Pinocchio Parents

One thing I vowed never to do as a parent – and probably the only parenting vow I’ve been able to stick to – is to never lie to my child.

Parents lie to their kids all the time to protect them or shield them from ugly realities or even to make life more fun for them.

My parents mostly lied to us to scare the living crap out of us; or maybe for their own amusement. Fear of punishment from them apparently wasn’t enough of a deterrent for us. No. They made up elaborate stories to reinforce their rules.

For instance, when I first started school, part of my route home was a dirt path along the side of the lake in back of another farmer’s field. This seemed like a fun place to me – especially the little old bridge I had to cross. So, naturally, I would dawdle along this path.

As most kids find out, dawdling is a cardinal sin. My parents soon figured out why it was taking me so long to get home. Coincidentally, that very evening, my dad “read” me an article from the newspaper that said there was a mad killer loose in the area. The mad killer was especially fond of slicing young children to bits. And — they were pretty sure he was living under the bridge in that farmer’s field!


The next day I couldn’t bring myself to go anywhere near that bridge and instead of going to school, I just spent the day on the beach. At least, I thought I’d spent the day on the beach. Really, I just futzed around for a while, ate my lunch, got bored and went home when I figured it must be the end of the day. It turned out be be barely mid-morning.

My mum walked me to school. She had to drag me, kicking and screaming,  across that bridge. She tried to tell me if I walked over it really fast there was no way the mad killer could get me. I didn’t believe her.

When I didn’t come home after school by late afternoon that day, my mum had to come out and find me. I was cowering in the field. I wouldn’t cross the bridge. Who would? No one in their right mind, that who.

That night, my mum and dad tried to pretend that there was an article in the paper that said they’d caught the mad killer, so the bridge was safe for kids again. So I could go to school tomorrow by myself.  “Hurrah!” the parents rejoiced.

But that seemed a little too convenient to me and I didn’t believe them.

Then they tried yelling at me. But that didn’t change my mind either.

I offered to take the longer route to school, which meant an extra 10-minute bike ride, all of which was along a road.

They said I was being ridiculous.

I said I didn’t care and that I was never crossing that bridge again.

I ended up taking the longer route.

There was a lot of other stuff like this they lied to me about. Most of it worked out better for them that this example. Their stories seemed to make me behave and do what they wanted me to do. There were stories that made me eat the things they wanted me to eat. There were stories that made me go to bed when they thought I needed to go to bed. Most of these lies didn’t have such overtly dramatic consequences as the mad killer under the bridge story – but a lot of them freaked me out nevertheless.

I think kids process information a lot differently that we do. Parents think they’re telling their kids a harmless fib in order to keep them safe or innocent, but by the time that fib has worked its way through a little person’s mysterious brain, you never know what that mysterious little brain is going to create out of that harmless adult fib.

During the average childhood, a parent will tell their child about 3000 “white lies”, according to a UK study.

What do you, or have you, lied to your kids about? Did the lie(s) have any interesting consequences?

What about your parents? Did they lie to you?

Common Parenting Lies

  • Santa/Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny
  • Rover is living on a farm now
  • Grandma is living on a farm with Rover
  • You can be anything you want to be
  • You’re beautiful/smart/talented/the best
  • Looks don’t matter; it’s what’s on the inside that counts
  • Sitting too close to the TV will make you blind
  • Mummy and Daddy were playing grown-up wrestling
  • It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, its how you play the game
  • We’ll see
  • Maybe later
  • If you keep playing with that thing, it’s going to fall off

43 responses to “Pinocchio Parents

  1. It took me years to figure out that towels would dry just as fast if they were folded with the pattern facing in as if they were folded with the pattern facing out.

  2. Like pretty much all children, I got the Santa/TF/EB one. And the sitting too close to the TV will ruin your eyes one. Those ones come to mind because you mentioned them. Othrwise, nothing ha irreversibly scarred me that I know of.

