Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Pants on Fire?

I have just read a really good op. ed. piece by a woman who writes for our local paper on raising kids which discusses, among other things, the lies we tell our kids. One thing I promised myself when I became a mother is that I would not tell my children 'white' lies, the untruths that adults supply to keep the little ones tranquil. This determination was sourced from an experience of my own childhood.

When I was eight, my grandfather, who shared a house with us and who was my best buddy, suffered a traumatic stroke. This was the 1940's, and so he was nursed at home. I vividly recall being taken in to see him in his bed, with his face all slack, and that he could not speak. I was there because I had demanded, insisted, nagged and whined to be allowed to see him. Within the next couple of days, he died. I was in bed but when I heard thumping and footsteps on the stairs leading to his upstairs apartment, I called out to my mother to ask what the noise was. She told me that Grandpa was worse and that he was being taken to hospital. The next morning my parents told me the truth. I still vividly recall the outrage I felt. I was convinced that I should have been there and that my mother had unjustly shut me out.

Believe me, I am not the most truthful of souls. Ask me how I like your new haircut or whether the colour of the house trim looks good with the brick and I will string you a line with the very best. If I'm late to a meeting or late with a report, I can (at my age!) come up with a fine and figmentary story. But to my daughters, if the dog had to be euthanized or their father hospitalized, I told the unvarnished truth. Last fall we had Little Stuff staying with us for a few days and one of the morons from the Hunt Camp next to us fired at a grouse from the road in front of our house. (Illegal in Ontario to shoot from the road, by the way.) I told her the truth, which was that the man had shot a bird. When she asked me why he had done that, I told her that he wanted to eat it. I was not sure that this was true, but the guys at the Hunt Camp eat what they shoot in the general way of things (and gift us with stuff like spiced bear sausage), so I thought that was justified.

Her three year old self took this very calmly. We had, in fact, had chicken for supper and she happily gnawed on a drumstick. The concept of bird as food was not a big issue. In my experience, children hear the truth with respect and process it better than the white lies told to protect them. If the cat is run over by a car and you tell a preschooler that it has gone away, I would just about bet that the kid will bring the matter up day after day after day -- 'is kitty back yet?' -- until you want to pound your head on the kitchen counter.

It's a big issue. It goes into a lot of areas where we all have our fortresses and out insecurities. ('What is truth? said jesting Pilate. And would not stay for an answer.) And I am pretty sure I would be lying if I said I had *never* told my children a lie. But I did try. And I still do.
Your haircut? It looks as if it would be really easy to take care of in hot weather. And the paint is truly dramatic with the brick.


  1. With you entirely on telling the truth. Kids know. One way or another.



  2. Interesting piece - I can't say I agree with the author that I'd like someone to "protect me" from the truth, although I just ignore a lot of stuff I can't do anything about. Worse.

    I am in a bit of a fix now because we're sending our daughter to a Catholic school, and I'm not sure I'm totally comfortable with it. At first I rationalized it because the moral tenets are solid, but the faith part? Not so sure.

  3. This is a tough one for me b/c I don't know when the meter should be turned on. My daughter is two. She has no concept of death. When I squash an ant in her presence, do I explain death to her? To me, that seems like over-kill (pardon the pun). I agree that lying isn't always advantageous from the child's perspective but there are huge issues of context from the parent's eye-view.

  4. Mad, I think you temper the wind to the shorn lamb.

    But please note that I think what Chani said is entirely true -- the child knows more than you think because she retains a frighteningly detailed memory of many things, returns to that memory and reworks it in the light of her growing experience.

    I try to tell as much truth as I think the child can manage -- (eg, the man wants to eat the bird).