Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Innocent Lie

I have a bone to pick. You can skip this blog if you're not in the mood. I won't be offended. I think I just need to share with candor, and hopefully gentleness, something that really bothers me.

The Innocent Lie.

I am not speaking of those lies that children try to pass off on their parents. Rather, I am speaking of the lies parents participate in towards their children. And even more specifically, I am speaking of the lies spoken to make childhood myths come alive, and appear real for that season in life when the innocence of children is at its best.

Santa Clause.
Tooth Fairy.
Easter Bunny.

I don't find these innocuous. I am in the minority - at least it appears that way from my many conversations with acquaintances, relatives and friends. I came to think that perhaps I was simply a miser - a glory hog who didn't want to share any of the credit for her hard work with some red-suited, white-whiskered relative stranger who manages to show up when everything is peachy but doesn't stay around long enough to help clean up any of the mess.

It must be me.

But I still couldn't swallow it. I sat down and really thought about what my problem was with these traditions. I realized that the answer is in the fact that children are being lied to, encouraged by their parents (who are entrusted to teach them truth) to falsely believe something they know to be unreal. Okay, so we admit that these imaginary beings aren't real. Where's the harm in letting children use their imaginations to heighten the fun during these few short years?

Hey, let me be the first to say that I love imagination! My children regularly come up with all manner of games that create worlds outside of this one. They are princesses in far distant palaces, flying across the sky on magical beings. Or perhaps they are knights riding into the burning sunset made brilliant by two suns! Multi-colored robes, enchanted wands, and supernatural powers are the norm for a make-believe world worth it's weight in imagination. I happily encourage all these fancies! So, what's the difference between the Easter Bunny and a world filled with talking bunnies who each have their own special power?

I am not lying to them, telling them their talking bunnies are real.

The problem with a lie is that eventually the truth comes out. It always does. Perhaps it takes years rather than a few moments, but in the end... out it comes. And when it does you have broken trust. After all, a lie is a lie. But so many adults have gotten lost in the idea that the adventure of believing that lie is worth the pain and confusion when the truth comes to light.

How can we be so obtuse? I would imagine that my children are not vastly different from others. One of the largest lessons I am constantly working to teach is the value of truth. Lying in our home warrants a double dose of discipline - one for the disobedient action and the other for the lie. Our mantra is, "You will always get into more trouble if you lie." How can I work to train my children to understand the absolute necessity and value of truth if I am engaged in purposely falsifying facts in order to encourage my children to believe something that is a lie? How can my children utterly trust my word as they grow if they know, deep down inside, that I have not always been 100% honest with them?

Lastly, I fear the possible ramifications of these "innocent" lies on the trusting hearts of my children as they walk their own faith journeys. We tell our children that Santa Clause is real, but you can't see him. We tell our children that the Easter Bunny is real, but you can't see him. We tell our children that the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns are real, but you can't see them. We tell our children there is a God who is real, but you can't see him. Then we reveal that Santa Claus is a lie. We share that the Easter Bunny is fake. We finally let our kids in on the truth that the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns were all pretend.

But we somehow want our children to retain the truth that God is still real - He still exists even though everything else they used faith to trust in has been proven false by the very people who should have protected that unique ability to accept truth without jaded reservation. We inadvertently create cynical human beings who have the propensity to eye the world through a subconscious filter of distrust.

Do I exaggerate?

Perhaps not every child becomes disenchanted with the wonder and blessing of seeing the beauty beyond their own empirical observation, but I am unwilling to take the chance. I will not require from my children something I am unwilling to give to them in return.



  1. How refreshing :) I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels this way! I couldn't have put it any better myself!

  2. Anonymous5:15 AM

    Trisha, I couldn't agree with you more and yet I've allowed myself to fall into the world and do like I was raised and as most others do. Your words are something I have ponder on my own over the past few months and wonder now how do I undo what's already been done???

    Thank you for sharing your heart,

    Jen Schwatka

  3. Hey Trisha, I know this is being posted a while after the fact however I have been thinking about your view on this matter. I have done a little research on "Santa Claus aka Saint Nicholas" here is one thing I found:

    Saint Nicholas (270-310) was at one time bishop of Myra, a town in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). He is supposed to have died on December 6 which is why his feast is celebrated on that date. Recognized for his great generosity, he is the patron saint of little children and school children.
    The feast of Saint Nicholas was abolished in some European countries after the Protestant reformation of the XVIth century. The Dutch, however, have preserved this ancient Catholic custom, and small Dutch children still await the visit of Sinter Klaas (Saint Nicholas) on the night of December 6.

    At the beginning of the XVIIth century, the Dutch emigrated to the United States and founded the colony of New Amsterdam which, in 1664, became New York. Over several decades, the Dutch custom of commemorating the feast of Saint Nicholas spread to the United States. Sinter Klaas quickly became Santa Claus for Americans..

    This thoughtful philanthropist, depicted as an old man in a white beard with a long caped coat or sometimes even in episcopal robes, remained, nonetheless, a moralistic figure. He rewarded deserving children and punished the difficult and unruly ones.

    After several decades, Christian society found it more appropriate to bring this "children's festival" closer to that of the Infant Jesus. Saint Nicholas henceforth made his rounds of Christian families during the night of December 24.

    I can see your point about lying to your kids, but is it really lying if the patron saint of children actually exsisted? Anyway just a thought.

    Love ya Trish

  4. Thanks for your thoughts, Wende. :) I have no problem with the historical, and real person of Saint Nicholas. In fact, we teach our children the truth behind the Santa Claus of today's commercialism. My problem comes back to the idea that Santa Claus, the made-up version who secrets presents to unsuspecting children today, is genuine. He is not. So to answer your question: Is it lying? Yes. Am I lying if I tell my children that you brought them Christmas presents, when you didn't? Yes. Just because you are a real person doesn't change that fact. Telling my children that Santa Claus, or even Saint Nicholas brought them their presents is not true. It really is as simple as that.