Is It Ok To Lie To Our Children?
What if it’s “white lies?” Like telling them there is someone called Santa Claus who lives in the north pole and who somehow gets into their house while they’re asleep and brings a load of gifts just for them. At first glance, this seems harmless, and I’m sure just about everyone would scoff at any notion to the contrary. But hear me out. I was six years old and playing on a warm summer’s day with Sukie, the girl one year older than I who lived across the street from us. Out of the blue she said to me, “do you believe in Santa Claus?” Such an odd question, I thought. Why would anyone imply a negative response to it? “Of course,” I said, “don’t you?” “Not any more,” she said. “My grampa told me it’s all make-believe.” I was appalled! And I was horrified at her grandfather for saying such a thing. I went to my mother and told her what Sukie had said, and asked wasn’t it awful that her grandfather would say such a terrible thing? But there was silence. My mother didn’t say anything at all. I felt the tension in my abdomen and asked her, “there IS a Santa Claus, isn’t there?” “It’s make-believe,” my mother said. I remember this as though it were yesterday. Of course at the age of six, I would not have been able to put into words what was going on inside me. To a child, at least to this child, Christmas was the most wonderful event in life. The first thing I did every year on December 26 was to count the months till Christmas comes again. I felt the tension in my body mount. “Santa Claus is only make-believe???” “That’s right, it’s a fun thing we all do at Christmas time. We try to make it as delightful for children as we can.” If I could have verbalized what I was thinking, if I could even have brought up those feelings out of the shock in my soul, I would have had to say what to me was unthinkable: “My father and my mother lied to me.” But we’re forbidden to lie. Parents don’t lie, so there has to be some other explanation. Maybe I’ll wake up and discover that this was only a bad dream, because it isn’t possible for parents to lie, especially parents as religious as mine. Our religion tells us that lying is a sin, and my parents do not sin, that I knew for sure, because they always told me I must never lie, so I know that of course they don’t. But these thoughts weren’t being played out in words with adult understanding. They were, at the moment, a wordless confusion rooting itself in the innermost core of my being. Beyond understanding what was happening inside, I couldn’t have explained that I was being traumatized by the contradiction of being taught that to lie is to sin, but that my parents lied to me – and not only that, but lied to me about what was the most treasured thing in the life of this young child. With my voice not more than a rasp I asked, “what about the Easter Bunny?” “Well, that’s make-believe too.” “And the tooth fairy?” “Yes.” “And …God?” “No, God is real.” Really? Needless to say, there now was a huge doubt about that in my heart. How old do I have to be before they tell me God is only make-believe too? Are they allowing me to continue to believe in him in order to ensure that I be “good?” This happened many, many years ago, but the feelings of it as I bring it now to mind, are as vivid as the day I experienced them. This was a real trauma in my life. To the adult listener it may seem ludicrous to consider this a true trauma, but in the soul of a very young child who knew only to revere her parents and teachers, it left an indelible cynicism that had a permanent influence over my development. Should we lie to our children because we want them to have fun? All I can say is that when I grew up and had children, they never, ever heard that Santa Claus was a real person who loved them and brought them gifts. They were told it was make-believe from even before they could understand that word. They had just as much “fun” as other children at the holidays, but they grew up knowing what was true and what was not true, a gift I decided to give to them when I was only six years old.