Why do adults lie to children?

I think the lies adults tell come from a self-serving place…

I often wonder why we as adults find the need to lie to children. You know those unnecessary little white lies we tell them. “If you do this I’ll give you that”. Meanwhile, you know deep within you have no plans of giving them “that”. I am a thirty plus-year-old woman who still resents all those aunties and uncles who made empty promises.

I vividly remember a three-year-old me wanting to follow an uncle to wherever he was going after his visit to our house. And he goes “ok, go put on your shoes and come”. Excited, I rushed into the bedroom and got my shoes only to come back to the living room to find out he was gone. Believe me you back then I had tears! They came pouring down like an avalanche as I cried myself to sleep. Thirty years later – I am still wondering if that was necessary! Why did that uncle think that if he had told me the real reason, I couldn’t go with him I’d not have understood? I am certain a lot of us can recall experiences from when we were children where we wished adults would have been straight with us.

I think we give children far less credit than they deserve. They are a lot smarter than we perceive them to be. In fact, I think the lies adults tell come from a self-serving place. We cannot afford the patience to explain to them the whys and why not. You’d be amazed at how conversations will flow when you start having actual ones with toddlers. So, I promised the three-year-old in me I would do better than my elders before me. I would tell the truth. I will tell her friends why exactly they cannot go to the playground even when from the bedroom window they see other kids playing there.

My firstborn, Ikaia is kind of an old soul. Some days I feel like there is a forty-year-old trapped in his tiny body. Granted he is a bubbly, naughty, loud boy, your usual four-year-old. But most times he does the must random adult things. Things that I as an adult will put off to continue watching Netflix and chilling. I could be on the phone chatting away and laughing and he’ll be like “mummy! You are being too loud. Do you want to wake baby Z up?” sometimes opening his eyes like I usually do when I am being serious with him.

On another occasion he goes  “mummy, baby Z is making a mess”. Looking at his baby brother disapprovingly as he throws crumbs on the carpet while munching on his piece of bread.  Me being the tired mum that I am, I ignore him and continue lying on the couch. Paying me no further mind, he springs to his feet and off he goes. Honestly, what he and Zayne have been doing for the last five minutes are very much inconsequential to me. At Least, no one is crying. (Don’t judge me! This motherhood thing is tough!). I only spot him coming back to the living room holding the hand vacuum cleaner. Muttering something to Zayne, he vacuums the mess Zayne made.

In another episode of Ikaia adulting, I get up in the morning and jump in the bath, only to return a  few minutes later to see he has made up our bed. Or the most adult acts of them all. I gave Zayne a bath one day at around 8 a.m. and left everything in the bathtub. Bath, water, sponge and all. Ikaia uses the toilet a few times within an almost four-hour period and everything is still sitting there in the bathtub.

I go to use the toilet around 1 p.m. and guess what? The bath has been emptied and turned upside down across the bathtub, bathing toys in their basket on the wall, the sponge has been squeezed and hung where it usually is (by the way he, Ikaia placed that hook on that spot where he could reach… a story for another day). As if to say, “mummy I gave you four hours to get things in order and you didn’t, so…you are welcome!” I can’t make these things up! Given the above, this truth-telling thing seems to be working out great: He is an old soul- until two weeks ago.

He is taking a walk down memory lane. (Yes, he is four and goes down memory lane. He has such a sharp and retentive memory. The lad will be going on and on about things that happened two years ago, remembering tiny details from Christmas of 2017- ). Recounting an incident that happened while I was pregnant with Zayne. He goes “daddy you know Zayne was kicking mummy’s tummy, and she was crying and you called the ambulance, and the ambulance came and took mummy to the hospital, and me and you went later with the car, and we looked for mummy all over …” And then he pauses for an instant and goes “daddy, who put Zayne in mummy’s stomach?” as if to think “and by the way, how did he get in there in the first place?”

I have been listening to Ikaia chatter from another room and before I even begin to wonder what Atte’s answer will be, he goes, “go and ask mummy!”. Really Atte? You and I are both adults here Mr.! For an instant there I tell that three-year-old me, “sorry baby, but this vicious circle won’t be broken anytime soon, adults lie to children in times like this!”. In the split of a second Ikaia is in our room, staring me deep in the eyes. “Mummy, who put baby Z in your tummy?”. I asked myself what is the closest truth to this very complex question? And then I go “erm, daddy put him there”. And he says “ok” and walks away. In my mind I’m like that wasn’t so hard, was it? I can see the three-year-old clapping and cheering.

But then I asked myself, what would I have said if he had asked: “how mummy, how exactly did daddy put him in there”? We would never know if I’d have stayed on my high horse or fabricated some story, would we? 

I do understand that as adults there are certain truths we just can’t spew out to children. However, if we are conscious of the effects these little lies eventually have on them, we would be more mindful of how we respond to their endless questions. They are exhausting I know. That does not justify why adults tell lies. We can wrap the truth around some technicality, or evade their questions entirely, or distract them the best way we can. Do anything but tell blatant lies, they do have long-term repercussions.