What happens when your kids catch you in a lie? Do you lose all credibility forever? 

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I heard the term “white lie” for the first time, directly from my mom.  (I Googled the expression to make sure it wasn’t racist in origin.  It’s not.)  She said that if I didn’t like the sweater my aunt knitted for me, that I should tell her I loved it anyway.  My mom explained that it was a white lie, told to spare my aunt’s feelings.   

There are many other reasons why parents lie to their kids.  Sometimes, it’s for the sake of convenience, like when you tell your kids you’ll take them to 31 Flavors later, because you’re too busy right now.  Other times, the lie has to do with an uncomfortable topic, like when you tell your kids that their dog “ran away to a farm in the country with lots of room for him to run around.”  Parents also lie about their kids’ talents and abilities, like when your daughter struck out three times at her Little League game, and you tell her that her batting form was technically perfect, and she’s going to hit a homer at her next game.  

Many parents suggest that lying to the children typically starts out with Santa, or the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny.  While it’s healthy for kids to engage in make believe, at some point they learn the truth, and you wind up looking like Pinocchio.  I’ll never forget when my niece asked her dad to tell the truth about the Tooth Fairy.  He did, she cried, and he felt terrible for creating the lie in the first place.  Another strategy was explained by a client whose kid asked for the truth about Santa.  She told him, but said it was a secret, and now he was in on it with her.  

Choosing how and when to lie to your children can be significant.  Here are some things to consider: 

  • Will your lie confuse them?
  • Will it cause unrealistic expectations?
  • Is it actually for their benefit, or for yours?
  • Will the lie offer short term help, or will it have a greater effect later?
  • Can they handle the truth?  (Thanks, Jack Nicholson.)


At the end of the day, parental lying is inevitable. Whether you tell the lie for your own convenience, or to make an awkward topic less so, or to praise your kid for something not terribly praiseworthy, the trick is to achieve balance.  Balance between the brutal truth and the warm, soft lie.  Easier said than done.  When I was a litigation paralegal, I remember sitting in on a meeting where the client was being prepared to have her deposition taken.  The attorney told her, “There’s a difference between telling the truth and telling everything you know.”  In other words, balance. 

I think those words of wisdom are 100% on topic when it comes to lying to your kids.

What do you think?