When is it ok to lie to your child?


Once upon a time, Mulan married Ken.

Since we’ve moved the Husband’s work-hours have been long.

Unpredictably long, mixed with travel, yet I don’t mind.

There’s nothing we can do to change the situation, so I’ve shifted my perspective and discovered a glittery, silver lining.

These stretches of solo parenting are a gift of time.

Instead of scheduling “discussions” (attitude to adoption) I possess the gift of being able to wait for our talks to naturally unfold.


The other night as the Tornado readied for bed (invariably when all big topics arise) she said:

Mama, I have a question (loooooong pause) how do babies get inside the Mama’s belly?

Later, when I shared the story with friends (I love my friends.  None pretended she’d have felt anything other than panic.), they agreed they’d have quietly freaked and redirected the conversation.

I’m a misfit.

There’s lots about parenting which terrifies me (bullying, drinking, drugs, self-esteem erosion), but breaking down the birds and the bees isn’t it.

I explained.

She reflected back what she’d heard me say.

I resisted laughter as I realized I’d NOT explained it at *all* in a way she could understand.

I backed up and re-approached.

She pronounced the whole thing EW and SUPER DISGUSTING.

BINGO!  I’d conveyed the information on a level an eight-year old could comprehend.

I’d nailed it.

I’d used words like sperm and egg and all the technical terms without embarrassment.

I’d managed not to giggle at her questions–yet wasn’t overly serious and did laugh–as did she–at her facial expressions in response to my words.

I’d made reproduction matter-of-fact, not taboo and laid the foundation for open communication later.

I grew self-congratulatory too quickly.

“One more question,”  she said after some thought.  “Is being married like super fun all the time?”


Halloween ’13 and my BRIDE-loving child.

The woman who’d not stammered over the word vagina stumbled.

I resisted temptation to steer the conversation *back* to reproduction (a parenting first I’m certain) — yet I was stumped how to respond:

Is anything always super fun? Is a YES setting her up for disappointment? Is a NO ruining the fairy tale for a child who loves the idea of marriage?

I stammered.

I said sure, maybe,  most of the time, anything worth having is work but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun, nothing is fun all the time kind of stuff.

In the same way my peers shared they’ve have stuttered over reproduction—I awkwardly did my best and am confident I made no sense.

I was tempted to white lie (“It is. It’s like a sleepover every night with your BFF!”).

I flirted with directness (“It’s hard. Really really hard. It’s waking and recommitting even when you don’t feel it hard.).

Which brings me to the title of this post and the non-rhetorical questions which plagued me since:

  • How much do we share with our children? Is a white lie OK when intent is good?
  • When difficult questions arise (the dreaded drugs & alcohol) are white lies ever OK?




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  1. says

    Marriage is so hard. Hardest job ever.

    The birds and bees talk has been going in on my house since forever. My kids were born at home, so my oldest actually remembers her brother being born. She actually slipped and fell on the amniotic fluid as she was standing there, and it exploded about one second before he was born. I like to think he was nearly born in his waters :)

    I just love your blog, Carla. I’ve only been blogging a little over a year, and am finding such inspiration from you <3

  2. says

    You are a trooper girlie – Marriage + kids = something I’m actually terrified of! I think it’s totally okay to protect a child’s innocence 😉

  3. says

    Awesome. Your explanations were awesome. Hopefully I don’t crawl into a hole to hide when the reproduction questions come. 😉

    Marriage IS hard. Much like running is hard and practicing soccer is hard (relating to the kiddo) at the end of the day, we’re glad we put in the work. It’s still fun and still makes us happy.

    The same can be said about parenting. It’s really freaking hard, but we happily do the work.

  4. says

    For once I’m glad my kids are older! I bet you could have redirected back to her — what does she see?

  5. says

    Can I call you when the birds and bees question comes up in our house??? There are things that I have gone through in the past that I would never want my girls to go through…I feel like when those questions arise (eating disorders, alcohol, bad boyfriends) I will be honest. Perhaps my mistakes can be lessons for them. I think you answered her marriage question well…I never saw my parents fight….ever…and struggled for a while when my hubby and I would disagree. I didn’t know what that should look like.

  6. says

    If it makes you feel any better, I have managed to turn my three kids both off having children and getting married with my birds and the bee talks. Doesn’t help that I was a little too graphic with the c-section part. I used to be a hard-core advocate of all the truth all the time, and as literal as possible. But as my children grew, and as I grew, I realized that a little soft white sugar coated lies every once in a while is not hurtful since the truth will certainly come out at some point. Especially in the areas of death, pain, and asteroids.

