements that are (usually) obviously made up. Sometimes it's immediately obvious to the kids (no, the green stuff on the plate isn't actually "monster slime" despite what dad says) but sometimes it makes them think about it. I actually want my kids to think about and question what people in authority (including their parents) state as a fact.

    Lying by omission. I do that all the time when my daughter discusses her fantasy world. After reading "Midnight Unicorn" she'd ask whether "it was a dream or if the unicorn statue really came alive" and "will I ever have a unicorn". It would be totally heartless to dryly proclaim that, no, as a matter of fact she'll never have unicorn. Instead I deflect these with "wouldn't it be cool if you had one?" and she's perfectly satisfied with that. I use the same approach with Santa et al. She'll figure it out eventually.

    BTW, I think St. Augustine's categorical condemnation of all lying is simplistic. There is a ton of situation where telling a lie is the ethical/moral thing to do (e.g. if a Nazi asks about where the Jews are hiding), but it's not a distinction most 4 year olds would necessarily understand.

  6. I looks like a lot of us parents just withhold information until it's age appropriate. It makes sense why we would that, but I wonder if to keep in line with total honesty we couldn't just tell our kids that we are not telling them everything, just yet. Then again, that opens a can of worms that probably doesn't need to be opened. I think it's more important to just not lie straight out to them. Don't make something up because you can.

    Stepan- I think Dale McGowan wrote a post about Jocose lies actually.

    And I agree, some lies are moral and right.