I Lie to My Kids for Their Own Good

I Lie to My Kids for Their Own Good

One mom explains why she thinks it’s okay to lie to her kids sometimes.


By: Leah Maxwell

For the most part, I try to parent by example. I want my kids to love reading, so I make sure they see me read, and I want my kids to eat their vegetables, so I make sure I eat mine too -- that sort of thing. When it comes to lying, though, my philosophy is a little more “do as I say and not as I do.” I want my children to be upstanding, honest human beings, yet there are some occasions when I not only lie straight to their faces but do so with relish.

It sounds terrible, I know, but I’d be shocked to hear that any of my parent-friends have a completely clean record. We’ve all lied to our children about something, right? Maybe it’s perpetuating belief in the Tooth Fairy, maybe it’s refusing a trip to the swimming pool because it’s “closed,” maybe it’s telling the kids they can’t watch a movie because the TV’s mysteriously broken (at least until the grown-ups want to watch some primetime).

I’m not saying all lying is OK and that we can tell our kids whatever we want, regardless of the consequences, but I do think lying has its high points. I won’t, for instance, deflect an uncomfortable but teachable moment and tell my sons their pet goldfish went to live on a farm when, in fact, it died and went to the sewer by way of the toilet, but I will gleefully and unapologetically spin tales about Santa Claus for as long as my kids are willing to listen because I think holiday magic is good for the soul. When they ask me to tell them the truth about pixies and aliens and where babies come from, I’m a little more noncommittal, preferring to volley that ball back to their side of the court with a graceful, “Well, what do you think?”

I once told my sons we couldn’t go to an indoor play center they love (and I hate) because it was “closed.” While the lie worked on them, I felt awful about it. The difference between this and the “good” lies I’ve told, I think, is that in this case, I was lying for my sake and not for theirs. I was lying so I didn’t have to be the bad guy who says "no," so I didn’t have to bear the brunt of their disappointment. It was a selfish lie rather than a generous one, like those that honor who they are as children who very much want to believe in magic and miracles.

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When I consider lying to my kids, I try to weigh factors that will help me make a good decision. Is the lie well-intentioned, innocent fun, or is it a betrayal of trust? Am I giving my kids the gift of believing or am I playing them for fools and having a laugh at their expense? Will the lie benefit them or only me? Do they need to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or is an approximation good enough, at least for the time being?

Sure, there’s a chance my kids might feel duped when they hear the full story about whatever lies I’ve told, but I hope eventually they’ll understand why I did it. I mean, I feel a little bad that my 5-year-old thinks an owl delivered a real magic wand to our doorstep just for him (truth: his father made it in the basement), but I also know he’ll figure it all out eventually and probably won’t blame me too much because it was fun while it lasted. If this is the kind of thing my kids will resent me for when they’re older, I think I’m still coming out ahead.

Time to fess up. What do you lie to your kids about?



Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two small boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/kali9

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