Honesty, Shmonesty: When Did Lying to Kids Get Such a Bad Wrap?

I’ve gotten in the habit of writing some pretty opinionated blogs lately, but the truth is: I still have far more questions than answers. And a good number of questions center on this whole business of lying. Is it harmfully misleading, for example, to let my child believe in the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny? What about super heroes and Disney princesses? Magic tricks? God? Where do we draw the line? If we don't come clean with our kids about our views on heaven, are we betraying them? But if we do come clean about Santa, are we just being shitty? How are we supposed to allow the magic of childhood to endure without confusing our kids — and ourselves?

I can easily imagine myself researching this topic a bit and then writing a blog post on lying. I can image that I might top the blog post with a headline to the effect of: "Honesty Really Is the Best Policy." But, just as easily, I can imagine crossing out that headline (partially because it's dreadful) and writing this one instead: "Honesty Shmonesty: When Did Lying to Kids Get Such a Bad Wrap?" Then I can imagine going back and forth on which one to use.

The point is, there's no clear answer on this to me.

We want our kids to be moral, ethical, honest people, yet we tell them it's okay to lie sometimes. ("They're white lies!") Not only that, but we out-and-out lie to them sometimes. (“No, honey, I didn’t just tell your auntie that her new client should be punched in the throat. I said she should, um, drink punch in a boat. Now run along.”) And then, to make matters even more confusing, we decide — completely subjectively and emotionally — that it's okay to lie about some things and not about others. We even tell them it’s good to lie sometimes. “Tell your friend you love the birthday gift, honey. Otherwise, you'll hurt her feelings.”

In an essay called “No Messing with Heaven” written a couple of years ago and re-published on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, writer KJ Dell’Antonia quotes John Patrick Shanley, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the play “Doubt.” When you let kids buy into things you don’t believe to be true, Shanley is quoted as saying, “you’re lying to your children. And one day they’re going to realize that you were a hypocrite.”

Dell’Antonia lamented, “I don’t want my kids to wake up at 10, or 15, or 50, and realize that I lied to them! That would be awful! What would they think of me?”

But then she wrote: “I can’t help noticing, as I think that through, that there’s an awful lot of ‘I’ and ‘me’ in those worries, and not a whole lot of anyone else.”

I think I’m with Dell’Antonia on this one. And if I had to write an opinion today and choose one of the headlines from above — I’d probably choose "Honesty, Shmonesty." (Mostly because the first one is so dreadful.)

But I want to hear from you guys. Where do you fall in the lying debate? Where do you draw the line? And how is it working out for you?