Are You Calling Me a Liar?

May 17th, 2010 by Dionna | 39 Comments
Posted in Eclectic Learning, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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Today I would like to welcome the Grumbles, who has written a guest post on little white parenting lies. She is a full-time working mom of one, Mr. Jude, diving head first into natural parenting. You can normally find the Grumbles at Grumbles & Grunts where she spills her guts about new life with baby, her natural parenting journey, dogs, movies, and occasionally tells crude jokes about lady-parts. I will have a guest post there later this week. So, once you’re done reading the Grumbles thoughts on lying to children, stay tuned to find out my thoughts on the same subject.


I recently saw the following comments when I was out and about on the interwebs:

“Lying to your kids starts so young!”
“Moms have got to be very tricky.  It’s part of the job description.”

But… is it?  By definition are all moms and dads automatically liars?  Up until the point of motherhood, my upbringing and adulthood have been filled with a focus on honesty and integrity.  My parents were especially diligent in trying to instill an honest soul in me, especially my father.  I don’t understand how just because I am now “a mom,” suddenly honesty means nothing and lying is AOK.

Certainly there are times when a white lie makes parenting easier.  Easier being the keyword.  “No, the grocery store doesn’t sell candy on Tuesdays.” “They don’t let people have ponies inside the city limits.” “Our dog is going to go live on a farm where he can be happy.”  But I think this tactic might do our children an injustice.  They are smarter than we give them credit for and can often see through these shams.  And if they don’t?  Well, some day they will.  And then their trust in your word will be broken.  I know several people who learned when they went off to college that “steak” was not, in fact, liver.  It’s a funny story, right?  But it damages our relationships to learn that someone you trusted has been lying to your face over and over again, even about something silly.

stick meat
this stick looks like meat.  but i won’t tell you it’s steak. promise.

I keep asking myself- is this the behavior I want to model for my child?  That it’s ok for MOM to lie to you when she wants to, but you must always tell mom the truth?  It sets an unrealistic double standard and erodes children’s trust in their caregivers.

Now I’m not saying it’ll never happen; that’s just unrealistic.  In my own time I’m sure I will be just a guilty of the smidge here and the white lie there.  Because sometimes the truth in situations is ugly and you want to protect your kids from reality.  And sometimes you’re just tired and frustrated and in a hurry.  Guilty as charged.  But I want to rail against the assumed idea that all moms automatically lie, that it’s part of the job description and should be accepted as a fact.  I don’t want to be rolled into that group.  I don’t want to feel like I’ve betrayed my own upbringing.  How can I expect my son to grow up an honest person when I am not honest with him?

sorry kid, not sure i want to lie to you.  even in your convict shirt.

How do you feel about parents lying to their kids: is it a fact of life?  Part of the job description?  Something you’d like to avoid?  How do you preserve your delicate connection with your child’s trust?

39 Responses to:
"Are You Calling Me a Liar?"

  1. Apryl   sahmguide

    Excellent post.

    Kids deserve a lot more credit than they sometimes get. They’re smart little buggers, and they know when we’re doing something we shouldn’t be.

    I’m big on honesty because I can’t stand being lied to. So my husband and I are straight with our son. We try to be a living example for him in all areas of life, so there’s no reason we should bail on this model when it comes to lying.

  2. Ky   TwoPretzels

    So my sister once lied to my niece about the actual DATE of her birthday. I think she was about 5 at the time. Her birthday actually passed and they were heading to Disneyland and they wanted to celebrate there.

    The niece never found out.

    Did magic ensue for the little one? It did.

    Was it morally or ethically right for my sister to lie? Probably not.

    This is a tough question. I’m hoping that I can be as honest as possible with my daughter. (Who currently gets 100% honesty since she’s nearly 11 months old.)

    My Mom was *always* honest with me – but she was also cautious with what she revealed. The conversations that we have today, I can tell you with all candidness, I wasn’t ready to have when I was 14 or 15.

    Great topic. (This guest-blog/guest-blogger thing is fun!)

  3. Melodie   bfmom

    I guess I would have to say that I lie to my kids when I’m just too exhausted to explain things to them, especially if the explanation is too convoluted or if the subject matter is borderline inappropriate. The other day my daughter asked me something that required an explanation I didn’t even know the answer to. I tried to explain to her that I didn’t know but she kept on and on so I gave her some information that I don’t even know was correct. In fact, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t and I suppose I could have looked it up on the internet but with time restraints, etc, it wasn’t feasible at the time. So yes, I sometimes tell white lies but generally speaking I have good reason and I don’t think that the things they ask about they even really care or will remember the answer (okay, yes, sometimes they will) so I suppose after writing all this I agree that it would be terribly difficult to never tell our kids white lies. And it depends on the child and how much they really want to know and how soon they want the answer!

  4. Amber   AmberStrocel

    I frequently fail to tell the whole truth with my daughter. She’s 5 now, and there are times when I choose not to burst her bubble, or when I don’t want to share particular information with her. For example, I don’t tell her that Santa isn’t literally real. She LOVES believing in Santa, I liked believing in him as a child, and I don’t want to ruin that. And I don’t necessarily completely answer her question about what ‘sexual assault’ means when she somehow overhears the news. She’s really not developmentally ready to absorb that information.

    My kid lies to me, and I don’t think it’s because I’ve set the example. I think it’s a natural thing that children do, an ordinary step in their development. At some point they realize that you don’t know everything that they know, and they play with concealing the truth. They’re embarrassingly bad at it, at first. Like yelling, “Mom, don’t look at me right now!” Honestly (ha!), I don’t sweat it. I haven’t really taught my daughter that she has to tell me the truth, or that honesty is a virtue.

