Lies My Mother Never Told Me

Do/did you lie to your kids?

You’re going to say “no” right off the bat, but did you perpetuate the Santa myth? Do you keep bad news from them? Do you shelter them from unpleasantness?

I never believed in Santa as a kid, no matter how hard my parents tried to get me to. They even had our neighbour dress up once to try and ho-ho-ho his way into my heart. I was about four and this is one of my first memories. I distinctly remember feeling like they were trying to pull some kind of trick at my expense because I knew absolutely that it was the neighbour in that costume. I couldn’t figure out what was going on and felt really upset.

I don’t know what was wrong with me as a child that I had no capacity for fantasy. I wasn’t unimaginative, but my imagination didn’t run to princesses, monsters, fairies or wizards. I would never have been interested in Harry Potter or Twilight. I liked stories about real people doing real things.

 XUP Jr., on the other hand, wholeheartedly embraced the entire Santa thing; the tooth fairy thing; dragons, sprites, elves – you name it. I never did anything to encourage it. She picked it up from friends, TV, books, whatever and stubbornly believed, no matter what I said.

“Don’t you believe in Santa, Mummy?”

 “No.”

 “Why not? He’s so good and nice and brings you presents if you believe in him.”

 “I just don’t. But you can if you want to.”

I could never bring myself to be mean enough to flat out tell her she was delusional. So, she believed in Santa until the year she turned 13. Freaked me out.

“Shut UP! You still believe Santa is going to bring you presents?”

“Ya! All my friends say I’m a baby and that Santa isn’t real, but I know he is because he brought me those slippers that I really wanted when I was 7 and I know you’d never get them for me.” (XUP Jr. always had weird things like slippers and pencils and a rocking chair on her Christmas wish list.)

It was my mother who burst that bubble when she told XUP Jr. the story of how she found out that Santa wasn’t real. (Never imagining that a 13-year-old still believed in Santa). XUP Jr. was shattered and ran crying to me beating me on the chest with her fists, wailing that I’d been lying to her for years.

Anyway, the point of the story is that I’ve made it my policy never to lie or hide things from my daughter. If she asks me a question, I’ll always tell her the truth as I see it and in a way I think she’ll best understand it. If someone dies, I don’t tell her they’ve gone to heaven. I tell her some people might believe the dead person has gone to heaven and then I’ll tell her what I believe.

Once, when she was 5, there was a news story on the radio about a man who’d raped a 5-year-old child. Somehow this caught her attention and she asked me what rape was. I told her that the man had touched the child’s “nakie parts” and had really, really hurt her.  She asked why someone would want to do that to a child. I said because the man has something wrong with his brain and thought it was fun. She said, “If a man wants to have fun with a child, he should take her to a playground and push her on the swings or something.”

“Yes indeed,” I said, “But some people are not nice and don’t understand what’s fun and good and what’s wrong and bad.”

I don’t know if that was an appropriate conversation to have with a 5-year-old or not, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time. 

Do you shelter your kids from stuff – not including the obvious violent TV/movies/video games. Do you soften reality for them or avoid hard questions? Do you encourage them to believe in fantasy/magic? Why or why not?

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30 responses to “Lies My Mother Never Told Me

  1. These are exactly the sorts of things I worry about having to deal with if I ever have children. Children must be wired to be credulous. And I am not wired to feed fantasies. Something would have to give!

  2. Yes I perpetuated the Santa lie with my kids. And all the other fun lies that have been made up for kids.

    And I always want to protect my kids. But I never avoided hard questions.

    The problem with a lot of life’s hard questions is that they aren’t easy to answer. They depend on perspective.

    I would like to think that I encourage my kids to ask questions, not just of me (who am I) but of others as well. And to keep asking until they decide where they stand on a issue..

  3. My daughter in law always told her children that there was no Santa but I was with them watching a little Christmas stage show and when Santa walked onto the stage my three year old shouted, “There’s Santa!” over and over again. I think part of him believed not matter what his mother said. I like to think that there is something magical about the idea of Santa, someone who give presents secretly one special night. My kids believed in Santa. I don’t think it hurt them. They never accused me of lying to them. I enjoyed seeing their excitement at Christmas.

