We lie about Santa Claus to our children. We have a secret system by which we refuse to tell kids that Mommy and Daddy's hard earned money actually pays for gifts. We make believe that there is some magical man who watches our kids all year to determine if they're naughty or nice, and showers gifts on those who behave as we would like. If others were anything like me, they'd not care until sometime in December when it became clear that time was nearly up, and it was time to demonstrate our best behavior. We lie similarly about the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. We can't decide not to lie to our kids, to avoid the great deception, because we don't want others' kids to learn the truth from our own.
We lie to children about death, or at least carefully skirt the topic. That will last as long as there are no deaths in the family or in the child's circle of pets, friends, and acquaintances. Some say kids shouldn't have to be confronted with something as harsh as death until their brains are more mature, but I still don't fully understand why we do this.
We lie about or omit the topic of sex from our conversations with children. If we believe that sex is a natural and positive component of our nature, why should kids be shielded from it?
This last one was the hardest for me to swallow. I learned about Santa Claus from a childhood friend. I learned about death as people and critters I loved were lost, a little bit at a time. I learned about sex from a series of books.
My mother borrowed a set of books from another mother, and she promised me she would sit down with me and read them. She never did, and because she didn't get around to it, I was curious and read them on my own. As she was packing them up to return them to the other mother, she said, "I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to read these." (I guess the other mother wanted them back right away.)
"I read them, Mom."
"Good. Do you have any questions?"
But of course I did have questions. Mostly they centered around "Why did you lie to me?" and "Why is it all so obvious now?"
I honestly wonder why we think good parenting includes deceit. Surely I'm not the only one who felt completely betrayed when I finally learned about Santa, death, and sex. If parents want their children to trust and respect them, what kind of damage is done when kids discover the truth?
I didn't become a parent until my daughter was seven years old, and by that time, she was already indoctrinated into the Santa/death/sex club. I can't say what I might have done if she had been mine at a much younger age, but honesty has always been exceptionally important to me, especially around some the societal expectations we all deal with every day. It was important to me that my child trust me to be frank with her.
Even in our modern fairy tales, we have used correction fluid on the harsh truths of life, but I'm not sure it serves any purpose but to give us the feeling we're protecting children from some horrible reality. It would be better if we could stop seeing these facts of life as horrifying. They are magical, each of them, in their own right. A parent who wishes to provide gifts to a child he or she loves. An introduction to sexuality as a natural, normal facet of a multifaceted existence. The truth about the longevity of the human body.
These are the truths, and our children are worthy of them.