  7. says

    Of course we lie to our kids. We don’t have to do it all the time, and I agree that when it comes to educating our kids, truth is best.

    However there are times… when we’re afraid, uncertain, or need to reassure the kids… I don’t know how many times I’ve told my kids “Everything is going to be alright” when I know it’s going to be hard, ugly, and while it will eventually be a distant memory, is definitely NOT going to be alright in the short run. I’ve told my kids “Everything is going to be alright” during hurricanes, when I wasn’t sure it was going to be OK at all. I underplay my health issues with my kids, although I try to give them SOME hint of what’s going on.

    And I confess: My two youngest kids believed in Santa Claus.

    There are times kids are asking because they need knowledge, other times they ask because they need comfort. I think the trick is knowing which is which, and answer that need.

  8. says

    I love the honesty you have with Tornado {and US}! Personally, especially at Tornado’s age, I think small white lies are okay. Birds & Bees? Giver her the truth in a way she understands…like you did. But marriage? Shoot, I’m 33 and sometimes I don’t understand it completely. Marriage is so hard and so complex…so for now, I say white lie. Once she’s a little older with the same question? Then it might be time to explain.
    I adore the way you make me think so early in the morning. **runs for 2nd cup of coffee**

  9. says

    We don’t sugar-coat much around here — we’ve got some really interesting issues going on with various relatives and we have always told the kids (starting in maybe early-mid elementary when they were old enough to wrap head around issues) what is going on, what the seemingly never-ending and compounding fall-out is from these choices, how we don’t love these people any less, (but . . . .) keeping the communication open, etc. I let my husband do much of the birds and bees talks since we have 3 boys, always made me laugh to see them come out of the room in shell shock

  10. says

    We took the same approach with our baby boy…direct and to the point and he was fine with it. We don’t have many taboos in our house..

    but if telling a white lie or two is wrong..then I’m definitely doing it wrong. I’ve told my share. Some might have even been gray.

  11. Izzy says

    I’ve wondered about the later questions, too.

    My son is 12 and just starting to ask about drinking and drugs (!!).

  12. says

    I can completely relate to this post as a mom of 2 with a husband that travels most of the day. Your quote about solo parenting resonated with me. At first I was angry/sad/lonely but then I relished the time with my sons. I am fortunate that I can work from home most days and be there when they get off the bus. I love watching these moments because time goes by too quickly! An occasional white lie is ok but I am straight-forward when it comes to drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. I base my parenting on love, (brutal at times) honesty, and lots of laughs and fun. I hope my sons agree on my parenting style!

  13. says

    I rocked the birds and the bees conversations too…. now we’ve moved on to cutting and drugs and mean kids and priorities. So. much. harder. I wish I could go back. I’m trying to be realistic with my kids and not sugar coat things while also being positive and focusing on putting your energy into what you can control, versus what you can’t. This grown up gig is hard. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?

  14. says

    You are such an amazing mom Carla! I just love how honest you are with your daughter. White lies are ok when the child is in danger. Or when they feel scared. I think. I’m not really sure. It totally depends on the situation. Parenting is so hard!

  15. says

    I love this post–and your honesty!! We haven’t had the birds and the bees talk yet–though I kind of figured my pregnancy with her little brother might have spurred the question of how he got in there — she was just interested in the fact that he was out of my belly.

    I think you handled the questions totally well. We don’t want to give our kids these false notions that life (or marriage) is perfect all the time. All we can do is lead by example and hope they see that our marriages (while imperfect) are strong.

    Growing up I used to be grossed out by my parents’ affection for one another but looking back, I always knew they loved each other — even when they’d fight. They still do love one another … and they still fight, too :)

    I hope my hubby and I set a similar example for our kids. I’ve been more aware of how we talk to each other and respond to one another the past few months. I always want her to know that we love each other and respect each other and sometimes it’s hard to bite back a snarky response (especially when warranted ;)) but the truth is, that helps no one and doesn’t show us in a good light. It doesn’t mean we sugarcoat the bad; just need to be cognizant that little eyes and ears are all around.

    I def. agree with the poster who said sometimes we do have to tell white lies like it’ll be OK when we don’t know. We live in the Midwest and tornado drills are part of school — so now she is super-fearful of tornadoes and talks about them all the time. I try to reassure her that it’s OK and she has nothing to worry about, but statistics tell us otherwise. Still, she is already fearful–no need to make it worse. So it’s a fine line between addressing a potential reality and covering your ears like it’s not happening.