  3. My 2 pack-a-day smoking and hard liquor drinking father told me:
    Since I was sometimes out of breath, that I wouldn’t live long.
    I loved Coca Cola, he told me that it was the really bad for me and that I would surely ruin my kidneys.
    My favorite is that if I couldn’t ride my 26 inch framebicycle at age 8 that I was too young to ride one. I actually peddled it with one leg under the crossbar to prove that I could.
    He did tell me one true thing though but he never said why, (we were Roman Catholics) never be alone with a priest. Funny thing was that our parish priest often came over for supper.
    I always stated away from him and always declined his offers to join the “enfant de coeur”.

  4. My parents lied to me a lot.

    Living near Trout Lake, they told me that the dog on the other side of our back fence was a monster that would kill me if it had the chance. They also warned me about how deadly poisonous holly berries were. Putting two and two together, my friend Tyler and I once tried to poison the monster dog with a huge metal salad bowl full of crushed berries. I doubt the neighbours appreciated that.

    My parents also told me that universities really start caring about your marks in grade four. “That grade 3 ‘C’ in gym might be allowed to slide, but come grade 4, you are really going to be under the microscope!”

  5. My bad one happened this way. My daughter got up unexpectedly and saw the TV from the hallway when we were watching The Shining and she saw the two creepy corpse children and I grabbed her and told her it was just some “bad monkeys” I have no idea why I said that. I imagine it sounded safer than “creepy corpse children.” So she was always afraid of monkeys after that. She’ll be 26 in August. I should ask her if she’s still afraid of monkeys.

  6. I was five. We were at my grandpa’s cottage. My Mom told me that spruce gum tasted like honey.

    So I tried it, while she watched. And she laughed when I grimaced at that horrible taste in my mouth.

    She told me someone did the same thing to her when she was five. So she passed on the traiditon to me.

    Funny. I still remember that.

    If I bring that up with Mom today, she pretends to be sorry, but you can tell, she still thinks it’s funny.

  7. * Santa/Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny
    Yeah, why not? It’s fun talking to them about it and hearing their theories.
    * Rover is living on a farm now
    Don’t own a dog
    * Grandma is living on a farm with Rover
    Didn’t lie about this one – told my two daughters that their great grandmother had died
    * You can be anything you want to be
    Never said this to my kids
    * You’re beautiful/smart/talented/the best
    But they are
    * Looks don’t matter; it’s what’s on the inside that counts
    Never said this either
    * Sitting too close to the TV will make you blind
    Told them they’re sitting too close, but not that it’ll make them blind
    * Mummy and Daddy were playing grown-up wrestling
    No comment 😉
    * It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, its how you play the game
    Bah, that one is crap
    * We’ll see
    I say that all the time, but it does mean “we’ll see”
    * Maybe later
    See above
    * If you keep playing with that thing, it’s going to fall off
    I have daughters, so…

  8. Megan – OMG! You fold your towels with the pattern inside? OMG! You have towels with patterns?

    Jazz – How about “Drink your grape juice Jazz. It will help you sleep so you can have magical dreams?”

    Maurice – That wasn’t a lie your dad told you. He probably saved your life. What’s really creepy though is that people knew about the priest and did nothing but warn their kids off him.

    Milan – Hey your parents sound a little like mine with the horror stories. And it was probably a good idea to get in the habit of keeping your marks competitive. A little weird, but look where you are today!!

    Geewits – ha ha. Creepy corpse monkeys. You should make sure to have some at her wedding and see what happens.

    Friar – Well, if that’s the worst thing she ever did to you, you’re doing fine. I hope she got a photo of you eating the spruce gum. (Only from the neck down, of course)

    Ken – I didn’t mean for you to refute or endorse any of those. I was just wondering if you lied to your kids about anything

  9. Well, it was my mom who told me that the pattern had to be on the outside for them to dry faster, and it was probably 1982.

    I didn’t think about it for years, and then went to tell someone that they should fold the towel with the pattern on the outside, and then realized that it was totally a lie and shut my trap.

    But yes, I do have towels with patterns on them. They’re reversible though, so I don’t get confused.

