A long time ago, when I was young and before I realised that parenthood was an epic, never ending battle of endurance and wills, I set myself some pretty high parenting standards. These included, to name but a few; I will never letting my children have chocolate, crisps or McDonalds, I will with my children every day, we will sit up to the dining table for every meal, I will teach them another language by the age of five, I will teach them to swim, I will plant trees with them, I will only let them watch an hour of television a day (and only the BBC channels), I will always tell them the truth, to name but a few. Funnily enough, I’ve not managed to maintain all these standards as rigorously as I’d hoped but the one that I’ve been most surprised about is the “always tell the truth” one. Out of all of them it was this one that I was most sure I would always uphold.
Now, at this point dear reader, I want to assure you that I am not in the habit of telling my children great big, fat porkies at every opportunity or that I have competely lowered my standards. No. I have simply realised that it is extremely difficult to raise a child without having to tell the odd “white” lie or two. It all began with that old chestnut, “Where do babies come from?” My eldest, R, is a naturally inquisitive, bright, sensitive and very open little thing and she asked me this delicate question around the age of three. Before I answered I had one of those flash-forward moments seen in the movies in which I tell her the complete and absolute gory truth, complete with all the proper vocabulary, only to be pulled aside by her teacher at nursery a few days later to be told that she had retold all the other children in her class the graphic details of baby making, using the nursery Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy dolls to demonstrate the finer points. Cue screaming children and horrified mothers. So, I told her my censored version of the truth, a version she still believes to this day. My discomfort at telling her the truth surprised me but I believed, and still believe, that she wasn’t and isn’t ready for it yet and actually there is no harm in her not knowing yet. I’m happy to tell her the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (so help me God) but only when I feel she is ready to understand it.
More recently, I have to admit that there have been a few more “white” lies although these have come from a less considered and more exasperated place than the where-do-babies-come-from question. R likes to keep things (*sigh*) and by keep, I mean hoard. I’m not sure when I should start to worry about this but I’m taking the firm stance for now that she will grow out of the habit of keeping every stone, leaf, lolly stick, bottle, tissue, drawing, cardboard box, magazine, plaster, broken loom band and headless doll that she has ever come across. So, when she asks me where the “bus” is that she made using a felt tip pen and a practically flat old cardboard box one rainy afternoon I told her that I had put it in the garage instead of telling her the truth – that I put it in the recycling box ages ago. I honestly felt that I would be struck down by a bolt of lightening as I said those words but I was willing to take the risk rather than suffer the drama and noise of the inevitable tantrum that would follow if I had told her the truth. A lightening bolt would be easier to deal with.
I once saw a very amusing thread on Twitter about the lies that people tell their children which were so wild and, in some cases, cruel that I felt better about my fibs about where most of her “collection” has ended up. Classics include “the dog went to stay at a friends” and “the ice cream man only plays his tune when he’s run out of ice-cream. The one that makes me feel like I may be in the running for mother of the year is the one that was overheard in a shop in America. The mother was heard to tell her child that every time he touched something on the shelf a kitten died. Now that’s harsh.
So, what about you? Do you tell your children white lies? Or do you, like my younger, more naïve self, feel that you should always tell your children the truth?