  16. linda c says

    I say, “Run with the white lie.” Run run run. See Mommy run. See Daddy run. Run, Chairman, run.

    Sooner or later you will have an opportunity to reveal the white in the lie – and that buys you some time….both for the kid/child/sweetie pie to mature and for you to watch and learn what the child may or may not be ready to hear.

    I’ve been a single mom since about month 2 of pregnancy. I’ve had 15 years to work out what my boy-man-child needs to know, and wants to know, and should know about his creation and subsequent arrival in this world. His dad wanted me to have an abortion – I said no. His dad is something of a jerk and a bully. His crazy grandmother from the other side of the family tree made my life a living hell. I haven’t had to do a whole helluva lot to explain some of these things because they have revealed themselves. My sonny is very insightful and intuitive by nature – he reads his father and step-monster like the dime-novels they are. He has put a lot of things together on his own. Thank goodness.

    The schools here have done a great job teaching about the negatives of drug and alcohol use. I’ve been honest about my experimentation with “the weed” (so thankful for Chris Farley’s “Matt Foley, motivational speaker”). I don’t drink. The other parentals love the party life-style. Sweet-boy observes and makes up his own mind. He’s strongly anti-drugs and turns his nose up at drinking. And he is not afraid to ask questions.

    I say there is no need for feeling guilty about protecting kids from certain things…your girly is getting great good doses of the world just by interacting with it.

    You, sistah, are awesome-momma rock solid.

  17. says

    Ok, but I’m dying to know how you explained it! I really think its ok to tell white lies. But this question is also a good time for a learning lesson…like, “is it always fun to play baseball?” “Or is it always fun to go to circus class?” Sometimes you have pieces of things that kinda stink but its still fun, etc, etc….

  18. says

    I think it’s great that you didn’t lie. Kids need to know that life isn’t the fairy tale Disney Movie (especially girls) and that it all takes work too!

  19. says

    Will you come over here and explain to my children please? I think that you did nail both of the questions and handled it in a way that does encourage future conversation. That’s the thing that I worry most about – I want my kids to feel like they can always talk to me no matter what.

  20. says

    Bless you woman! I was in a complete state of panic with the birds & bees question! Just the other day we talked about periods. (oh joy)

    I’ve found honesty to be the best policy.

    I don’t think I’m ready for the adventures we’re about the embark on, but I need you to know that reading your stories makes me feel comforted that I’m not alone. :)

  21. says

    I think her words “super fun all the time” is a great doorway to conversation. Because you’re right – is ANYthing super fun all the time? Like running a 5k? No. There are moments you want to just STOP and do anything else! but then in the end it felt super worth it. Marriage can be like that, or a job, or going to school, or anything. I think that’s 100% honest.

    It might be interesting also to answer that question with a question. “What do YOU think?” (based on observation) I bet she’d say sometimes it looks like fun and sometimes not so much. Which is true for all situations as well.

  22. Janis says

    If it helps any, I can’t clearly recall WHAT my mom said or if I ever asked her, and I’m 48. I may not have bothered to ask. I think I was too busy asking my dad about telescopes.

  23. says

    I’m with you – the “birds & the bees” is science and I can handle that!
    The other question – much harder!! I think that as kids get older they will be able to see that marriage is indeed hard and while it is fun overall there are times that aren’t so fun.
    I never saw or heard my parents even have an argument and yet one day they sat us down and told us they were getting a divorce. I feel like they definitely lived a lie in front of us for years!!!
    I want the boys to learn that there will be some disagreements, some tears and LOTS of laughter and hugs in a marriage!!!

  24. says

    Not sure I’d even classify this as lying but more of withholding, and sometimes, I think it is ok and even necessary depending on the child’s age and development. I’m really open and honest with my kids (had that ewww reproduction talk with my daughter last year when she asked) but there are definitely limits to how deeply I might delve into a subject. Well done, mama–I think you handled it beautifully!

  25. says

    Tell the truth, at a level the child can understand. Ask her if anything at all that’s fun a lot of the time is fun every minute of the day. For example, even if she loves school, it’s not totally fun and games every minute. That primes you to say that even stuff we love isn’t fun every minute.