  10. I don’t think my parents lied much to me. In Asia, parents tend to be more authoritative. They command and you do! Not much need for coercion through subterfuge. I went through that list of common lies and can tell you that as early as I can remember, there was no pretense about jolly Santa. My mom did warn me about sitting close to the TV but I think she actually believed it……..hmmm or did she? But I did get that last one on the list all the time cause that pretty much concluded my parents imparted wisdom on the birds and the bees.

  11. Santa and the Tooth Fairy for sure – it’s just fun, though I think my daughter is figuring it out, hope she will keep the secret to let my son enjoy another couple of years.

    Nothing else that I can think of, though I’m sure I’ve told a few white lies over the years.

  12. My crazy aunt and her weak willed husband did nothing but lie to me. I’m surprised I turned out as well as I did.

  13. My parents were actually pretty honest with me. Well except for the whole “Santa/Easter Bunny” thing, but its nice to let kids believe in those kind of fairy tales. (Or at least up until a certain point anyway)

  14. I was told about Santa & Tooth fairy galore. My grandmother often told me I would go to hell for various sins I had or intended to commit. I was also under the impression babies came from the stork for a long while. And that Kraft Dinner was an exotic meal.

  15. holy crap! your parents had some interesting parenting ideas.

    i like th magic of santa/eb/tf, etc. so i’m going with that one. if he asks whether or not they are real, i’ll ask him what he thinks and let him deduce it by himself.

    the cat died and i tell him every time he asks if he is coming back from the doctor’s. at there the idea of forever really doesn’t mean much.

    i can’t think of any scare inducing lie my parents told me.

  16. I don’t lie to my kids (I don’t think!) except for things like the Easter Bunny, Santa, etc.
    I would never lie about a pet dying or make up a story to scare them!

    My parents didn’t really lie to me either…….well come to think of it I do recall them saying things like ‘don’t make those faces or your face will stay like that!’ (wtf??).

  17. Nobody has ever had to lie to me to make me drink anything derived from grapes. It started with Welsh’s and proceeded from there.

  18. Megan – Reminds me of when my mum always told me never to submerge knives in the dishwater. That I had to hold them by the handles and wipe them carefully. I suppose this was so I wouldn’t reach in and grab one and cut myself. But instead of telling me that, she told me the handles would fall off if I put them under water. So, one day we had company and the lady was helping with the dishes and dumped all the knives into the dishwater. I was aghast and yelled NO at her, trying to rescue the knives. I told her all the handles would fall off and she ruined our knives. She, puzzled, asked my mum what kind of cheap crappy knives we had. My mum, all embarrassed told her not to pay any attention to me; that she had no idea what I was talking about. Then she told me to get out of the kitchen and stop being crazy. Good time.

    Sean – I’m sure you have. You’ll catch yourself next time you’re about to lie to your kids, I’m sure. Also, thanks for being the first and only person all week to notice my new header.

    Dr. Monkey – Perhaps it’s better if everything your parents or guardians tell you is a lie than if they just lie once in a while? At least you know where you’re at.

    Pauline – You just think your parents were honest with you. They were probably just exceptionally good liars.

    Mr. Jazz – People actually tell kids that babies come from storks? I thought that was just a 1950s urban myth.

    Smothermother – Maybe your child’s repeated asking about the cat is his way of begging you to lie to him and tell him the cat’s having fun on a farm somewhere?

    Betsy Mae – You never lie to your kids? Never? Ever? Really? Are you sure? Some day you will catch yourself telling them something that isn’t true like “no you can’t have dessert first, it will spoil your dinner” or “you go to bed right now or no TV for a week” and you’ll realize you have been lying to them. Because seriously, no TV for a week means you have to entertain them all that extra time.

    Jazz – That’s what I was thinking.

  19. Until I was 10, I thought “Chevrolet” was “American” for Ford and any “ethnic food” would give me a funny accent.
    Lies I have told my own kids:
    – I have NEVER tried any illegal consumable substance.
    – I NEVER drank and drove.
    – I ALWAYS respected my parents.
    – And to my two youngest kids when they ask “what happened to your hair, Daddy”, I say “Your big sister stole it and she keeps it in her closet”.
    See ya ’round XUP cuz I’m on Vay-Cay!

