A Whopper of a Lie

I tell my children white lies here and there. It’s not like I sit around and think about whether to do so or not, they just come. Some are bigger than others, but then who am I to judge the gravity of the fib, maybe that should be left in my children’s court when they find these lies out one day.

There are the big things, the ones that I am repeatedly untruthful about. The whole Santa Claus thing springs to mind, as that’s a lie that I keep on repeating year after year and everyone around me supports me in perpetuating the myth. I think this one’s OK, it’s about ‘creating the magic’ and I managed to get over finding out the truth without any long-lasting effects, so I’m hoping the same will be said for my two. We then have the smaller ones, the ‘no, there aren’t any more biscuits in the bag’, ‘no, I’ve not got any money for the ice cream man’, ‘sorry, that ride-on’s broken’ (in fact, don’t even get me started on that one, as you may know it strikes a nerve!). They are the white lies that protect them….and their dental care.

But then there’s the biggie, the huge deal. The one that leaves me feeling in equal parts uneasy and guilty about lying, yet also doggedly determined that I will do so. The one about Death.

My 5 year old understands about death now. She knows that things and people die, and when they die, they do not come back. We are not religious here, so there are no discussions about angels, heaven or an afterlife. We’re open with her about it, as I don’t want to confuse her and I think it’s important for her to learn about the circle of life. You can’t hide from it, and sheltering her from it is only likely to cause more confusion and grief at a later stage, I believe. She grasps this concept, I think, and when my mum’s dog died recently, she did know that she was dead and she would never see her again. She was upset, she told me that she was sad and asked if that was OK. I assured her that it’s always OK to be sad, and that she could always talk to me about it. Trouble is, she’s a smart cookie, my girl, so once she’s worked out that people die, she’s asked about my grandparents as she’s noticed they’re not around, so I told her straight there, too. But then the thoughts begin to pile up in her head. Until the inevitable question, ‘will you die and leave me, Mummy?’.

I lied. Well, more precisely, I evaded. I assured her that I wouldn’t leave her while she needed me. As her fear-filled face looked at me questioningly, lip quivering ever-so-slightly, I felt that it was my only choice. She’s just 5, she’s unable to really get a handle on periods of time yet. She cannot put herself in the mind of a thirty-something losing her mother, she can only ask the question, and handle the answer as she is now; a little girl, her life revolving around and entirely dependent on her mum. She gives me her whole heart, and whilst she’s fortunate enough to be surrounded by a loving family, it’s always to me that she turns. A life without me in it is totally incomprehensible to her and beyond scary.

Truth and Lies

But I’ll leave you with a flip-side, a truth. She has also asked me, with a worried little face, if she has to leave home when she gets married. Yes, she has already decided that she will be marrying one of her classmates, and I have duly informed his unsuspecting mother. ‘Of course not’, I replied, ‘you can live here for as long as you want to’, to which she was suitably reassured. That one’s not a lie, it’s the absolute truth, but the real truth of it is the reality that I see coming, the one that hurts me. I will always welcome her here, want her here, but I know that her desperation to stay at home with me will wane with time and she will grow up and yearn to be free of me. That’s the cycle and I want her to be that happy, confident young woman one day. But I sometimes wish someone would lie to me, tell me that she’ll always be my little girl and that she won’t leave me.

Truth and lies. Do you ever lie to your children?

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26 thoughts on “A Whopper of a Lie”

  1. I think you answered her questions perfectly! Well done you! I understand your fears but at least you do have a while to go yet. I however see it nearing ever closer with my 14 year old. I know it will be a while yet, but it’s still too close for comfort x

    1. Thanks, Sharon. Yes, it’s a way off yet, though time has a sneaky way of flying where my kids growing up are concerned! x

  2. Ahh I think I would have done the exact same thing. I am a heaven type of girl but z doesn’t understand the concept so everything is “they’ve gone to Gods house” which he can relate to. Definitely a tough subject. I’m glad she’s found a life partner already though 😉

  3. some people in H’s life decided to mention death to him without consulting me (ahem) so I’ve had to try and delicately explain things as gently as I can. He’s only 3. I think this lie was a good lie and I’m sure I would do the same. This post made me a little emotional actually! Bless her xxx

    1. Oh no, that’s not right at all. It’s definitely a parents preserve when they’re little. It’s all I could really say, I felt. She’s happy with the answer anyway x

  4. Hey, she’ll always be your little girl (and that’s not a lie) – the relationship you build together now will see you in good stead and set the tone for when she’s your grown up little girl x

  5. I think you gave good answers. We had a similar situation with our oldest when he was not quite four, when he lost one of his grandparents. We had a few long discussions about death subsequently (we bought a very good book, Always and Forever, which addresses the subject in a child-friendly way) and I was surprised at the maturity of his understanding, even when I talked to him about whether I would die, and whether he would. As ever, if handled with a degree of sensitivity, kids always surprise us with their ability to take in ‘adult’ emotions and events.