  26. says

    You’re tackling issues of life, but I always seem to run into death. Shark Boy has developed a near ‘death-fetish’, and I’ve tried to be matter-of-fact about some things, and censor others, but they come in the darndest ways – e.g. “What’s a bomb?” (probably from me listening to the news on the radio on the way home from daycare). These things unfortunately work their way into his make-believe, so we end up with a kid using terminology and images that don’t seem appropriate in spite of watching next to no TV (and then only programming for young, young children) and no movies, ever.

    I’m rambling, but in spite of wanting to adhere to a spirit of free information, “when is it OK to lie to your child?” Anytime you see fit; the real world will encroach anyway.

  27. says

    I think it’s great that you can just talk to her about this. All of it. I also think explaining marriage is a whole lot more complicated than sex. It’s just not a simple thing… I would find it hard to know just what she wanted to know from a question like that.
    Either way -As long as she feels comfortable coming back to ask you more questions I think you nailed it. She knows she can talk to you and you’ll answer. That’s huge. :)

  28. says

    I grew up in a household where we didn’t talk about a lot of things, and I wasn’t comfortable asking questions about a lot of topics. So when I had my older son, it was extremely important to me to be open and honest with him. In fact, I probably pushed the “where do babies come from” topic a bit on him (something I don’t find the need to do with the kid. He has asked a few questions and I answer but let him decide what to pursue).

    I don’t use white lies as I think they can lead to more problems down the road… I think you answered the marriage question perfectly for her age.

  29. emmaclaire says

    I haven’t resorted to white lies very often, more just answering with the appropriate amount of information needed. I, like you, was never afraid of the birds and bees questions – and doling it out at an age appropriate level has made all 3 kids comfortable coming back when the questions get harder/more specific. I knew I’d done a good job when all 3 of them shared very personal information with me further on down the road. Taking them seriously and being honest is so important, in my opinion.

    As for the marriage question, I like to compare it to the relationship we have together as parent/child. Some days are easy and happy, some days are more difficult and not so happy, but we always love each other and we always work out our problems together. That answer seemed to work – thankfully!

    Thank you for sharing your parenting experiences, the good, the bad and the nervous-making!

  30. says

    lol, cracking up at the thought of that conversation! Yes, white lies are ok in my book, lol. Only when necessary but yes we all have different parenting styles and I do try to be as honest as possible….but hey I lie about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy!

  31. says


    Who would have known talking about sex would be easier than talking about marriage?

    I am with you on the birds and the bees: I explain it, no big deal. (My kids are 7 and 10).

    As for marriage, hmmmm… I think I would tell the truth, but maybe embellish it a little bit. It’s just like giving birth… we don’t want our kids to know what it’s really like, otherwise they might decide not to do it! LOL

    Although to be honest, if I felt my marriage is really hard, I would probably question my choice (of husband, of getting married in the first place, etc.) Marriage is not always a stroll through the park with perfumed roses and rainbows and butterflies, but it IS supposed to be mostly pleasant! :-)

  32. says

    Well done Carla! I have definitely withheld information to keep the conversation age-appropriate. But with my oldest we have entered the middle school years and it has gotten very real up in here! Makes my head spin some days!

  33. says

    I think it’s important to be truthful and give our kids an accurate picture. Marriage, as life, is really what we make of it. And like Susan said ^^ nothing is ALWAYS super fun. lol.

  34. MamaBearJune says

    We share at their level of understanding and don’t push the subjects on them they haven’t expressed curiosity over! :-) (This is one of my favorite parenting stories.) My daughter was SO YOUNG when she asked that question. She was 7, so I was not expecting it. “Mommy, I know the sperm and the egg come together to make a baby, but how does the sperm GET TO THE EGG?” Pretty darn specific for a SEVEN year old! We watched a LOT of nature shows and had recently seen frogs reproducing, so I basically said “There’s a way mommies and daddies make babies just like the frogs we saw.” She looked at me thoughtfully and left the room. (I was on the floor basting a quilt together.) Thought, WHEW, that went well. She went downstairs and asked her Daddy the same question. Silence. Then “JUNE!” Kisa said “I already asked her, she doesn’t know!” I was ROLLING on the floor. So Daddy expertly got a little more detailed to satisfy her curiosity and I got out my book “A Child is Born” (amazing book, but too graphic for SOME kids) http://www.amazon.com/Child-Born-Lennart-Nilsson/dp/0385337558/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397153727&sr=1-1&keywords=in+utero+photos And I told her that some of her friends were not ready to learn about babies, so this was not something she should discuss with them on the playground. She was all “I know, Mom!” Now at 26yo we play games like Cards Against Humanity together. (The game should be rated R, if not NC-17 and can be uncomfortable with the parent/child relationship unless you are twisted like us.) LOL A couple years after that incident, we were driving to swimming lessons when my 8 or 9yo son said “How do you mate?” (Always make sure you know what exactly they are asking!) So I said, “You mean like the animals we see on the Discovery Channel?” Son: “No, I mean people. How do humans mate.” His sister, beside him in the backseat started to answer. There’s always been very little embarrassment within our family. I interrupted and said “God designed mommies and daddies to fit together in a special way when they love each other and want to make a baby.” Then when we got home I got out a different book for him. It was an Usborne book that had cartoons of machines to explain it. That fit his style of learning a lot better. Usborne has some great books on the subject at different levels. Even for the really little ones who occasionally ask a question out of the blue and doesn’t need specifics.

