Mama Said: Telling kids little white lies is fine. Isn’t it?
We teach our children to tell the truth, but sometimes we need to tell a few white lies, writes Emily Martin
Sometimes parents have to tell little white lies to make things run more smoothly. Children can’t possibly know the truth about everything. Imagine in the autumn if they knew that the clocks had gone back and tried to stay up an hour later, for example. It would be dangerous for everyone if they knew too much.
And anyway, sometimes it’s amusing just to let children think certain things, for fun. We have to get our fun somewhere, come on.
For example I have a friend whose daughter (she’s 11 now) still thinks it’s called “Old McDonalds” and my friend is looking forward to stringing it out for as long as possible until there’s some inevitable day when it all comes out.
When Girl learned to read she came home from school one day looking up at the tree in the garden in disbelief: “Wait, I thought this was a ‘chree’?” We laughed so much. Spelling lessons had turned some of her fundamental basics upside down.
White lies and more convenient explanations just trip off our tongues without a second thought. “Oh, Netflix stops working at 6pm.” “The fair is shut today.” “The ice cream truck only plays that music when they’ve run out of ice cream.” “The cat? Yes he’s gone to live on a wonderful farm, where very unfortunately we can never visit.” “Ah, I’m afraid only big children are allowed in the park after 4pm, so we’d better get going before they turn up and kick us out.”
Sometimes when I’ve just sat down to eat my dinner, the children will come sneaking down the stairs, looking for scraps and saying they’re hungry. I’ve already cooked their dinner, watched them eat it and washed it all up, so that always feels particularly unfair. Like your boss bothering you after work. So I just tell them, “Oh this is really spicy” and that sends them scattering like a gunshot to the sky.
Spicy little lies. It’s OK to tell them. But anyway, I’ve come unstuck at home with one of the old classics. It’s a traditional lie that generations of children have swallowed for centuries, but for some reason it’s unravelled at my house.
“Carrots help you see in the dark,” I told Boy one day while he was eating and I was scrolling my phone not thinking and just trotting out the lies as usual. “DO they?” he enquired, putting down his fork and suddenly interested. “Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know how it works, they’re just really good for your eyes.”
“How dark is it now?” he said. And then for some completely unknown reason I said, “What in this room? Right now? Why, it’s completely pitch black! Wait, can you SEE right now?” I don’t know what I said that for. I thought we were playing.
I thought he’d sense that I was joking from my overly exaggerated tone of voice and the way I’d started the sentence with the word “Why” like a storybook character. But it went wrong. “WHAT?” he said. “You mean right now it’s dark in here and YOU can’t see anything? Mum, oh my God, I can SEE right now. What?!”
Realising I had now told a huge and mind-bending lie I could either kill it there and reveal myself as a liar (“What else has she lied about?” he’d then think). Or I could just somehow carry on in a new world where my son believes that he can see in total darkness. His new superhero eyes were sparkling with wonder and delight. So I of course chose to carry on.
The other night as we lay in his bed, light filling the room, but as far as my son was concerned we lay in total darkness. He asked why can’t he have a baby? So I gave him the good news, “Well you can! You can have a baby when you grow up!” but he looked sadder.
“I can’t have it in my tummy though.” I confirmed sadly not. “So how do babies GET in your tummy?” he asked.
Oh no, I thought. Not this, anything but this. “Umm, well the daddy puts it in there,” I said. And his face immediately brightened. “Did MY daddy put me in your tummy?” Oh no. Oh my God. “Yes”, I confirmed carefully.
“How though?” he asked, looking suspicious. “Umm, just by cuddling really,” I said, wishing so much we were still talking about carrots. “But Daddy never lets you cuddle him,” he said, confused. Oh what a tangled web I’ve weaved.
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