You’re a Liar, but It’s Probably OK
We talk about Santa like we talk about Mickey Mouse. The difference is only one of those is real. Right, kids?
My dad broke the news to me when I was almost eight. We were driving along in the snow, next to a golf course, and out of nowhere he leans over and says:
“Got a secret for ya.”
“Oh, fun! What is it?”
“I. Am. Santa. Clause. You get it?”
“You’re . . . Santa? Really?”
“Oh . . . so, like, is that why you’re never home?”
Mom was a little disappointed when she found out about our conversation. And when I say disappointed, I mean furious at my dad for whoopie-cushioning the magic right out of Christmas. I, of course, remember acting like I was all cool with it. I mean, duh, right? Of course, there’s no Santa! How could I have been so childish?
I wasn’t cool with it, though. I was deflated. It did explain why there were Walmart price tags on all the presents, though, which was something I’d been wondering about for years. But don’t worry: after a few short months of therapy, I eventually got over it.
So why do we lie to our kids? It seems to come so naturally; we don’t even think about it. Sometimes it’s to keep the magic alive. Sometimes we’re just lazy and impatient, so we toss out idle threats hoping for immediate results. Sometimes, we’re so afraid they’ll get their feelings hurt or we’ll have to deal with uncomfortable questions or situations that we effortlessly concoct the most ridiculous loads of crap to avoid spewing truth.
And if you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t lie to MY kids. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” then check this out:
In 2009, Dr. Kang Lee and a group of researchers at the University of Toronto conducted a study where students and parents looked at nine hypotheticals where a parent had lied to a kid. One scenario read something like, “A parent is very embarrassed by a child’s public tantrum and says, ‘The cops will snatch you up if you don’t start behaving.’” Another similar to, “A loving aunt just died and the parent tells the kid the aunt is now a star in the sky who will watch over you.” Another said something similar to, “A parent tells a kid, ‘You did a great job at your track and field event,” after taking last place.” And so on.
Are they going to care that you lied about their Power Ranger Blaster being broken? No, but don’t lie about anything they’re going to care about ten years from now.
Turns out, over 90 percent of undergraduates revealed they’d experienced a white lie from a parent similar to at least one of these scenarios at a young age.
So, yeah, it’s more than likely that you’re a liar. So stop lying about not being one.
The question is, is that such a bad thing? If we all lie to our kids, is it OK? Is it just something we do? Is it sometimes justified?”
Kristin Dawson, a mother of two, seems to think so—conditionally at least. “Are they going to care that you lied about their Power Ranger Blaster being broken? No,” she says. “But don’t lie about anything they’re going to care about ten years from now.”
I guess that makes sense. It’s OK to lie about the trivial stuff (like the Easter Bunny), but don’t lie about who their father really is and what you were really doing that night 18 years ago in Cancun. See the difference?
A while ago, I saw a movie about a family who lives in the woods. They were incredibly close and extraordinarily intelligent. It’s called Captain Fantastic, and it is now one of my favorites. As the story unfolds, you realize that the fulcrum of the father’s rigorous intellectual and physical education is his creed to, no matter what the circumstance, be completely honest with his kids. You can imagine some of the outrageous questions asked and blunt answers given, even the uncomfortable ones surrounding sex, why they’re in the woods, and the issues regarding their missing mother.
One would expect that the children would be left scarred by their father’s bluntness, but in the end, after all the drama and plot points are fleshed out, it’s apparent that it’s a quality they all respect in their pop. So he walks away the hero because of his honesty.
I know it’s just a movie, and movies aren’t real, but it got me thinking: Could I maintain that level of honesty with my kids? What would happen if I did? How would they react? How would my wife react? Could I even do it, just for one day?
It might be a great exercise for you and your partner to try with your kids. Perhaps you’ll experience a new level of bonding with them. Or perhaps you’ll break their tender little hearts and they’ll never forgive you. You never know. Might be fun to give it a try, though.
But, for heaven’s sake, leave Santa out of it. At least until January.
Jason Osmond is a writer, marketing strategist, and professional dad. He lives with his wife and three kids in Vineyard, Utah.