  35. MamaBearJune says

    Oh, and I think it’s kind of important to let kids know that marriage is HARD and NOT a fairytale. I think those fairytale expectations lead to way too many divorces because people expect the goofy swooning FEELINGS to last and don’t think they have to work HARD to make marriage work. We never hid ALL fighting from our kids. They know that we can get mad at each other and still love each other. They get uncomfortable, but I think they appreciate knowing that it IS hard sometimes. I try really hard to never talk bad about my husband to ANYONE, but especially the kids. There’s a few things we kid him about, but I try to always show them I respect him. We tease each other a lot about our idiosyncrasies!

  36. says

    I think you raise a really interesting conundrum here. I don’t have kids, but I was raised by parents who managed to tell me the truth pretty often and pretty well. I like that they didn’t sugarcoat it. I still remember when I refused to leave the car and go to school until my Mom told me about Santa. Then I yelled at her for telling me. Despite that, I still asked about the birds and the bees at age 8 (my mom bought me a book we read together), and I asked about other, harder topics as I got older.

    I distinctly remember as a teen having no desire to drink or do drugs, and it was because my parents were so open about their experiences and laid out the ground rules pretty well. “We know that you are probably going to experiment, but here is what we want you to know. If something bad happens, we want you to call us because we would want to help you and we won’t judge you for doing what a teen does.” Becuase they didn’t make it taboo, and shared their misfortune and own experiences, I felt no desire to do anything (neither did my younger brother), and we both have called them in emergencies when our friends were terrified to call their parents.

    I’d say the honesty thing worked out pretty well.

  37. says

    Carla you nailed it on both questions! I used the truth with my children but how much I said was determined by their age and how much they pressed me for more information.

    My hubby traveled and worked long hours while our children were growing up – which allowed me to be a stay at home mom – so I am not complaining. I used that solo time with my children to do things that their dad didn’t enjoy. We would go for long drives in the country side – or visit parks and take a picnic ,which is always a perfect time for good conversation. We would eat things that dad wasn’t fond of and watch movies that wouldn’t interest him. Since I spent so much alone time with them I got all the questions all the time! I tried not to stumble but sometimes I was caught off guard and had to respond off the cuff. Being a mom is fun like that!

  38. says

    Wow! First of all, bravo for tackling the birds and the bees! My children are still under age 3, so I haven’t had that experience yet.

    As for your question – I’d say it depends. My kids haven’t asked me any questions where I would feel a need to lie. I do tell my kids about Santa, Easter Bunny, leprechauns, etc. because I see no harm in kids having and developing an imagination.

    When it comes to things that may be asked in the future, I’m not sure. I wouldn’t tell white lies, but I would only give what information is necessary. I hope to be honest and open with my kids so that they will be honest and open with me as they grow up.

  39. says

    I hope this is ok to say and I really did love this post. And this is just my personal opinion here, I’m not trying to be a negative Nancy or trying to make anyone mad. But I feel strongly that if we don’t talk to our kids about these difficult topics then someone else will. And I don’t believe that you can ever start to early, incest and sexual assault are two very unpopular topics. But a lot of times it starts with the abuser grooming the child, and 80% of the time it will be someone close to them ( and of course the last person you would expect) – so it doesn’t matter how much the “real world” has been kept out of their life. I feel that if you work with your child to have 1. Open communication with you, and 2. A strong sense of their body and their own self worth then it can go a long way in protecting them, encouraging them to embrace their individuality and prepare them for success. It sounds like you gave excellent answers Carla – kudos for being true to you!