    What I prefer to do is foster an attitude of age-appropriate openness and acceptance. I think that a lot of the lying that happens later on is because kids are afraid of what their parents will do if they know the truth. My goal is to avoid freaking out when my kid tells me something hard, so that she won’t be afraid to. My goal isn’t to drill an ethic of honesty into her that no adult actually honours themselves.

    • Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

      Just read Amber’s comment and it sounds so common-sensey and reasonable. Thank you for that. I think the idea of fostering an atmosphere of overall truthfulness and openness in relationships and not making it a habit to deliberately withhold truth from our kids when asked, or lie on purpose to scare or shame them, rather than make the goal to be absolutely, brutally honest at all times — well, then I think it will probably be OK.

      It’s funny, because I just remembered something else, too, from my childhood — there were a lot of times my parents did tell me the truth about something, but I was too young developmentally to take it in. Like, for years, my full understanding of Jews was that they didn’t like pork or Jesus. I’m sure my parents’ explanation was more nuanced than that (no, really!), but that was all I could handle.

    • Sarah

      I think at a certain point a parent has to be very careful what terms they use. I believe that children (under 6-8, depending on child) do not lie. Though their perception of reality can be different then ours – so we think they’re not telling the truth, but they believe they are. With smaller kids it will be smaller things. For example my daughter has a toy dolphin. She says its a whale – she knows the difference, but she wants a whale, not a dolphin. She is not pretending it’s a whale – it IS a whale. Small. As they get older – did you hit your sister? “No” but you watched her do it – you know she did. But it isn’t a lie to her. She’s so upset about what she did she wants what she says to be true. So she says it is and in her mind she believes that’s all she needs to do to make it so.

      As a parent our reaction to these lies will determine what happens in the next stage. DO the children then begin to lie for real? In an effort to withhold information and get out of trouble. Or will they continue to learn the difference between reality and fantasy?

      It’s a fine line for a parent to walk.

  5. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    You know several people who were lied to about liver? Were they all from the same family?

    I’ve been thinking about lying a lot lately, because I keep accidentally falling into it — for my own convenience, as you say. Like, I don’t have the money for another carousel ride, instead of a more complicated response to a 2-year-old about why you don’t choose to spend more money on something you (the adult) are bored with anyway. And then, you know, deal with the screaming. So, I’m against lying, but it’s hard not to fall into it.

    I think another problem with lies is sometimes as the adult, you think you’re joking and that your child knows you’re joking. But there were so many lies I was told growing up that were jokes I didn’t get. And it was kind of embarrassing later to realize how gullible I was. I’d rather be forthright with my kid, because I already notice him parroting silly things I’ve said that I didn’t realize he’d take at face value.

    I think I had something more sophisticated to say, but I’m being distracted by the aforementioned 2-year-old, and I don’t want to lie and tell him something scary will happen if he doesn’t leave me alone to type this comment. ;)

  6. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    Interesting topic! I’m constantly amazed at all the parenting decisions I’ve never even thought about yet! We are planning to do Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, but like others have said, will try to foster an atmosphere of truthfulness. One thing we are planning to lie about is poor decisions we’ve made that we don’t feel would be appropriate to share. Like if one of my kids asks, “mommy, have you ever been drunk?” my answer will absolutely be a no. I think answering yes would undermine their respect in me. (I’m not sure about when they are a teen or college kid…maybe then)

    • Sarah

      Hmm if they’re old enough to know what drunk is, then they’re old enough for you to be truthful.

      So you tell them you’ve never been drunk – never made a mistake – then how do they learn from you? How about. Yes I’ve been drunk. I was at home with friends where my parents were there – or my friends and I were out – our parents knew where we were and came to drive us home to keep us safe.

      So what. you’ve made mistakes you don’t want them to repeat – tell them that. I drank, but I was so sick – I haven’t drank enough to get drunk since.

      They will respect you a lot more if you are truthful – and they will know if you lie. You also want them to know you’ve faced the same temptations they face – and how you responded.

      My both of my girls have tasted wine. We have it with most meals – and they have their (itty-bitty) wine glasses that we put a smidge of wine into – or grape juice or apple juice since they do prefer juice to wine lol. THey’ve both also tasted scotch – not likely to ever try it again – they know that alcohol is for grown ups, but if we’re drinking around them – then they will grab a glass – and they now know that isn’t safe and isn’t likely to taste good either. But we do drink around them (not to get drunk but to enjoy the company of friends or with a meal) so it’d be a bladfaced lie if we suggested we’d ever done anything but that.

  7. Our Sentiments   oursentiments

    Wow Great post! I have a hard time lying to our daughter. It feels wrong, not saying a few came out. I would never present myself out to be perfect at all. When I do say something without thinking I call it, I say “No K2, that was a lie, they do sell Candy on Tuesdays, but I don’t want you to have any”. Yes, there will be a tantrum, but at least I fixed my lie along with teaching K2 what lying is.

    I have had troubles with ‘white lies’ around traditional holidays. It was not until I had our daughter that these holidays became magical again.

  8. Hi! As a mum of two (5 and 2) I avoid lies like the plague, if for no other reason that my kids are easily smart enough to persist until I’m caught. How embarrassing…

    With traditional “lies” like Santa Claus, we have always treated these as characters, just the same as Bob the Builder or Dora the Explorer. We know Santa Claus comes out at Christmas and some people like to pretend he delivers all the presents…but it’s just a fun story.

    I’ve never had an awkward moment with this yet.

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