Every parent is tempted occasionally to fib to their children, if only to shield them from hurt, fire their imagination or make our frazzled lives easier.
But a new study has suggested tall tales could be harmful. It found ‘benign lying’ left adolescents anxious and uncertain, and that girls in particular feel ‘betrayed’. So would you do it? Writers own up to the whoppers they’ve told…
I am a sorceress
British writers revealed the lies they’ve told their children, including Rowan Pelling (pictured) who told her sons she was a witch
When my boys were little, I told them I was a witch. A sorceress with healing energy, I could soothe everything from nausea to headaches. And then there was the power of my personal hex. When someone behaved badly towards them (playground bullies and the occasional unpleasant teacher), I told them I had placed a small curse on their foe.
I made clear that it was always wrong to wish lasting unhappiness on another human being. But you might desire that they spilt Fanta down their front, or fell over in a muddy puddle. Thinking up an appropriate cosmic punishment was part of the fun.
The dog’s fine, darling!
When my daughter was eight, she fell in love with my friend’s dog Moomin. Her busy owner, also Maddie’s godfather, would drop her at our home and she would stay for days, always sleeping on Maddie’s bed. The dog was part of our family.
Then we moved house and didn’t see so much of Moomin, who by now was getting a bit slow, had only three legs after a road accident and was hard of hearing. So deaf, in fact, she didn’t hear my friend’s car reversing. Poor thing was killed immediately.
After he’d got over the shock, his first concern was, ‘how are we going to tell Maddie?’ ‘We’re not,’ I said firmly.
With my youngest, an emotional teenager by then, trying to process the recent death of her grandfather (my Dad), I couldn’t hit her with more heartache. So, figuring that in time she would stop asking after Moomin, my wife and I began lying. Through our teeth.
Moomin isn’t coming up to London this weekend, Moomin isn’t well. Your godfather came over and you just missed Moomin.
Simon Mills (pictured) and his wife spent nine years lying to their daughter Maddie, about his friend’s dog Moomin who had been killed
I started to feel really bad. Maddie had photos of Moomin in her room. She talked of her often. Trips to Dorset to visit her were planned, then cancelled. Promises to bring her to London were made and broken with increasingly elaborate excuses (‘she’s chasing pheasants on a shoot all weekend’).
Guilt and shame? Definitely. Bad parenting? Probably. But keeping up the lie — for almost nine years — became second nature. In the end, Maddie found out because, without thinking, I casually referred to Moomin in the past tense. ‘Aw, you loved Moomin, didn’t you?’.
It all came out. There were tears and a very long silence. Eventually she asked: ‘Why did you wait all this time to tell me?’
I wasn’t drunk!
Lucy Cavendish (pictured) spent years lying to her children about how she shattered a bone, after injuring herself while drunk
As a stressed-out mother of three children under four, I felt as if I’d been pregnant for ever.
So when my then-husband and I were invited out to dinner, I rather lost my head. Unused to alcohol after so long, I got incredibly drunk. Really, really steaming.
When it was home time, my husband, the designated driver, put our son into his car seat while I managed to fall into a ditch beside the road. My husband manhandled me into the car and put me to bed soon after my son.
The next morning I woke up with a throbbing head … and an even more throbbing ankle. It turned out I had shattered a bone. I spent the next few weeks with a plaster cast on. I had to sleep downstairs and my mother had to move in to look after the baby, as I couldn’t even carry him. I felt truly awful, really embarrassed. What sort of mother gets drunk and falls over? So for years I have lied about this. When my children ask about broken bones, the older two, now in their teens, always remember that night — or rather, my alcohol-free version of events. I told them I simply ‘slipped’ in the mud, too ashamed to admit the truth.
‘Poor Mummy,’ they say. They may well read this and I’ll have to come clean. Perhaps that’s a good thing. They can stop pitying me and I can stop feeling so guilty!
We have a gas leak
Trish Halpin (pictured) told her children that there would be a huge explosion, if they went searching for Christmas present
My husband Neil and I never set out to be parents who lied to our children, but somehow it kept happening.
