In my last article, “6 Lies You Should Tell Your Kids,” I explained my definition of a “legal” fib:
One day, with a little more age and maturity, he will not only realize I lied, but also understand why — all in the span of one epiphany.
As a child’s logic and understanding of the world develop, the fable’s truth materializes. Maturity comes with his newly acquired wisdom and understanding, not devastation at the loss of a perceived reality.
By breaking this one simple rule, you risk delivering a major blow to his ability to trust.
Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist — I don’t even play one on TV — but even I know the following lies, from the most common to the unbelievable, can deliver lifelong problems.
5.”Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus.”
I’m amazed by the complaints of former children who still resent their parents’ attempts to create a magical Christmas. The lie (obviously a family tradition) once exposed casts a round, but dark, shadow over their relationship with their parents. For some, this experience shaped their parenting philosophy. This single fabrication has produced enough backlashes to merit a place on this list.
In a powerful blog post titled “The Devastating Power of Lies in a Relationship,” Donald Miller shares his experience of being lied to by two friends. Within his analysis of his own feelings, he articulates some universal truths about deception and its impact on our relationships. Although he writes of lies between friends, they still hold true for children.
When my friends lied, I felt disrespected and unimportant. They didn’t seem to care about me or trust me enough to tell the truth. This made me feel bad about myself, as though I were not important or trustworthy enough to be told the truth.
When I found out the extent of one of the lies, I felt like a fool. … I felt tricked and deceived. Again, without meaning to, she’d made me feel bad about myself because I felt like somebody who could be conned.
The extent that some children experience these feelings relates to both the depth they believed in the story and the degree parents fought to preserve the illusion. There always comes a time for truth to replace childhood fantasy. Parents cross the line of trust when the child believed the parent over his own better judgment.
I do not believe in telling lies to children or to anyone else. The sole exception would be lies told to save innocent human life: telling the Gestapo (or the lynch mob) that you don’t know where their intended victim is.
For instance, tell your children the truth about “Santa Claus.” The life of Saint Nikola of Myra is a far more inspiring story than any folk legend about “Santa Claus” could ever be. “Saint Nick” is a man that you and your children should try to emulate! The real “Saint Nick” was a HERO who fought against tyranny and injustice.
This is also the path my children have taken for their families as well– so far with no known harmful side effects.
However, a truth told in exaggeration is still a lie that can hurt…
4.“You’re The Most Beautiful, Talented Girl in the Whole World.”
We’ve all seen this one play out on American Idol. It’s like gawking at a bad car wreck — heart-wrenching to see, but you just can’t look away.
Poor misguided souls wander onto the stage convinced they are the next gift to the world. Then it happens. They open their mouths and out falls the truth for all to hear. Their voices should have stayed in the shower.
When the judges administer a dose of reality — often without anesthesia — you can see the pain on the contestant’s face.
It’s a sad sight that makes me wonder, “Oh, honey, who lied to you?”
They set you up to fail. Unfortunately, these people did it on national television.
One of the most wonderful things about being a parent is the ability to first see and then bring out the best in our children. However, it’s not part of the job description to over-inflate your child’s ego. Case in point: I recently heard a father tell his daughter, “You are the prettiest girl in the whole world.”
Not too long after, her big brother echoed the same praise. This is a daily family ritual.
The lie wasn’t in her beauty. Her long, blonde hair hung in soft ringlets around big hazel eyes.
The lie came embedded in her daddy’s attempt to express his love for her. She is the apple of his eye. But that does not make her the most beautiful girl in the entire world.
When she steps outside of the family circle, she will not only find someone that outshines her, but also a big shot willing to point it out. By then she will have developed an over-inflated sense of self-importance.
A loving father, with one simple exaggeration, can set his little girl up for a failure she’s not prepared to handle.
Which, of course, can lead to her own lies of self-preservation…
3.”He Doesn’t Love Us Any More.”
“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned–nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
— William Congreve
Sadly, it’s not uncommon to hear of a divorce turned virtually cannibalistic. Children become the pawns in an awful, destructive game.
Before you pelt me with a comment button, let me say, I do realize that with every divorce there is a unique and separate set of circumstances — too often with an abundance of lies and betrayals.
In this situation, the truth is hard enough for a child to comprehend. No amount of sugar can coat a divorce’s stinging, bitter taste.
Telling a child that Daddy has left because he doesn’t love “us” anymore is a lie meant to manipulate and draw sides, not to heal.
“Lying is manipulation, so if a person is a manipulator and gets caught lying, they are most likely going to keep manipulating. They may tell more lies to cover their lies, or manipulate by playing the victim.” — Donald Miller
While this lie may feel like the truth at one time, it is more often only a perception that will reverberate throughout a child’s lifetime.
Believing that lie can lead to telling this one…
2.”Daddy’s on a Business Trip. He’ll Be Back in 3 to 5.”
“The truth is always an insult or a joke, lies are generally tastier. We love them. The nature of lies is to please. Truth has no concern for anyones comfort” – Arturo Binewski.
Lying to cover up adult criminal behavior does a child a double injustice. Parents are not perfect. They come in all shapes and sizes and some will wear stripes. But they still must act like parents even when they’re behind bars.
Telling a child that Daddy is going to prison and won’t be around for his birthday — or anything else for a very long time — is difficult. But protecting him from the harsh reality of the real reason denies a child the opportunity to learn from his parent’s mistake.
Learning that parents are flawed is not always a bad thing. We all want our children to make better choices than we did in one area or another. But accidentally discovering a parent’s deepest secret is an entirely different matter.
To the heart of an adopted child, his parents are just that — his parents. When placed in a family from infancy, exactly how he arrived — by birth canal or freeway — does not leave an impression on his memory.
As an adopted child with natural born children of my own, I can attest to this fact.
That’s not to say a child given up for adoption won’t struggle with questions and feelings of rejection. She will.
When adoptive parents tell the unspoken lie of omission, it’s usually born out of fear of rejection. Sadly, the deception is an attempt to create a reality that’s already there — a real family.
It’s hard enough knowing you’re adopted, that someone who was supposed to love you instead chose to give you away. But nothing compares to the devastation that comes from this one lie by the people that you love the most.
See Rhonda Robinson’s previous parenting lists: