I respect truth. Try to teach my kids about the pitfalls and consequences of lying. And have done pretty well.
Teaching them. Not me.
Before I had children, I read a lot about parents who treated their children like mini adults, and told them the truth about Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy, and about evil in the world. I respected this position, but also thought to temper it with imagination and magic. A nice balance.
When I became a parent, I realized I lied for survival. A lot. I also lied to protect their innocence. Children grow up so quickly nowadays, and once they even enter the realm of the dreaded SCHOOL BUS, it’s an uphill battle.
My children know there is evil in the world. We spoke about Martin Luther King and how he was shot, and my son asked a lot of questions about bad people and if they’d shoot me too. We struggled through the conversation, but I feel it is important for my boys to know there are dangers in the world. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t let anyone touch you. Go with your gut, even if you feel silly.
So, imagine my surprise when my little one walks out into the living room with tears in his eyes and announces he has to give away all his superhero toys he loves more than anything. I cuddle him and rock him and ask why.
“Because I was told superheroes don’t really exist.”
His brother, of course. Sigh. Usually, this would be the part I eased my way into the prickly tunnel of truth/untruth and come up with something in the middle. But he cried his heart out and I knew something he believed in – something good and pure – could not be taken away if I could help it.
So…I told him they were real and his brother was wrong. I told him he didn’t see them because they were scattered all over the world fighting different battles. I also told his older brother they were real, and though he looked a bit doubtful, he believed me too and stopped torturing the little one. My youngest calmed down, put back his toys, and I thought the whole episode was over.
We went to FAO Schwartz and Captain America and Spiderman were there taking photos. Of course, my boys freaked out and we got our photos taken. Perfect day.
Later that week, alone of course (why would my husband EVER be around when I needed him?) my son asked me the following:
“Mommy, was Captain America and Spiderman real in the toy store?”
He frowned fiercely. “No, mommy. I want the truth.”
Images of “You can’t handle the truth!” from Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men flickered in my head. He gazed at me with hard eyes. “Is he really real? Or just someone pretending to be Captain America. Don’t lie!”
I choked on my spit. “Why do you think I’m lying?”
“Because I don’t think superheroes are real.”
I confess. I just couldn’t handle it at that moment. So I told him they were real.
Fast forward a week. We were watching something on the television and my son asks me about Iron Man’s suit. My husband – el ignorato – shouts down the hallway, “Well, it doesn’t matter buddy – Iron Man isn’t real.”
Dead silence. My boys stare at me with horror. I sprint to the bathroom and grit my teeth. “Why did you do that?” I hiss. “I told them they were real!”
He blinks. “Why’d you do that? Everyone knows superheroes are from comics. Geez, why’d you lie to them like that?”
I whispered to my husband that our son was devastated and I didn’t want to pull that away from him at this young age. Not yet. He shrugged then yelled out, “OK, never mind, they’re real.” Then shut the door.
I ended up confessing that the heroes in the toy store were representatives and not the REAL one. And then my oldest asked the final question:
“Mommy, why didn’t you just tell the truth?”
I. Don’t. Know.
Protection of innocence? Probably. The need to believe in a little magic? Definitely. But I told my son that I had made a big mistake – and that I really didn’t know they weren’t real until now (white lie) – and that I’m sorry if he felt like I lied to him and would be more careful in the future.
Because there’s also the issue of trust between parents and children, and sometimes it’s a fine line to walk.
Do you tell the truth to your kids – even if you want them to keep believing in something?
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