  20. Trashee – Thank you for being the only one to actually owning up to lying to your kids. I know everyone does it. Along the lines of your hair story, I’ve always told XUP Jr. that I bought her from a woman called Yolanda Fischbein (her birth mother) because that woman already had too many kids and needed to get rid of her. XUP Jr. will occasionally get a birthday card or Valentine’s surprise from Mrs. Fischbein. (Of course she knows I’m just joking). Enjoy your holiday. I guess I’ll have to read on the bus for the next couple of weeks.

  21. I wasn’t refuting/debating 😉 I just couldn’t think of a time where my parents lied to me and I was scarred for life 😉

  22. Oh, I’ve lied plenty to my kids:

    “Nope, the Easter candy is all gone, you finished it, remember?”

    “Nope, the Halloween candy is all gone, you finished it, remember?”

    “Nope, the chocolate cookies are gone, you took the last ones yesterday in your lunches, remember?”

    The secret is not having your mouth full when you’re lying those particular lies.

  23. Oh, and I used to tell Rachel that I went to Hogwarts just like Harry Potter, and that I know magic and if she didn’t stop trying to provoke her older sister, I’d turn her into a rabbit. She didn’t believe me though.

  24. I told each of them, I loved his brother better than him , that’s why he got to do whatever was causing the commotion. At first they would back down a bit and then you could see their minds working after awhile they’d just go “Oh MO-O-O-M! and go away.

    I also told them both about Santa we are still working on breaking the news on that one;o)

    The Easter bunny was too much for them to believe by the time they were old enough to eat chocolate!

  25. I laughed and laughed at Milan’s story about feeding the dog the berries. So classic! It’ll be the first chapter of his memoirs.

    I do try to be honest with my kids as much as possible. I want them to feel like they can always get the truth from me, so when it really counts and they are in real trouble, they will trust me. I try to give truthful explanations to things like why they have to go to bed at such and such a time — they usually glaze over and fall asleep before I’m finished.

    My son just asked me this week if the tooth fairy was real…and then two days later, if Santa was real. I answered honestly but asked him not to tell his younger sisters. It’s a real grey area for me, but for now I’m happy to maintain the magic for the little ones while telling my son the truth when he was obviously ready for it.

  26. Sure, I lie to my kids. But nothing I don’t think they could ever look back on and actually remember like a killer under a bridge – haha! When my daughter says, “Do you want to hear about XYZ Pokemon thing or other,” sometimes I tell the truth and say, “no,” but then sometimes I try to be a good mother and I lie and say “okay, sure!” I’m not sure which is worse.

  27. Ken – You’re so scarred, you don’t even know it. Lol

    Alison – Har har har – you are the most honest lying parent here so far. “No, this is special grown up grape juice”

    Jay – Oh boy! I like it when parents tell kids they love the other sibling better. Kids know when this is true anyway, but parents always pretend they love all their kids equally. As if!!

    Lynn – Ya, if they’re old enough to ask the questions, they’re old enough to get honest answers. Same with the sex thing.

    Julie – Is Pokemon still a thing with kid? I thought that died back when my daughter got sick of them…after about 6 months of furious collecting and non-stop Pokemonnning.

  28. Pingback: Come Along With Me, Love « TurtleHead

  29. haha, i lied two minutes ago when i said there was no more popcorn. sometimes it’s just easier to tell little lie than deal with the protests. other days i have a more suck it up buttercup and tell them there is more of x but they just can’t have it for whatever reason (it’s always a good reason in my opinion). i try not to do anything too damaging though.

  30. I can’t think of any really good lies, frightening or otherwise, that my parents told me. Could be that they were so good I still believe them or they were really just truthful all the time. This is discounting the Santa/TF/EB fibs, of course.

  31. I can’t say my parents ever really lied to me, beyond the usual Santa/easter bunny thing. I mean, yeah there was that whole thing about heaven and hell but really, they tried to convince us that going to church was good for us–what’d you expect? But, as far as I know, they’ve always been pretty up front and honest with us otherwise. And if I suspect I’ve been lied to about something, well, that’s what Google’s for.

