Readers keep the popular thread going:
I think lying to kids is one of the many things that affluent parents over-think. I promise that the mother who just told her 4 year old there is no Santa that her kid is not sitting around contemplating the social and economic implications of children without coats and where is Santa in their lives. Yes, she will likely tell her peers there is no Santa, but they won’t believe her because they are in the developmental stage of magical thinking. She may know Santa is not real but she likely wonders if her toys come alive when she isn’t watching them, or some similar age appropriate example of magical thinking. Does her Mom plan to root out every magical thought she has and squash it for the sake of feeling like she is honest with her child?
Choosing to out Santa as a fake is a legitimate parenting choice, but it doesn’t need to be wrapped in high minded, socially conscious explanations. “I am uncomfortable lying to my child” will do. We give to an orphanage (yes, they still existing the US) in lieu of exchanging gifts with adult family members, and not once did our kids, who actively participate in the process, question why Santa is not providing for those children. It is possible for them to believe in Santa AND recognize the hardships faced by others.
To me, by far the most disturbing aspect of the Santa “lie” is the moral angle. The lesson is that kids should only be good for a material reward. Forget developing one’s conscience, or doing the right thing, or learning to make ethical choices to become a better human being – it’s about the cash/material payoff.
My husband and I are so incredibly committed to lying to our children about Santa Claus that we are traveling to Lapland next week with them – they are 9, 6 and 3 – to see the real Santa (as well as the northern lights, and to play with reindeer, etc):
This is mostly about the magic of childhood, storytelling and human imagination, and very little about lying in the true sense of that word. I prefer to think about it as “extending a fantasy” but I also see how it can be taken as lying. It depends on the perceiver of the extension/lie and how they wish to define lying for themselves.
If you lie because your kid is going to react badly when you tell them Santa isn’t real, they’ll still react badly when they find out it. It will probably be worse for them because it will be public or they’ll be older and even more embarrassed. But maybe it will be better for you because you won’t have to be there and at least it means you don’t have to deal with it right now. Sometimes parenting well means confronting uncomfortable or painful situations with your kids rather than leaving them to deal with it on their own without you. Sure it is easier to tell them you never did drugs or had sex but doing that tells them drugs and sex are shameful and leaves them to navigate those issues by themselves.
Another shifts gears:
This is a great thread. I’d like to make it even better by tying it in with another great thread, the cannabis closet.
Being a long-time casual smoker, I have worried for years about my son asking me about drug use and how I would respond (he is now 11). I have always believed in telling the age-appropriate truth when possible, but using a white lie when required, so was genuinely conflicted on the matter.
Fast forward to election 2012, when Washington state legalized weed. Hooray! During that time, we had many conversations with our son about this issue, basically reiterating the arguments you have made at the Dish. He seemed unfazed about the whole topic. Sure enough, about two weeks later, my kiddo walks in on me as I’m blowing smoke out, pipe and lighter in hand. He looks at me quizzically and asks what I’m doing. While internally freaking out, I calmly say “nothing, we’ll talk about it later.” He looks at me with a blend of mischief and glee, then says: “Moooooom, are you lying to me?” I repeat that we’ll talk about it later at bed time, and to please give me a moment (translate: get the hell outta my bedroom!). The little shit knows he’s busted me and is relishing it!
We had a long conversation at bedtime about marijuana use. I told him I used to smoke pot when I was younger even though it was illegal, framing it as “people sometimes make poor choices”. I then said I had quit years ago (white lie #1), but now that it’s legal, I decided it was OK to use it occasionally (white lie #2 – I smoke almost daily). We ended up having an in-depth conversation about drug use, truth-telling, being safe, and stupid laws that the government sometimes passes. He thought it was all interesting and a bit funny, especially the part where he busted me. In the end, he said he was less concerned that he saw me smoking pot than the idea that I was hiding something from him.
Since then, we often discuss the new legalization and how it will unfold. The whole episode worked beautifully to address and demystify marijuana use for my son. Given the frankness of our conversations, I hope he’ll remember this as he grows into the teen years, when we know most kids start experimenting with drugs. The conversation that night, cuddled up in his bed, was very open, loving, and sweet. In the end I’m glad it happened the way it did.
1. The truth is WONDERFUL.
2. The truth can FUCK YOU UP.
We adults can wrestle with the moral implications of this because we’re developed enough to handle some (but not all) of the onslaughts that the truth brings down on us. We’ve felt the highs and the lows of unvarnished truths. We’ve had valuable life experiences that eventually translated into wisdom. We’ve got perspective. Kids don’t have that. Padding the truth is fine, but it’s not always enough. Sam Harris’s one exception was a lie, not an evasion. And that’s fine. Telling a tiny person who has no concept of human depravity that there are people who cut each other’s heads off and cause them to be dead forever is a HARSH fucking trip.
But you don’t have to wallow in it and fuck with their minds to amuse yourself. Just don’t be a dick. Simple enough.
One that note:
Speaking of lying to kids, I always loved this one from “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey”:
One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. “Oh, no,” I said. “Disneyland burned down.” He cried and cried, but I think that deep down, he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late.
One more reader:
The only truth you will ever tell your kids that remains absolutely true forever is: I love you. I will always love you. There’s nothing you can do to change that. That’s the big Truth, and it’s not as easy to get through to your kids as you think. That’s the Truth that’s going to get your kids coming to you when they’re in trouble. That’s the Truth that’s going to keep them coming home.