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May 24 2011

I Lie to My Kids

By at 3:47 pm

"Honey, there's no ice cream in there. The kids are just listening to nice music." Painting by Jeff Zimmermann

I lie to my daughters. I’m shameless about it. I lie to them at least once a day (and that’s on a good day). There are so many great reasons to lie to your kids—a little fib can help avoid (or end) a tantrum, it can be a useful way to quickly set a limit or encourage a behavior, it’s often easier than giving the real explanation, and let’s be honest folks, it’s just plain fun. That’s right, sometimes I lie to my kids because it makes me happy.

Between toddler meltdowns, early-morning infant wake-ups, poopy diapers, meal refusals, and constant requests for the “Wheels on the Bus” song, these kids are running the show. If a little white lie makes me feel like I have the upper hand every once in a while, I’m all for it.

(Just to be clear, I lie to both the toddler and the baby. I know that my 11-month-old doesn’t understand, but the 2-year-old sure does, and I want her to know that I mistreat both my children equally.)

Before I educate you on the art of deception, let’s consider what Judaism has to say on the matter. Yes, we all know not bearing false witness is one of the Big Ten, but honoring thy mother and father is also high on that list, and it’s not like I’m getting a whole lot of that around here these days. (And if you really believe that two wrongs don’t make a right, then you clearly don’t live with toddlers.) However, there may be another loophole for those of us with our pants on fire. The Talmud tells us that deception is permissible for a few reasons, including in the interest of peace. I can think of no higher purpose for my lies than peace, even just a few minutes. Or even 60 seconds. Really.

So, rest assured you that you can fib away, and still be a Good Jew. Here are some of my favorite lies:

1.  “Yes, dear, we’ll do it tomorrow.” In our house, tomorrow is toddler-talk for “sometime in the future” and Mommy-talk for “never.” By the time tomorrow rolls around, the kid has already forgotten about the zoo or ice cream or going shopping for Hello Kitty underwear, or whatever it is she was obsessing about the day before. On the off chance she hasn’t forgotten, I just trot out the lie again. It’s quite handy really.

2. “We’re all out of [plain noodles, strawberries, crackers—insert toddler’s favorite food here].” Now, this isn’t always a lie, but it often is. It’s a great way to avoid power struggles over food, because if we just don’t have the food, well, it’s not Mommy’s fault—that’s just the way it is. This lie is often followed by, “Yes, Mommy will go to the store tomorrow.”

3. “You can’t play with that toy because it needs to take a nap right now.” This one is a lifesaver when the little anklebiter wants to play with (ie., not share) her favorite toy during a play date. It works every time

4. “Caillou eats eggs.” Now, obviously you can tailor this particular fabrication to whatever whiny little TV brat your child is currently obsessed with, along with the rejected food du jour. I’m struggling to get protein (and vegetables and really anything that isn’t noodles, berries, or crackers) into the kid, but now she inhales eggs like their ice cream. Speaking of which…

5. “The ice cream shop is closed today.” This lie is also closely related to “Actually, sweetie, that’s a music truck that just pulled up to the park on this hot day. The kids are all lined up to hear the pretty music.” (I can’t take credit for this one—I got the idea from a friend, and I think it’s brilliant.)

Now, if you’re really committed to deceiving your children, you may need to utilize some advanced techniques. My sister (who is a master in the art of lying to children, and a true inspiration to me) once had our brother call her son and pretend to be a fireman. He told our nephew that all firemen take naps. The kid was asleep within 20 minutes. Genius. Pure genius.

So, there you have it. I lie to my kids, and God willing, I’ll be lying to them for years to come. But at least I’m honest about it.


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