  4. My family had a pretty good setup for pretending Santa was real, and since I was the only child for many years, it was easy for the many adults in the family to collaborate.

    When I was eight or so, I saw some toys in the trunk that I wasn’t supposed to, then remembered them at Christmastime when the labels said they were from “Santa”. (I’m pretty sure I had snuck downstairs and opened one of them early and brought it into my room to play with before my parents woke up). I put two and two together, but it was never an issue–every child has his price!

    – RG>

  5. My brother told me there was no Santa (he’s 4 years older) and I flat out refused to believe him. I was probably 7. Two years later, Dad was working out of town and Mom was not in a good mood and took me shopping and said, “You’re old enough to know better, so just pick out what you want.” I didn’t care for that at all.
    I played the Santa thing with my daughter until she gave it up. It’s fun.
    Whether making a wish before you blow out the candles on your birthday cake or singing “Happy Birthday” to someone or hiding Easter eggs, playing the Santa Claus thing is just one more tradition that binds a common society together.

  6. We didn’t encourage the Santa myth and have gone as far as to tell him that Santa isn’t real. And he doesn’t believe us. (Or he didn’t — it’s not clear now.) So there it is…

    We don’t shy away from anything, encourage questions with real answers. But still really encourage imagination, if that takes the form of magic and fantasy so be it (as long as he knows the difference).

  7. Dave – You can’t plan for these things. You have to wait and see – let your child lead the way. I was all ready not to do Santa for my daughter because I never believed it, but then it turned out that my daughter wanted to believe it, so I went along with it. I told her I didn’t believe and that not everyone did.

    H&B2 – Ya, I think that’s probably THE most important thing – that your kids know they can come to you and tell you or ask you anything and you’re going to be straight with them and be on their side if they have to come to you with difficult.

    Dr. Monkey – I can see how losing your mum would suck a lot of the joy and magic out of childhood.

    Linda – I never told my daughter “there’s no Santa”. I just told her I didn’t believe it. But since she believed it and it made her happy, I went along with it and filled a stocking for her and helped her write her letter to Santa and pretended to eat the cookies she left out for him. I just followed her lead. For years I’d have to buy myself presents too because she’d always ask Santa for stuff for me as well. Then she’d laugh her head off when Santa brought me deodorant and laundry soap and 6 months’ worth of toothpaste and stuff like that.

    Grouchy – So, you knew there was no Santa, but you kept pretending that you did so that you’d get gifts? My daughter never even went looking for gifts and even when I accidentally left a price tag on something once, she managed to explain that away to herself (Santa ran out of this doll and so had to stop at Toys R Us to get another one just for her and probably the elves make all the toys at Toys R Us anyway because why wouldn’t they?)

    Geewits – Aw, that was mean of your mother. I always went along with my daughter’s little magic beliefs – tooth fairy, Santa (she never believed in the Easter Bunny though – she thought that was ridiculous for some reason). But I didn’t introduce them to her – she came to those beliefs all on her own from other kids or whatever. But once she did believe it, I’d stick the dollar under her pillow and fill her stocking for Christmas. She never had any doubts, until my mother told her about Santa – then she asked me if all the other stuff she believed was a lie, too. Tooth fairy, unicorns, dinosaurs. (She was relieved to know that dinosaurs, at least, were real)

    Nat – So do all his Christmas gifts say from mom and dad or do you just sneak some anonymous ones in there and let him believe they’re from Santa? I totally agree with encouraging imagination whatever form that takes …well, unless it’s creepy and dangerous, of course.

  8. i probably lie to my kids on a daily basis depending what phase they are going through. i.e. “i will vacuum up any toy i find on the floor it they aren’t picked up!” (i would never do that but they haul ass when i say it). when grace was going through a really bad stage of being positively phobic about robbers we had to lie a great deal about the reality of robbers (they can’t get into our house, we have a super-duper alarm system, they never come to our neighbourhood, etc etc). whatever gets us through the day. i don’t feel i lie about about anything too serious that will compromise them down the road. and they do believe in santa clause. i’m actually surprised gracie does, she’s way too practical for that kind of thing.
    edie believes in all things fairy-like, floaty, ethreal and beautiful. we have gone on walks looking for fairies and pee-wee’s playhouse. she’s four. it’s cute.

