I am in an awesome writing group led by the incredibly talented yogi/writer/actress/Wonder Woman Jennifer Schelter of Yoga Schelter in Philadelphia. I always learn something in these sessions, but this Saturday’s group was a real eye-opener. We discussed writing as truth telling, and explored what it means to REALLY tell the truth: the messy, uncomfortable, ugly truth. Jennifer led us in a few writing exercises to uncover the hidden, unquestioned beliefs that we hold, often from childhood, and to then ask: “Is that REALLY true?”
The question applies to writing, parenting, and life in general: Is honesty always the best policy?
For me, this topic could not have been more apropos. At the dinner table the night before, out of no where Emma busts out with “Do you need to be married to have kids?” To which I replied, “No” as Phil simultaneously said “Yes.” Then we stared at each other with the look that says, “What the Hell are you doing?” Emma waited patiently, looking at me, then at Phil, then at me again, until finally asking, “Well? Which one is it?”
Phil jumped up to clear the table while I stammered something profound and eloquent, like, “Different strokes for different folks….who wants a popscicle?!?”
“White lies” are part of the parental vernacular. If you are parent and claim to have never camouflaged, stretched, modified, or flat out withheld the truth from your kids, you are…well, lying. Our parents lied to us, we lie to our kids, and eventually our kids will lie to us. It’s the Circle of Lies Life.
The Top Five Lies My Parents Told Me
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all: I understand the sentiment behind this little gem when it comes to respecting other people’s feelings (“Thanks Aunt Rita! I REALLY WANTED another Chia Pet!”). However I find it can be a bit misleading when taken too literally, and ultimately kind of paralyzing. I am not condoning spouting off whatever nasty thought that pops into your head, but over time, denying the darker corners of your soul can start to make you feel like Rainbow Brite on a bad acid trip.
- Eating a lot of carrots will allow you to see in the dark: I know from experience that this is faulty science. Eating an abundance of carrots will not allow you to see in the dark, but as I learned during a brief stint on Weight Watchers after gaining 20 lbs on Paxil, it will turn the palms of your hands and soles of your feet an impressive Oompa-Loompa orange.
- I love you and your sister both the same. My sister was President of the National Honors Society and graduated second in her class. I had a tattoo and an unfortunate Donna Martin alcohol poisoning at the prom situation. I believe my parents loved us both, but there was nothing about us that was the “same”….with the exception of playing the mellophone in the marching band. But we won’t get into that.
- God’s Scorecard: According to my parents, God keeps a large notebook with Him in Heaven, keeping a running tally of your good deeds and…missteps. If your sins began to outweigh your successes, you run the risk of flying stand-by on that final flight through the Pearly Gates. While I no longer believe that God’s notebook will secure me a place in Heaven, it did land me a few years in therapy.
- The Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa: Ok, it’s tough to avoid Santa, but a large rabbit that comes into your house and leaves you chocolate eggs filled with some non-descript sugar yoke filling, all to celebrate Jesus rising from the dead? I mean, WTF??
Now that I am a parent myself, not only do I recognize the lies I tell my kids, but I get to see the other side of the equation: the “why”…the justification…the method behind the madness. I have decided that my Mommy Misnomers fall roughly into the following categories:
Category #1: I Am Trying To Protect You And Your Sweet Little Soul: This is probably the primary (and often necessary and appropriate) reason parents lie. Sometimes the whole truth is just not developmentally appropriate for kids, so we mask/gloss over the truth in order to ensure their sense of safety and emotional well- being. (“God put you in my tummy.” “We lock the doors to keep the wind out.”)
Category #2: Deer In Headlights: This is when your child asks you a question you were not ready for and you respond by acting cheerful and stupid and/or changing the subject. (Kid: “Mom, when are you going to die?” Parent: “Well, I hope not today, because we are making MEATBALLS for dinner! Yum!”)
Category #3: Do As I Say Not As I Do: I would think the most confusing message we give our kids are the ones we don’t adhere to ourselves. (“Don’t swear.” “Don’t gossip.” “Don’t read/stand/talk while you are eating.”) I am not saying we should stop doing these things, but maybe we could try not being so obvious about it.
Category #4: Parental Parroting: This is when you unconsciously repeat lies your parents said to you without any thought about the actual accuracy of your statement- or if you even believe it. (“Don’t use your teeth!” “Sitting too close to the TV causes blindness.” “If you sit still the bee won’t sting you.”)
Category #5: I Am Too Tired To Deal With Your Honeybadger Bullshit: You know what I am talking about. (“The playground is closed today.” “Caillou was cancelled.” “Daddy ate the rest of the Halloween candy.”)
So while SOME lie telling may come with the territory of parenting, there is a fine line between protecting and brainwashing controlling. The thing is, kids are probably wise to our lies more often then we think, evidenced by the fact that they end up lying to us for similar reasons (Categories #1,2, and 5).
So don’t waste your credibility on a stupid lie (“Your face is going to freeze like that!”). Save it for a good one, like…..
“Mommy and Daddy are taking a nap.”