One of our favourites was ‘the magic car’, an old Volvo we owned when our twins were about five. Fed up with their whingeing, we told them the car would stop and throw them out if they made too much noise. To ‘prove’ it, Neil would take his hands off the wheel and steer with his knees for a few seconds, so it looked as if it was driving itself — once or twice he even pulled up by the kerb to show the car meant business. If the car was getting ‘cross’, all four windows would open at the same time (they hadn’t spotted the buttons we were pressing in the front). But far from being scared, the kids loved it and would scream even more, so we had to end that one.
Then there was ‘the gas leak’, which we deployed whenever we caught them rummaging around the house, often for Christmas presents. We told them if they opened a certain door, there would be a huge explosion.
It didn’t work for long, though. Once, we were having a new bathroom fitted and our son decided to ignore our instructions to stay out of it. How did we know? The trickle of yellow that started dripping through the sitting room ceiling. We ran upstairs to find him peeing in the new loo that was yet to be plumbed in. From then on, the gas leak was upgraded with hazard tape, which Neil would put across the doorway. They joined the dots eventually — they are now 16 and laugh uproariously at our attempts to control them, so I doubt any damage was done. But every year we put hazard tape over the room where we’ve hidden the Christmas presents, for old times’ sake.
McDonald’s is toxic
When Candida Crewe’s (pictured) children were aged ten, eight and six, she told them McDonald’s was poisonous and would kill them
Who could blame a single mother of three sons for feeding them untruths in the name of healthy eating?
At ten, eight and six, my boys wanted to eat wall-to-wall rubbish. So I took what I thought was the easy way out: I told them, utterly seriously, that McDonald’s was poisonous and would kill them.
They believed me. I remember once, as we passed a McDonald’s window, the middle one pointed in shock and said, ‘Look Mama, there are lots of people in there and they’re still alive!’ I felt terrible. I did worry, sometimes, that I’d messed them up with this. But they are now 22, 20 and 18 and it doesn’t seem to have harmed them. They mostly eat well — but since learning the truth when they hit adolescence, I’m sad to say they like fast food, too.
It’s New Year !
Rachel Johnson (pictured) told her three children it was New Year, when she wanted to enjoy champagne and put them to bed
I got the idea for one glorious fib from my father. On New Year’s Eve, we would sit around the fire in the family farmhouse on Exmoor after supper. My father would start glancing stagily at his watch. ‘Almost midnight,’ he would announce. We had no television, the only radio was in the kitchen, and no clocks, so we would take his word for it.
At least an hour before midnight, he would pop a bottle of champagne, we would toast the New Year and kiss each other warmly, then he would march across the yard to turn off the generator in a remote shed and plunge the house into darkness, so we would race to get into bed before all the lights went out. I used the same trick on my three children, putting all the clocks forward by two hours. ‘Happy New Year!’ I’d cry long before 11, and shortly thereafter, ‘It’s after midnight! Bedtime!’
Any house guests would have to maintain my lie too, but I found they liked it as it meant at least an extra hour’s sleep. It doesn’t work so well, sadly, now my children are in their 20s.
Fairies are real…
Bel Mooney (pictured) wanted her children to believe in the possibility of magic, telling them that fairies were at the bottom of the garden
On holiday in rural France, staying with friends, we found some toadstools at the bottom of their garden. Fairies live there, I whispered to my young son, so we should leave tasty morsels out that night because French fairies love good food. Before bed, he solemnly ferried cheese, biscuits and olives to the toadstools, promising he wouldn’t wake me in the morning but would tiptoe out alone to see if the little folk had feasted.
I put him to bed and the household caroused. At midnight, I remembered the damn fairies . . . so I stumbled tipsily outside with no torch. At last I found the toadstools and took away the bits. In the morning Dan was so excited.
I wanted my children to believe in the possibility of magic and Dan is still fired by that power of imagination as he brings up his own boys.