  9. I think all you horrible people talking about the “Santa Lie” are just going to get coal this week. I still believe and since my parents are dead now my siblings make sure Santa brings me stuff every year. I know a good deal when I find it.

  10. We have a kind of cheeky knowing thing going on with my son, and will I imagine soon have that going on with my daughter. We don’t outright admit that we’re Santa but we don’t particularly hide it either. I like to think that my kids won’t be able to pinpoint the exact moment when they realised Santa wasn’t real.

    Ditto Tooth fairy and all that guff.

    As for real hard truths that you describe- I think honesty is the right way to go, absolutely. Too many people treat their kids like little morons.

  11. I’m childfree, but when I think its good to play along with the whole “Santa myth” with kids. There is enough ugly truth in this world, we should keep children as imaginative and innocent for as long as possible.

    However, at the same time it is also essential to have a conversation at some point with them about all the scumbags in the world who hurt people, particularly children.

    They should believe in the good, but be aware of the bad.

  12. I have yet to fully analyze why I love to watch Christmas movies involving Santa, but it’s the same reason that I enjoy sci-fi movies, even though I don’t believe in those things either. Or why I liked the “X-Files” even though there are no ghosts or things like that. I am pretty sure I never believed in a mythical being, whether it was Santa or God or ghosts. My brain just doesn’t work that way. But it’s fun to imagine.

  13. Meanie – That’s a tough one – the robber thing. Because on the one hand you want them to be street-proof and understand that there are bad people out there who will trick you and hurt you and steal from you. On the other hand you want them to feel safe in their own home. I always worry about what would happen if a robber actually did come into the house (it’s not outside the realm of possibility). THEN what do you tell her?

    Bandobras – I could use some coal.

    MisssyM – Ah, so what would you do if you were Meanie (above) and your kid has a robber phobia? I don’t think I could tell her absolutely no robber will ever get into our house; maybe just somehow convince her that we are prepared for this eventuality and she doesn’t need to worry about it.

    Hannah – That sounds good in theory, but never quite works out that way in real life. No matter how hard you try to street proof your kids, they will still wander off with a stranger with a good line. “But he’s not a stranger, I’ve seen him at the playground before!!” Kids minds work in mysterious ways.

    Julia – See, I’m not even a fan of sci-fi or X-Files or myths OR Santa. Give me a good psychopathic killer any day. Now THAT fires the imagination!

  14. I do try to be as honest with my kids as possible. When they ask about uncomfortable things like death or sex, I try to give them answers as truthfully as I can without freaking them out. I do sometimes lie to them, though — I lie and say we are all out of cookies, when really I just don’t have the energy to enforce the “no,” or I lie and say that we won’t have time to do something when I’m just too tired to get on board.

    One thing that is bothering me this year is Santa. I feel like I’m lying to my kids if I encourage them to run with this idea. But all the other kids have told them about the myth, and I do remember it being a lot of fun as a child to believe. So I try to cagely dodge their questions and let them make up their own minds.

    But we do still do stockings and they each get a small “from Santa” gift, so I don’t know.

    I’m conflicted :).

  15. The only “myth” I’ve perpetuated that I regret is that the dryer eats socks. I said this for years when the socks never matched up. My friend Jayne was moving across the country and her early teen daughter decided to get rid of her collection of beanie babies. – half a garbage bag full. They’d been out in the garage a week before she remembered and invited me to take them for the kids, so I washed them. When I put them in the dryer I got the bright idea to have Nature Girl empty the dryer when the buzzer went off. When she came to me amazed and delighted with this haul of little stuffed beanbag animals she asked where did they come from and I said “I guess that dryer feels bad about stealing all my socks and gave us these in exchange!

    She’s 9.5 now and maintains that dryers offer repayment for stolen socks. She tells her friends this like other children recount the magic of Santa.

