Sometimes the truth is gross.
I know this because I hail from the too-much-information school of parenting. I can’t help it. As a reporter and a storyteller, I see every innocent question as an opportunity to further the wide-eyed wonderer’s understanding of this wacky world.
But my bent toward full disclosure often backfires, leaving my kids slightly confused and thoroughly disgusted: “Jeez, Mom, I just asked what a wart is. Did we really have to talk about genital disease?”
Still, I’d rather err on the side of unflinching truth than have my kids thinking that I hide facts from them, or worse, that I outright lie. Honesty is the holy grail in our household, the highest of all virtues, the one safeguard that will keep you out of trouble even when all your other behavior – greed, spite, laziness – has been seriously uncool.
But not all families share that value, as a Dallas mother proved recently. The woman helped her 6-year-old daughter write the winning essay in a contest for Hannah Montana concert tickets. The essay explained how the girl’s father, a sergeant in Iraq, was killed by a roadside bomb. Contest judges awarded her four tickets, airfare, accommodations and a makeover – which is really the very least you could do for a girl who lost her daddy to a senseless, and ceaseless, war.
The problem, though, is that she actually didn’t. The father is alive and living in Texas. He’s not a soldier. Never was. When confronted with the truth, the girl’s mother explained that “we did whatever we could do to win.” (Hey, at least she’s honest.) The prize was rescinded and awarded to another contestant whose mother, presumably, was not a devious cheat.
I suppose there’s a place in every family for lies – only let’s not call them “untruths” or “fibs,” shall we? If you can agree that lies are lies, I can agree that they’re sometimes useful. I’m actually a proponent of the Lie-to-Spare-Someone’s-Feelings, for instance. No one ever died from a well-placed “Wow, thanks, Aunt Ann, it’s … really … something!”
I’ve been known, too, to partake of the Lie-By-Omission (i.e., not telling your toddler that the dreaded babysitter is coming because, um, he didn’t ask) and the Lie-For-Your-Own-Good (i.e., “Unfortunately, we’re all out of Doritos. Would you like some wheat toast instead?”)
Sometimes we lie to young children to help them fit a new fact into their narrow system of categorization. Calling a bran muffin a cupcake, for example, simply means “It’s neither cheese nor vegetables. You should eat it.” And calling a tampon a Band-Aid is just our way of saying “Don’t worry about it. It has good reason to be in my purse.”
Ask parents and they’ll tell you the hardest question to answer honestly is this one: “Is it going to hurt?” But I think our real moment of truth comes when our kids catch us lying to others: sneaking sodas into a movie theater in our purse, telling a tele-marketer that we’re in the middle of dinner.
I remember once hearing my dad tell his boss that he couldn’t come to work because his father-in-law had died. And while it was true, it had happened three years earlier – and my dad hadn’t cared much for the guy even then.
But if lying in front of your children is bad, then helping your children lie – and doing it not to, like, fight global warming, but for seats at a cheesy Disney pop concert – is worse.
When my son saw the headline “Mother Lied to Win Hannah Montana Contest,” he asked me about it and I told him – every ugly detail, as is my habit. But I was heartened to discover, in his reaction, that parents’ calculated lies can be even more disgusting than our uncensored truths.
“Wow,” he said. “That’s kind of sick.”