“PROTECTING” CHILDREN BY LYING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My father was 26 years older than my mother. He was 58 when they married, a first marriage for him. He was 59 when I was born. He was only five years younger than my grandfather and three years younger than my grandmother.

Mom, Dad and me at two. They were 35 and 61.

When I was five or six, my mom got sick. I was scared but comforted myself by saying that only old people died. My parents decided that it would not be a good idea to tell me that my Dad was ‘old’ – he was 64 or 65 at the time, ancient to a little kid.

They made up a story about my parents’ ages. They took ten years off my mother’s age, since she was 33 when she had me and not a young woman in her twenties like most moms of the day. They took 26 years off of my father’s age and said that they were only ten years apart. So when I was ten, I thought my parents were 33 and 43 — not 43 and 69!

When I was 12, a friend’s father read one of my dad’s books. He also read the biographical section on the back cover flap. This said that my father was born in 1891, which would have made him 71 years old. My friend told me and I checked out the book cover. I was appalled that such an egregious error had not been caught on a major publication. I informed my parents that they had to contact the publisher immediately and correct the error.

Mom and Dad when I was about 11. They were around 44 and 70.

My parents had to confess their actual ages. I was in shock. I was also devastated that I had been lied to my whole life. We had celebrated fake birthdays for both parents every year. Even my grandparents had been in on the big lie. I felt manipulated and humiliated.

It got worse. A few months later, in a 7th grade Ethics class, we talked about the issue of ‘old people’, ‘senior citizens’ – people who were over 65. We talked about nursing homes and the obligation to care for the elderly. I suddenly realized that this meant my father, who was already in his 70’s, as well as my grandparents. I remember struggling not to cry in class.

I don’t advocate telling big lies to children. I think if I had grown up knowing my parents’ true ages, it would have been natural to me. No big deal. By lying, my parents made into a big deal. I became obsessed with people’s ages and it lasted for several years.

Mom with Dad at the end of his life. She was 63 and he was 89.

Lies like those my parents told me made me feel betrayed and I never fully trusted my parents again. I didn’t feel my parents had confidence in me. Kids need to know their parents believe they are strong enough to handle the truth. I think lying to your kids to ‘protect’ them, tells kids that you think they need protecting from the world. It makes kids doubt their own ability to cope and creates insecure and suspicious children.

I’m a big fan of truth-telling. I’m not rude, but I try to be honest as much as possible. For example, I didn’t automatically tell my children that everything they did was amazing. I’d tell them if I thought their art work or school project wasn’t the best they’d ever done. I believed they needed to learn to deal with criticism. I also thought they needed to learn that they couldn’t just phone it in and still get super praise.

I may have ended up being too honest with my kids, but i think it’s better than deceit.

39 thoughts on ““PROTECTING” CHILDREN BY LYING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. Wow — that wasn’t just a ‘little white lie!’ I believe parents are encouraged now to tell their kids the true answers to their questions, but to keep the conversation at an “age appropriate” level. That could well have saved the hurt you experienced.

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    • My parents believed that because of my age, I could not absorb the true information about their ages without fear and anxiety. To them what they were doing was dealing with me in an “age appropriate” way. The problem was once the lie has been told for a long time, how do you finally tell the truth, and when? I was almot 12 when I found out the truth. When were they going to tell me?

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  2. I agree. Kids need honesty, especially from their parents or guardians. And why let them settle for something they know isn’t the best they can do only because someone they trusted said it was great.
    Most of my foster kids had to take it on the chin (when I said ‘I know you can do better, because …), but they always came back with something they tried really hard with – and that’s worth celebrating. Aim high, and you never know when they’ll reach that star.

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    • Sometimes the little white lies about how wonderful your artwork is can turn out to be the most destructive. Our society has discovered that it’s not great to have an entire generation who think everything they do is automatically wonderful, just because they showed up and did it. Kids have to learn that you need to work hard to make things good. Unconditional love is one thing, but unconditional praise is quite different.