  16. The first time I learned how babies were made, I was five. An older kid next door told me, and I was horrified.

    I went running to my Mom, asking if what Brian said next door was true. Did a man really put his penis in the vagina…etc? It seemed so wrong…I just wanted to her to reassure me.

    I was totally flabbergasted, when she calmly said : “Yes…it’s true”.

    Years later, my Mom told me she wasn’t sure how to handle that question. Her instincts told her to be direct, and answer honestly.

    That approach seems to have worked. After she told me, I was satisfied and calmly walked out. There was no big deal, and I wasn’t’ traumatized for life. I had just wanted a straight answer.

  17. XUP – I didn’t “keep pretending” to get gifts, except insofar as everyone else was just pretending (‘playing’ might be a better word) that Santa exists.

    Also, one of the reasons I don’t mind participating in the Santa Claus parade (and let myself enjoy it) is that it just helps to build the lie of Santa Claus, so that kids have further to fall when they realize it ain’t true.

    Lynn – with the cookies, why don’t you try it the other way around? Just say “no,” but don’t distinguish between “no because we don’t have any” and “no because there are some but you can’t have them.”

    – RG>

  18. I feel really uncomfortable with the Santa thing. Not only does he seem to represent blatant consumerism and self-interest, but a young child’s natural instinct is to be afraid (very, very afraid!) of him. Yet I feel absolutely compelled to get the “Santa photo” done every year because that’s what we did when I was growing up. It’s completely irrational!

    As for protecting my kids. Yes, my daughter is very sensitive and thinks about things way too much, so I try to protect her by not listening or watching the news when she is around. She has plenty of time in life to hear about all the bad things that happened in a day.

    For other things, like sex, well, I’m just a bad liar so I don’t bother and instead just tell her straightforward answers. This meant that she knew the whole she-bang when she was only 3. I think the other children might have wondered what her dinosaurs were doing and why the female dinosaur’s uterus was growing large, but oh well. They say that if a child asks, they are ready to hear the answer. I’m sticking with that philosophy and hope it doesn’t result in too much therapy later in life.

  19. Lynn – A good thing to do with the awkward Santa questions is to answer: “I don’t know, what do YOU think?”

    Mudmamma – That would have been fun! I used to believe that all dogs were either black or brown and that if a dog was white it’s because it was covered with snow. I don’t know why I believed that or why I thought of it just now apropo to nothing at all, but I wanted to share that with you. No one could pursuade me that there was such a thing as white dogs. It was beyond my comprehension for some reason.

    Friar – Did you know what a vagina was at 5? Did you actually remember that information? Because I found that I answered the same questions for my daughter every couple of years. She’d remember some completely irrelevant aspect of my previous answer, but not the important stuff. Maybe she just blocked it out of her mind hoping for a better explanation in a few years. I think she has it all straight now, though.

    Grouchy – This is the very first time ever that you’ve actually said something grouchy. About bloody time.

    Julie – I think every child is different and you just have to play it by ear. As you say, if they’re old enough to ask questions and take in information they might hear on the radio or see in a newspaper or hear on the street, then they’re old enough to get an honest answer — though, of course geared toward their level of understanding.

  20. First: There is no Santa? Well that explains a great dea.

    Second: I wish I had someone to shelter me from this crazy ass world.

    Three: REALLY? There is no Santa? You sure? I mean, like Jesus, he did once exist but died right? I bet it was his cholestrol level that killed him…never eat anything an elf cooks, elves cook with a lot of lard. Like those Keebler Elves in the tree with the cookies. Why do you think they have to make those cookies hidden away in a tree? Lard. They are making death cookies. Really, I don’t make this crap up. Okay some of it I do, but the Elf lard thing, total truth.

  21. I believed in Santa until my Grade 4 teacher told us about the myth. I was really disappointed, but had to admit that I kind of suspected as such. I guess I didn’t want to know the truth.

