“No-one believes a liar even when they’re telling the truth.”
I recite this to my children regularly. It’s the moral of the story from the classic Aesop’s Fable: The Boy Who Cried Wolf. We regularly encourage them to tell the truth, even if they’ve misbehaved. Whatever trouble they are in, either at home or at school, the punishment is double if we find out they have lied about it. We advise they just own up to it, apologise and then we can all move on.
The only trouble is, the world isn’t always as black and white as we make out it is. Can we as parents, honestly, hand on heart say we never lie to our children? I know I can’t. So are we holding them to a higher standard than what we expect of ourselves? Is this fair? And what would they think of us if they find out the truth?
I think it’s fair to say most parents have told their child a lie. Even if it’s a small white lie, or a lie with good intentions.
We may tell lies to protect them, or comfort them. Does that make it justified? When is a lie just a lie?
My eldest is quite cynical for an eight year old. He has a very scientific mind and likes facts and numbers and logic. So when we took him and his brother to Dinosaurs In The Wild recently (for my review have a nosy here!) we were delighted when he soaked it all up and really believed we had travelled back in time to the Jurassic period. The look of pure magic and astonishment on his face is honestly a memory I shall cherish.
He was so excited, he couldn’t wait to tell his friends he had time travelled and so seemed really disheartened when they told him they didn’t believe him because it wasn’t possible. That was when he asked me –
“We did really go back in time, didn’t we Mum?”
I had a split second to make a decision and in that moment I couldn’t bear to disappoint him and feeling desperate to keep the magic alive, I said “of course we did”.
It was only afterwards that I started to doubt whether I had done the right thing. Should I have told him the truth? How would he feel if he found out we’d lied? How can we expect our children to be 100% honest, if we can’t guarantee it ourselves?
I always said to myself if one of my children got to an appropriate age and asked the direct question “Is Santa real?” then I would answer honestly. Now I’m not so sure. I want to keep that magic alive for as long as possible. They’re young for such a small amount of time, is it wrong to want to prolong that?
I think the majority of us believed in Santa as a child and we haven’t been psychologically damaged by the truth. I guess we have to hope that when they do find out the truth, they have the emotional maturity to understand the decisions we made.
We did it out of love.
The same logic applies when we tell our children “everything is going to be ok,” when perhaps we don’t know that for certain. My husband admitted that when he talked to the children about my Grandmother’s (and the cats’!) death, he talked about heaven, despite not being sure if he believed in it himself.
It reminds me of that old episode of Friends where Phoebe realises she had never seen the end to any sad movie. Her mother would always turn it off before something sad would happen in an attempt to protect her.
Which also makes me wonder, is it our job to protect our children from the harsh realities of life, or do we need to show them that life can be hard at times. We teach our children that love will always conquer hate. Good will always triumph over evil. Is that true? I’m not so sure. There’s a lot of unscrupulous people in positions of power right now.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t know whether we’re doing it right. However, I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop encouraging my children to believe in the power of goodness. I may be delaying the inevitable. One day they will stop believing in Santa and they will undoubtedly discover that the world can be a cruel place at times, but in the meantime I want to preserve that innocence. That look of joy and wonder on Christmas morning. That look of amazement that crosses my son’s face when he talks about the day he time travelled. That belief that with a good heart they can achieve anything in life.
So I guess that what it comes down to. The lies we tell to protect, or to comfort, or to keep the magic alive. It all comes down to one thing.
And perhaps for that we can be excused.