Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lies Our Parents Tell Us

I just finished reading an article entitled "The Truth is that Parents Lie: Fibs are used as tool to manipulate children."

Ya think?

The article sites a study done by psychologists from the University of California San Diego, and discusses two types of "white lies"--lies that aren't intended to hurt.

The first type is the Santa Claus-variety, which I never had a problem with...I don't remember a time when I was too young to think about the impossibility of one man flying around the world in one night, even after you eliminate all non-Christians. I also grew up in a house with a chimney. I knew I'd have a hard time fitting inside, so it was always out of the question that a fat man could. Besides, we'd be more than willing to let him in the front door. Fortunately for me, I was never exposed to the trauma of "finding out" Santa didn't exist.

Additionally, in my house, we would perpetuate other Santa-related tales. Once, when I was in high school, a young neighbor came over and saw that we already had presents under our tree. He immediately thought that maybe he and his brothers and sisters had been bad that year and Santa had already skipped over them. My mother kindly told the boy that Santa called her up and asked if he could stop by early because he was so busy on Christmas Eve, and he knew that my sister and I were well enough behaved to leave the presents alone for a few days. The young boy felt better and even conceded that his family would just tear into the gifts if they came early. If this boy even remembers this event, I doubt he looks back and thinks my mother lied to him, as much as she found a nice way to reassure him that he was loved and would get some gifts on Christmas morning.

Finally, I should disclose that Harry Potter probably falls somewhere under the Santa Claus-variety lie. I insist that he's real, and my husband insists that he's a brilliant work of fiction. I insist that he saved us all from Voldemort. At this point, my husband will just laugh and pat me on the head. It's a good thing I married a man with a sense of humor!

The second type of lie discussed by the article is the common get-your-kids-to-behave-lie. We were told that if we ate our vegetables, our hair would grow in curly (apparently "big and strong" isn't a good reason to eat veggies if you're a girl). I know some kids who were told things like if they weren't in bed on time the bed bugs would come out and nibble on their toes. I remember some kid at school telling me that the sandman came by every night and put a grain of sand in our eye, and in the morning that's why we had those eye-bugger things. THIS horrified me. I had spent enough time at the beach as a kid to know that I did NOT want sand in my eye. My mother told me it was just a song, and then said, "How would he get in, anyway?" Apparently this was enough to appease me.

Kids, in my experience (and for the record, I don't have any of my own), have pretty creative imaginations. There's always two ways you can explain something to someone: the way that makes sense to you, or the way that makes sense to them. Parents who come up with creative stories to get their kids to behave have simply come up with something that makes sense to kids. I don't think there's much harm in that.

The harm, in my opinion, comes from the other lies our parents tell us. The ones that the article, conveniently, I might add, didn't address. You know exactly what I'm talking about: the if-you-work-hard-and-do-well-in-school-you-will-be-happy type. A number of my friends and I have discussed how much this type of lie has hurt us. And how guilty it's made us feel. And how bad about ourselves we've felt. And what we've done to handle it/get over it/move on with our lives.

I remember Amy Tan once saying something along the lines that she really started writing because therapy wasn't working for her. (If you read "The Opposite of Fate," you'll learn that she had some pretty traumatic experiences in her life). I also remember listening to an NPR interview with another female author, who's name escapes me at the moment, who, when asked what her family felt about her writing about them in such detail said that if her family didn't want her to write about them, then they shouldn't have treated her the way they did. The comments of both of these women resonated with me.

I am all for, 100% behind finishing high school, going to college, or getting some other sort of training. I cannot figure out what people who, say, work in video stores, live on. How do they manage? At the same time, I guarantee that being smart, hard-working, and college-educated is not a recipe for happiness. It is, however, a good recipe for being employable, which, at least for me, is a step towards happiness. And I LOVE working. Not all the time, and not every day, but on the whole, I would drive myself batty if I didn't work.

A good friend from college said once told me that if she went too long without doing something creative/artsy, that she stopped feeling like herself and started being miserable. Even if everything else in her live was going reasonably well. This, too, makes sense to me.

What makes me happy? Baking cookies...baking pies...baking in general, laughing with friends, and watching goofy movies, to name a few. But nothing makes me feel more like myself that spending some time with a good book. I hope that everyone who's ever been miserable trying to figure out why they weren't happy with their "good" job and "nice" things, or whatever their lie is, is able to work through their pain and figure out what makes them happy. Life really is much better this way.


  1. The lie that you study hard, do well in school and you'll be successful is a school lie. I never told my children that. However, both my girls somehow believed the school.