    As far as my experiences in parenting, they began with my Little Brother when we were matched, the year he turned 11. So all of that stuff had already been taken care of with Dan. However, I promised myself that I would never lie and would always tell him the truth. And he was never afraid to ask me anything.
    My first test of that came when he had just turned 13, and we went to see the movie “Se7en”. It was based on the seven daily sins, and is one of the darkest, most violent movies I have ever seen. The thing was, it was okay to have a 13-year-old there, because it was not R-rated, and carried no warnings of violence or mature content.
    In one scene, a hooker is murdered with a knife that was inserted below her waist — if you know what I mean — and dragged up towards her chest.
    “Bob, what just happened?” Dan asked. “Did he have sex with her until she died?”
    “There’s more to it than that, but yes,” I replied, “We’ll talk about it when you’re older.” We did, but by then, he had figured it out on his own. Still, my promise was intact.

  22. It would be a cold and unfeeling world without Santa, elves, bunnies that inexplicably carry eggs and those folks who think that Harper isn’t really a robot.

    Oops – the last one sorta just slipped in.

    Look. Childhood is the one time in our lives where we are blissfully ignorant of the stress and the crap that they will encounter one day soon. Life is very good for me but like any adult, there are times when the edges are kinda hard.

    Have I perpetuated the myths?

    Yup! I am a huge hypocrite when it comes to these things but think it is worthwhile if for no other reason but to let my kids think that real magic does indeed exist in the world. The memories of these times will stay with them for the rest of their lives and may get them through some moments when the cold and hard slap of reality hits them upside the head.

    Hey XUP, if you DID believe in Santa right now. As an adult. What would be tops on your list?

    Hmmm… I just thought of my next blog entry…

  23. My parents told us that one of our babysitters had three boobs. Poor girl must have felt uncomfortable with a four-year-old and a six-year-old staring at her chest.

    There was also a lady in town whose first name was Boyne, and our folks told us that her maiden name was also Boyne. (Go ahead, say it out loud).

    Yeah, I’m from a family of smartasses.

  24. I didn’t establish a relationship with my son until he was 15, so by the time he started asking me questions it was, “is it normal to get an erection when you’re making out with a girl?” I couldn’t have been more proud.

    My niece and nephew get the Santa story and my sis feels bad about it. I’m not sure what’s right and what’s not, but I would probably lie all the time. About everything.

  25. i try to be as honest as i can with my kids, like the way you explained rape is close to how i would do it. i do try to shelter them from media that’s ugly (depending on their ages).

    i try to soften reality if i can without being too distorted and if they ask about my beliefs in magic or fantasy, i share my own view on it, but invite them to make up their own minds b/c we don’t all think alike.

    as for the santa thing, i believe. i liken it to my belief in a higher power/god.

  26. Cedar – N0, no. I just said that to be cool. Really there IS a Santa. You wait and see. Many wonderful magical things await you.

    Bob – I’m a little confused about that movie scene, too now.

    Trashee – I reckon if the kid wants to believe he/she will. I never did, so I really didn’t like it when my parents tried to force me to play along with the whole Santa thing. I don’t think my world is any crueler or my childhood memories any worse than a kid who did grow up believing in elves and fairies and bunnies with eggs. But, to each his own.

    Loth – Anne of Green Gables isn’t real either. There was never any such person. That house? They just made that up. She was only ever a character is some lame-assed story.

    Bob – Why would they tell you that about your baby-sitter? Seems very odd and somehow inappropriate. But I suppose they had their reasons???

    Mayopie – Ya, you gotta go with what comes naturally, I guess.

    Leah – Belief in a higher power is very much like belief in Santa and other sprites and fairies, you’re right. I say, whatever works for you.

  27. I’ve never had a child, but my boyfriend has a younger sister of 8 years whom I spend time with very often. Sometimes I feel like telling her the truth about the world but I am not in the position to. Her mother was upset when I taught her how to microwave pizza, so I am sure her mother would be more upset at me for telling her about rape.

  28. Aziza – WHAT? You taught a child to microwave pizza?? You monster! What were you thinking?People like you ought to be locked up. Ummm… sorry… I mean…… WTF?? What’s wrong with microwaving pizza??