    1. You are right, kids can be quite remarkable with what they can process and take on. It felt like the right thing to say, and she’s content with the answers anyway.

  6. Death and dying became something we had to talk about when my daughter was just 4 because we lost my mother in law followed not long after that by the death of our family cat. We dealt with it the best way we knew how and didn’t hide from it at all. She came to the funeral but was looked after by my sister and I knew she’d be reassured by her. What we found was that the reality of it all only really hit home a year or so later. We then had sleepless nights, lots and lots of worries and inevitable questions. Not easy and very upsetting. So I totally understand your feelings and approach too.
    And as for the leaving home thing-she declared to me the other day that when she goes to university (at which I did a silent shout of joy), she wants to live at home. Fine by me, possibly….:-)

    1. So hard to deal with, isn’t it? It’s a tricky age, as they understand enough to have questions, but not enough to be able to cope with the answers. My nephew’s at uni now and lives at home, so it works for him! x

  7. My four year old is also at this stage, and it is tricky. I try to tell the truth the best I can, to his understanding, and if I can’t I admit I have distracted him to something else. However, yo must be doing something right, as I also have heard a lot about how he is going to go and live in England when he is a grown up – but he’ll send me money to visit! Huhhh!!!

  8. As a teacher, I have heard some awful things that people say, e.g. the term ‘forever sleep’ has left so many of my children too scared to sleep and ‘she’s gone away’ left one little boy waiting for years for his Mom to return. Such a delicate subject. You handled it well x

    1. Oh no, those are just awful. I’m sure they were said with good intent, but you can see how they’d be misinterpreted. Thank you x

  9. It’s so tricky sometimes when we should lie and tell truths to our children. Some, as you say are to keep the magic, and others are just to protect them. Mine last year had to deal with the concept of death as we lost a close family member. But I recently finally received a small box with the ashes of our dog (when we returned to the UK) which they insist on keeping in view and often ‘talk’ to her. In a strange way it’s helped them.

  10. Blimey I’m really choked up here. When I returned to work, I used to say ” mummy will never leave you forever” until hubby pointed out to me that one day I will. Rather than scare her/upset her (and me…) I simple say that I love her, always now. She’s currently going through a phase of “and then what will happen?” To most things. I told her she couldn’t have a big plastic loop from a toy in her bed because it could get round her neck and there’d be no more little bear. “And then what will happen?” So I told her, she laughed and I simply said she would die. We find that being black and white is the best way with her. Not an easy topic…

    1. Yes, Boo does that, too. Boo’s OK with the concept of death, I think, as as you say, we’re quite clear with her there, but when she relates that possibility to me, it’s harder for her.

  11. It’s so difficult knowing what to say isn’t it? I had the same questions when my mom passed away and obvious charlie knows I no longer have a mom so he asked if he was not going to have one too – and like you, I evaded. I couldn’t face upsetting him further. And I see no wrong in that. Face the bridges when you come to them I say xxx

  12. Oh wow, that was a toughie to answer. I’ve told Finley about death for nearly a year (he’s just over 3 now). The cat died last year, so I told him the truth about death then. The penny hasn’t dropped that we’re all going to die yet, and truthfully, I have no idea if I’d tell him the brutal truth. That said, I do think it’s really important for them to get a handle on the fact of death. Although, I’m a 30-something woman and am ABSOLUTELY NOT ready to think about losing my beloved mother… ever!!! And Jocelyn, your girl will always be your little girl and she won’t ever leave you (really – I don’t think I’ve left mine yet!) Xxx

  13. Such a good, thoughtful post. I haven’t had many questions yet, but death often lurks around the corner of conversations. We have pictures of Grandpa, but where is he? I will be telling them about heaven, but one of the comments here did make me think that you need to say *enough*. If you try to wrap things up too beautifully in one brief sentence you do get children who are afraid to sleep or wait around for Mum to come back from the shops. Given me food for thought!

    1. Thanks, Judith. I think it’s finding something that puts their minds at rest, which I guess is a little different for each child.

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