Let’s face it, we tell our children a lot of lies. Not just Santa and Easter bunny type; but bigger, more destructive lies that linger long into adult life. Seems like many of these are really our own wishes, proven false in the course of our own experience. You know the ones… You can expect life to be fair, for people to play by the rules. Hard work is recognized, rewarded. Bad always loses to good. Looks don’t matter, it’s what inside that counts. Happily ever after exists for everyone. The American dream, doing better than the generation before, is still within reach.
We want to believe.
One of the hardest things as a parent is to judge when to be honest with a child, and what to be honest about. Some things, Santa and the tooth fairy for example, are issues we all confront and are not at all what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about bigger lies… lies that seem all too easy to tell… lies about talent or potential, about circumstances between parents or family, about limitations of the real world, about the very real unfairness of life.
As a parent it’s so hard to know…
- Do you lie to build confidence or encourage a kid to step out of their comfort zone?
- Do you lie to spare feelings, save wasted effort and bigger disappointment later on?
- Do you lie to protect a child from a reality they are too young to understand? (Supplying answers honestly, without bias, when they are old enough to comprehend and process the details.)
- Do you lie to frighten (manipulate) a child into doing something you KNOW is to their benefit?
I don’t have any of these answers, though I suspect it changes from child to child and circumstance to circumstance. Kids are so very different… even within families. For that matter, so are parents and our own experiences and comfort level with honesty. For myself I’ve tried to walk a fine line between hard, soul crushing truth and realistic confidence building — after all, you don’t want your child to be the last one to know.
Telling the truth to anyone you love, especially when that truth is hard and hurtful, is the worst part of parenting… the part that’s never covered in the baby/child rearing books. It’s terrible to look (or not) them in the eye and say (or not) the words, to realize they know the truth and hurt from it. Honest assessments or answers are terribly painful, something few parents want to deliver to the child they love so dearly; but they bring that child knowledge that in the end will be of value.
Knowing this does not help, truth-telling to a child is still a hard, bitter lesson. A terrible experience for any parent.