Santa Maria Sun / Humor
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 18
To lie or not to lie?Is it wiser to lie to a child or expose the heart-wrenching truth?
BY SHELLY CONE
With parenting comes a heady sense of power and subsequently lots of responsibility. You have the power to shape young minds, but what I’m really talking about is using that power responsibly. That means knowing how and when to deceive your kids. Recently, I’ve had to grapple with the moral dilemma posed by that very ability.
When is it better to lie to your kids? Is it OK to lie to them to keep their fantasies alive? “Sure, Superman can come to your party.”
Is it OK to use deception when it’s to your advantage? “No, honey, that wasn’t a cookie I put in my mouth. It was a yucky fiber bar. Blech.”
After four kids, we thought we had a handle on when to feed into their fantasies, when to tell the truth, and when to outright lie. Deception about babysitters, dead family pets, zombies, or eating vegetables: No. Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Darth Vader: Yes.
We would do this until the age of self-doubt, when they begin to question for themselves whether they still believe what they think they believe. Case in point: My two older boys began to doubt the existence of the Tooth Fairy. Rather than try to re-convince them, we decided to confirm their suspicions before their fourth grade buddies broke the news. All was well until somebody lost a tooth.
I gently reminded my son of the futility of placing his tooth under his pillow because there was no Tooth Fairy. His quiet, blank expression told me he hadn’t thought of the consequences of not believing.
From that point on, my kids thought hard about what they publicly believed in. The Easter Bunny? He’s still as real as the grass on which he hides those colorful eggs. And Santa? You betcha he’s real. While watching a documentary about UFOs and alien visitors, one of them asked, “Do they bring anything? Like do they give you stuff when they visit?”
“You mean aliens?” I asked. “No, I don’t think so.”
“OK then, I don’t think they exist,” came the answer.
So the truth/deception balance was working well in our house until one day at dinner when one of my sons dropped a bomb on us.
“What age will I be when I finish college?” he asked.
“That depends. People graduate at different ages and different rates,” I answered.
“Well, I need to know, because there’s something I want to do first,” he said.
When pressed, he decided to shut down: “I don’t want to tell you now.” Of course, after that we had to know. So he stood up at the table and announced with the utmost sincerity, “I’d like to go to wizarding school before I start college.”
Maybe his decision was partly our fault. After all, we have always told our children they could be whatever in the world they want to be. A 10-year-old Internet entrepreneur? Sure. An astronaut? Of course. Filmmaker? Definitely. A Tony Stark, genius, billionaire playboy? Why not?
So in essence, we were now forced with correcting our teaching to be, “You could be anything you want. Except that.”
We didn’t know quite how to answer. Surely, at his age, he couldn’t possibly believe that that was a real career track, or that wizarding schools exist, or that even wizards do, for that matter. And unfortunately, that’s about exactly what we said to him.
His face instantly melted into the most excruciatingly crushing manifestation of heartbroken sorrow. He believed it with all of the pureness of his heart of gold. He had been practicing spells (they didn’t work) and researching schools (that scared me more) on the Internet, and we crushed his belief.
This was unknown territory. In an attempt to fix it, we frantically tried harder to dispel the idea of wizards as simply fantasy. Everything we said, once out of our mouths, just sounded more hurtful.
We had to stop and try another tack. We explained the many other ways he could indulge his interest in wizards. He could become an illusionist like David Blaine or Houdini. He could become an actor and play the role of a wizard, like in Harry Potter. Or he could write a book about wizards.
None of this appealed to him. We had handled it badly, and he was heartbroken.
So I wonder, is it better to allow them to believe in what they want to believe until they find out otherwise on their own and get hurt? Or do you, as a parent, break the news even though you know they’ll be hurt in the process? Don’t we all indulge each other in a little fantasy? My kids pretend they don’t mind the silly games I make up for them to play on Sunday drives or at the dinner table. My husband lets me think he likes my vegan dishes even when I suspect he’d rather have a hunk of meatloaf. I choose to believe both of those things—and is there anything wrong with that? Is it any different than a child on the cusp of middle school believing that one day he could be a wizard?
We managed to soothe hurt feelings and—hopefully—give him something to think about. We even offered to take him to the library to do some more factual—and supervised—research for himself. Then, my husband used a little magic of his own: “Who wants to go to the beach tomorrow?” Everyone froze and stared at him for a second before hands went in the air and cheering began. Just like that—poof. I don’t know; maybe there is such a thing as magic.
Arts Editor Shelly Cone is now practicing to get her brooms and mops to do the housework for her. No progress yet. Contact her at email@example.com.
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