    Re: lying to your kids? I can’t stand lying in general, so would probably–again, except for the whole Santa/easter bunny thing until they were old enough to question that for themselves–be just as up front with them as I would with anyone else. “Sure, you can be a corporate executive if you so desire. But not if you’re holding a 60 percent in (incert important subject here).”

  32. I was terrified of all sorts of things as a child. I was extremely gullible (still am) so the trolls that lives in my dad’s carboys were going to kill me if I disturbed them. There were monsters in the furnace room, darkroom and workshop. Real nice that for the first 8 years of my life I had to pass the darkroom, furnace room and workshop to get to my basement bedroom.

    We do Santa and the Easter Bunny. I do talk about all the different traditions around the spring equinox and Winter Solstice Christmas so they have a pretty clear idea that these mythical beings are shaped by culture and represent a bigger concept. My the time they’ve asked the big question they’ve been ready to be let in on the secret and continue the magic for their younger siblings.

    I regret telling my oldest there was a sleeping grump in our basement (its a cooperative game we played). We told him temper tantrums would wake up the grump and once freaked the living crap out of him by my knocking on the basement door from inside during a tantrum.

    I regret telling my daughter that the dryer stole socks and paid us back in stuffed toys once in a blue moon. She’s 10 and still believes it.

    I’m not sure how to deal with Wild Things perception of reality. He’s heard the story of his birth dozens of times. But he firmly believes he came from Pirate Land and I picked him out to be my child and when he grows up he’ll return to Pirate Land. When he asks why I chose him over all the other pirates I just can’t say “Look, you were formed from an egg and sperm kid, not the ether on Neverland.” So I tell him how big his smile was and how much I liked the way he giggled as he swung down from the crow’s nest. His joy made him stand apart and that’s why I chose him.

    And you know, he believes it so strongly, I do too.

    It may be psychotic but hey that’s family life.

  33. I believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy for a long time. I was so disappointed when my father finally told me they weren’t real. I was told not to tell my younger sister but of course I did.

  34. A friend of mine has her birthday on November 5 – Guy Fawkes night in the UK. When she was little, her parents told her that all the fireworks going off on that day were to celebrate her birthday. She believed them for years.

  35. Yup, I lie about Santa trying to keep that holiday magic alive. The rest of the time I tell the truth, but my children are young and I haven’t had to face tough questions…yet. I hope I will answer them honestly. My parents sometimes lied to me (ie/ Corky the dog went to a farm) and sometimes they just didn’t provide an answer to my questions. That is just as bad, I think.

  36. Meanie – I think every parent must do this. Although, I think since it’s always been just the two of us there never seemed any point in lying about popcorn and stuff like that.

    Kimberly – Your parents were excellent liars or they were lies that weren’t worth remembering – like Meanie’s popcorn lies.

    James – Get back to me when you have some kids and we’ll see, eh?

    Mudmama – I was particularly interested to see how you would comment on this post. It’s interesting how all your “firm” intentions while you’re pregnant fly out the window when the child is actually born and sets its own agenda, isn’t it? And each child has a different one from the child before. Keeps us on our toes, I guess.

    Linda – My daughter always insisted on believing in Santa (until she was 13!!) even though I kept telling her I didn’t believe it. She also believed in the tooth fairy, but never the easter bunny. She thought that was a totally ridiculous idea? Go figure.

    Loth – Cool. My daughter always thought all the Christmas lights and decorations were in honour of her birthday in December. Fireworks and bonfires are way more fun though. Welcome back!!

    Laura – If you’re not lying to them when they’re young then you won’t be lying to them when they’re older and can tell when you’re lying. Nice to have to back, by the way.

  37. i do my very best not to lie and explain things. my son asks me at least a million questions a day and when i’ve had enough i just tell him that my jaw hurts and i need quiet time.

    in some cases, based on family beliefs the things some consider white lies really are not within their family.

    but yeah, it annoys me when people don’t prepare kids for some bits of reality (not all at once of course) so they have a better idea of themselves.

  38. Leah – i think a lot of the white lies referred to are simple things – some of which have already been mentioned — telling kids there are no more cookies rather than just saying “NO! You can’t have anymore” and then having to explain why, why, why, why.