Monday, June 2, 2008

Lying to your kids

This guy, Paul Graham, asks a cool question: why do we lie to our kids? In particular, why do we go out of our way to lie about some things ("Fluffy went to live in the country") but not others ("Candy will rot your teeth").

Most parents would say that you lie to protect your kids. Protect them from what? From the truth that life is pretty capricious, unfair, and unsafe. That shit happens. Always did, always will. Shit will happen to your kids, it will happen to my kids.

But can't you protect them without lying to them? Can't you tell them that shit happens, but shield them from the shit for as long as possible? So why do we pretend that shit doesn't happen?

It seems to me that the things we lie about most involve bad things of a particular sort: bad things that are done by one person to another. And why don't we want to tell our kids about the fact that people do shitty things to each other? I can think of a few reasons:
1. We don't want to give them ideas
2. If they think people do bad things to other people, they might believe that the parent could do bad things to them. And we want to be trusted implicitly and completely (why? because we want to be the boss all the time)
3. They'll be too afraid to extend themselves with anyone else for fear of being hurt

#3 seems interesting - because we all know that some people are going to take gigantic dumps all over our kids some day. Both Abby and Maddie will get broken up with one day by some loser d-bag (that I of course disliked from the start) and will feel awful. But if I tell them early on, and hammer in to them, that people will hurt them, they'll be less likely to get involved with the d-bag in the first place. So why don't I tell them this?

Because the same reaction that gets them involved with the d-bag will get them involved with their best friends and the love of their lives. Every relationship starts the same, even if they all end differently. So if I told Abby and Maddie the truth about life, I'd probably prevent them from experiencing the great highs of life, even if they'd also avoid the great lows.

And don't think that you can lie to your kids and also give them the greatest highs. Here's something that I'm convinced of: I will not be intimately involved with more than 1 or 2 of my kids best days in life. I'll walk my girls down the aisle, but I'll never make their heart flutter like it will the day they meet that guy. I'm not down on this, because what I lose in amplitude I'll make up for in volume - I get to be there for 900 of their best 1000 days. But not the top 10, not quite.

So that's why I lie - because they need to be naive enough to assume things will turn out right and stupid enough to try things that rationally might not work.

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