Why Parents Lie

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Figure Things Out for Myself

Parents lie to their children. This isn’t something new; I’m sure it’s been going on for centuries. My grandparents lied to my parents, my parents lied to me, and I am definitely going to lie to my kids. To sit here and claim otherwise would simply be shortsighted.

We all get lied to every now and then — it’s a part of life. And yes, sometimes our parents are the culprits. But while this may be detrimental to some of our pristine mental pictures of our heroes, absorbing these lies is crucial to growing up. Learning to distinguish fact from fiction is an essential step in the maturation process.

I don’t remember the exact day I realized it, but I can tell you I needed some time to myself afterward. Not everything my parents had told me up to that point in my life was true. I needed to repeat it to myself and explain it in different ways to fully understand. “My dad guessed and was wrong.” “My mom just made that up and I believed it.” “My parents lied to me.” “My parents lied to me.”

I believe there are two types of people in the world: those who ask why and those who don’t.

If you’re “Christian” like me, your first encounter with one of these lies might have been around Christmastime. I was seven years old when I found out [SPOILER ALERT] Santa Claus doesn’t exist. While standing in the lunch line with a friend, a boy named Adam turned around and whispered to us: “Do you know Santa’s not real?” This prompted a No way! reaction, as we speculated what it meant in regard to where our gifts were coming from, who was eating all those cookies, and what other information adults were withholding from us.

I did not stand over my parents’ bed that night holding a knife, demanding answers. But this was the beginning of a long process — a process that remains a work in-progress to this day. What else did they lie to me about?

Once I knew they were capable of being dishonest, I began to notice more and more discrepancies. And the bullshit began piling up. Spotting a lie was like picking a suspect out of a police lineup. (Or, a better analogy: It was like when you rarely see a specific car in Grand Theft Auto and then you steal it and see it everywhere.) But every time I called my parents out on their BS, they came clean. Sure, these lies and half-truths were stains on their reputations (in my eyes), but they did their best to explain.

Part of the reason this process is so damaging to the heroic portraits we paint of our parents is that through it, we realize they are human. Just like us. They don’t know everything, contrary to what our second-grade selves would argue. Sometimes, they don’t know the answer to a question and they just make it up. Other times, they really don’t want us to do something, so they attach that behavior to something awful (yet completely unrelated). This is their attempt at teaching us a lesson.

J. Walter Weatherman, Arrested Development (Ruby Does Stuff/Tumblr)

As long as we don’t base our whole belief systems on one or more of these lies, we’ll grow up just fine. Sure, maybe I won’t “turn into a Pop-Tart” if I keep eating them, and maybe Anchorage isn’t the capital of Alaska. (And maybe a man won’t lose his arm because I didn’t leave a note about how we’re out of milk.) But this is why we must experience the realization at an early age. Learning that our parents lie to us catalyzes our entire learning process.

When I found out my parents weren’t all-knowing superheroes, I learned to consult other sources for information. I developed research skills, interview skills, reporting skills. Reading comprehension skills. Writing skills.

I learned to ask questions and be skeptical. I learned not to accept the first answer all the time. Just because it seems obvious doesn’t mean it’s true.

How can I blame the people who raised me for phoning it in every once in awhile and making shit up? I do that now, sometimes. When I was attending college fairs for my employer, I didn’t know the answers to all of the students’ questions. So, I made shit up. Hopefully, those students’ parents raised them to take things with a grain of salt. If not, then maybe I don’t want them working for my company.

I believe there are two types of people in the world: those who ask why and those who don’t. Now, while there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with the people who do what they’re told and work hard and avoid confrontation, where would we be without the other type? Where would our country be? Where would the human race be if everybody was raised to accept what they’re told as fact?

Question everything. It doesn’t mean we have to be rude about it, and it doesn’t even mean we need to voice our doubts 100% of the time. Sometimes, it’s better to keep reservations internal to understand them better before investigating. But our parents lie to us to prepare us for the rest of the world. If somebody who loves me can lie straight to my seven-year-old face, then imagine what everyone else is capable of.

Lesson learned, Mom and Dad.

You can find more of Ryan’s work in Human Parts, The Coffeelicious, Absurdist, and The Bigger Picture. You can follow him on Twitter here or check out his website here. He’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!