And the Grinch Fooled the Child...
In my house growing up, we had a rule that excused lying only when it was about presents. My mother was the master. We would try on a sweater in July, marked down to $6. It would fit beautifully. We would beg. And she would cry, “You selfish girls! Do you need everything in the store?” Then, as we turned away in shame, she would stuff it in her cart and it would appear under the tree a few months later.
Surprises were sacred in our home. But I also remember whispering secrets, which were forbidden, with my brother. Then when my sister would cry foul, we would claim, “we were talking about your Christmas present. So there.” Where is the line between hiding the Christmas sweater (my mother would call this more of a deflection, I think), and telling your child a lie? Or the line between telling them a lie and just letting them believe one?
Do we tell them Santa is real, or maybe just let them assume? The lines are never perfectly clear, but how about a divorcee telling stories about the ex to secure the children’s affections, or a guilt-ridden working parent swearing “I’ll be home early” when she knows she probably won’t? How about some variation of coal-in-your-stocking-if-you-don’t-eat-your-peas threats, or babies-come-from-hugs? I once overheard a grandmother in a restaurant telling a toddler, “The whole restaurant is out of Coke, so that's why you can't have any more.” Truly, it’s no fun to be the bad guy, the kill-joy, the stick in the mud, but that's why we’re parents, not buddies.
Even inconsistent discipline can teach profound lessons. If I tell Songbird that she'll get no dessert for [fill in the irritating thing she's doing], and then later, when she whines, I give her a popsicle, you might say she called my bluff. And a bluff...drumroll...is a lie.
When a parent lies, she is usually thinking more of herself than of her child. Of avoiding an awkward chat or tough subject, of currying favor. It is very often a short-run solution of convenience that undermines the fundamental job of parenting, which is a lot more about character than it is about the magic of Christmas or vegetable consumption. Truthfulness is a trait that must be modeled and developed. If we are to train up children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6), ought not we to be following in that way ourselves? To offer a child a consistent example of dishonesty in the adult he most respects is to deprive him of the guidance he most needs to become a virtuous adult.