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  3. My mother never told us her true age either. We always thought she was much younger than my dad. We also didn’t know her real name until we were in college, I believe–perhaps high school. My father himself didn’t know his real name until I was a young adult. There’s a long story that goes with that, but suffice it to say that although we knew my parents as Pat and Ben, their real names were Eunice Lydia and Gerben Sylvester. (Or Gerhart Sylvanius–my sister and I are still debating over which is the correct name.) Ah, families.

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    • Most families have family “secrets”. That’s not the same thing as protecting your children by hiding them from the truth about something that you feel will harm them. I believe that I would have just accepted my parents ages and moved on. It would have hit me at some point that my father and my grandarents were almost the same age. But that happened anyway. My mother was 33 when she had me, which was not that uncommon for the WWII couples. One of the kids in my class when we were eight, had a 28 year old mother. She had had him at age 20. I thought that was ridiculous and unusual. I didn’t know my mother’s true age but I thought she was in her mid thirties. My point is that kids adjust to their own normal and think anything else is odd.

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      • Yes.. as a third child and 11 years younger than my oldest sister, my parents were older when I was born and retired and moved to Arizona the year I went into college. There were many benefits to having older parents. I got to drive the car all over the state for church and school events. My parents were worn out from driving kids places. This was fine with me.

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    • I still loved my parents but I was very angry with them for lying to me. I felt betrayed and manipulated. I never fully trusted them again. On a deepeer level, I think I unconsciously accepted their belief that I wasn’t strong enough to handle the truth. That I was fragile and needed protecting. I think that was the real damage to my psyche.

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  4. My mother was 10 years older than my father. I didn’t find that out until I was nearly an adult. But my mother never admitted her age, either and this wasn’t all that unusual in those days. It wasn’t even polite to ASK a woman’s age. So to a degree, I think we all need to take this information in the context of the times in which it happened. It WAS different.

    I never trusted my parents anyway. My father wasn’t the kind of guy you trusted. I knew my mother was lying about her age. She was 29 for about 30 years. She didn’t admit her real age until she turned 65, at which point it seemed to no longer matter.

    My father never admitted anything and there was a lot he should have admitted, so his age was the least of his sins.

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    • My parents were separated by two years in age. I don’t think they lied (often) to their 3 sons. It was more what they DIDN’T tell us….until near the end of their lives. Marilyn and I have a pact. No lies. We’ve known each other long enough to make that work.

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      • Not telling your kids certain things about your life is different than lying to your children about things that affect the child’s life. My mother never told me “the big secret” until she was 81 and diagnosed with cancer. I was around 48 years old at the time. The “Big” secret was that I was conceived out of wedlock. My parents had both been told that they were sterile so I came as a big surprise to both of them. But that wasn’t something that affected my life in any way. It was a big deal for my parents in an age when people counted the months from the wedding to the birth of the first child. So my parents told the world that they were married on December 3, 1948, in a private family ceremony. I was born October 26, 1949. In fact, they were actually married on April 14, 1949. They never celebrated their real anniversary, ever. Mom had even forgotten what the real date was. I found her marriage license in a box of memorobilia after she had died.

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    • Marilyn, at the time, it was probably unusual that your mother was significantly older than your father. That was the “truth” that needed to be hidden. At least about age. So given the mores of the time, it was not unusual that your mother didn’t want to talk about her age. She may have carried it a bit far though.

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      • I kind of knew anyway. I knew my mother was two years older than her youngest sister, so it wasn’t all that hard to figure out how old Pearl was, add two years and voila, mom. My family had other secrets and they were a lot more serious than years of birth. I think my father was more embarrassed about being young and I think he lied about his age to my mother, too. Lots of lies about lots of things.

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    • I knew my parents loved me. But they were very manipulative. My mother thought she should control everything about my life and my father usually went along with her. They thought they were doing what was right for me, but they were really doing what was comfortable for them to do with me.They always had an intellectual justification for everything they did regarding me. Sometimes their motives were pure but many times I think they just wanted to justify their own behavior or do something in a way that was easier for themselves. That’s the problem, once they lied and manipulated, I could never trust their actions or their motives again.

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