Poems & Essays

03 Aug

When Parents Lie

General/Column No Response

I remember one morning while breastfeeding my first child at two a.m., I decided to craft a makeshift parenting manifesto on the back of a BabysRUs receipt. Maybe it was the author in me asserting her presence in a world utterly dominated by onesies and insomnia. But the first commandment read something like this:

I shall never lie to my child.

As optimistic and delusional as I was that night, I can’t help but think how entirely unrealistic a statement it was. And after fifteen years of parenting and two relatively happy and healthy children, I would like to provide a generous rebuttal. Of course honesty is an important virtue, but in reality every parent needs a few lies up his or her sleeve.

Lie when mythical creatures are involved. Growing up in a Jewish household, I didn’t believe in Santa Claus and was heavily threatened by my parents to never reveal the truth to my friends, even if I got really mad at them. As my children grew up in a mixed-faith household, I saw how enchanted they were with the jolly fat man dropping off gifts, so I kept my mouth shut. When my daughter found fairy wings in our backyard, we pressed them into one of her scrapbooks, and I never questioned my son’s gnome bites that kept him home from school. Twice. I mean is there anything more charming than a child’s imagination?

Lie when your children are stretching into their own people. Let your children pick out their own outfits, and look the other way when stripes and polka dots feud. Tell them it’s awesome they’ve brought a slug to dinner even if it grosses you out. Sure, you may despise the mess it makes when your little one figures out how to disassemble appliances with no chance of reassembly. Nod your head and say it’s cool, because they deserve every change to become who they want to be.

Lie when their health is involved. Despite my irrational fear of doctors, particularly needles, I tell my children it just won’t hurt that much or be too scary. I tell them that a pinprick doesn’t last, but a healthy body stays with you forever. When my daughter had minor surgery, I told her that nothing would go wrong. Ok, so maybe that lie was a little more for me than her, but it still needed to be said, and we both felt better.

Lie when their heart is involved. Their first heartbreak won’t be their last. People will fling cruel words, and the world will kick them when they’re down. You will wipe away groundhog tears that return again and again, but if they’ve got hope, they’ll be ok. So you kiss them and say good wins over bad and karma’s a bitch and keep your arms open for the next time. Because, you know, hope.

Lie when the truth would hurt…and stick. After a nasty divorce following years of an abusive relationship, it hurt my heart not to say exactly what I thought of their father. Every smile, every pretense that I was still friends with my ex took a little bite out of my self-esteem. But telling the truth would have irreparably wounded them. It would have shown them a nasty piece of the world years before they were old enough to understand it. Sometimes swallowing the truth feels like a mouthful of razorblades, but you do it anyway.

Lie when the world’s limits are bullshit. Memorize the phrase ‘you can do anything,’ and generously repeat on the days they feel the worst. Give them the confidence and courage to try it all, to love too much, to fight too hard. Infuse them with a brand of passion that is relentless, and they’ll enjoy the world more for it. Down the road, if they have children, that passion will be infectious and generations will thank you for it.

And let them know that the world’s truths don’t always tell the full story. Sometimes, it’s ok to lie.


Sarah Clayville’s work has appeared in the Threepenny Review, Literary Orphans, and StoryChord, among other journals. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and currently works as an American Literature and Creative Writing teacher. Read her work at SarahSaysWrite.com or follow her on Twitter @SarahSaysWrite.

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