Some parents lie to their children to get them to do things faster (like eat their food) while others do it to shield their children from pain or because they cannot think of a less awkward answer. But as Anjellah N Owino discovers, lying to your children may work temporarily but it may lead to undesirable traits in those children as adults.
When Beatrice Cheptoo’s eldest daughter, Miriam, asked her about her father, she admits all she could think of in reply, was essentially a lie.
Beatrice felt that telling her daughter that her biological father disowned her would be too painful and it would bring emotional conflict between her child and a man she has never met.
So instead, she told Miriam that the father of her second born child, a man she was living with then, was also her father. The relationship between Cheptoo and her partner ended years later.
When Miriam went out to play with other children in the neighbourhood, she heard them talk about their fathers and this sparked her curiosity. She wanted to know who her real father was since she didn’t look anything close to the man her mother had told her was her father.
Not satisfied with her mother’s answer, Miriam resumed her search for her father when she was 13. She got so close to the truth, even knowing her father’s family, that this pushed her mother to introduce her to her real father.
“I always imagined that she would never be interested in knowing the truth because of the love she got from my former partner. I explained to her why I lied to her and she understood my reasons,” Beatrice says.
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Beatrice says this is one of the biggest lies most single parents tell their children. She had intended to never tell her daughter the truth. Looking back, she now admits that a lie can have devastating effects on a child.
“It is best not to lie. Anything can happen in life and there may not be anyone else who can tell the child the truth apart from the parent. I don’t keep any more secrets from my children,” she says.
What happens when you lie?
Beatrice is not a psychologist but her conclusion is not far from that of psychologists.
Recent psychological research conducted by Nanyang Technological University in Singapore states that parents’ lies could be harmful to a child later on in adulthood. A child who is frequently lied to experiences guilt and shame, will lie to their parents, and is more likely to be selfish and manipulative.
But what about ‘little white lies’, are they as bad as ones with deeper consequences?
According to the research, done in collaboration with Canada’s University of Toronto, the United States’ University of California, San Diego, and China’s Zheijang Normal University, revealed that parents mostly lied about money, to put an end to a child’s misconduct, and get them to do something such as eating.
As adults, children who were lied to by their parents exaggerate about events, lie to help others, and lie about themselves.
Eunice Akoth, a 24-year-old office assistant, says she frequently lies to her three-year-old child to encourage him eat his meals. It has been a constant struggle for the mother of one to convince her son to eat. She found out that if she tells him she will reward him with yoghurt, her son does finish his meals.
Akoth believes that her small lies will not cause harm to a child and argues that she is only a mother trying to get her son to eat and it seems to be working.
“Only that my son keeps asking her when he will get his yoghurt,” she says, adding that he still eats even when I promise to get the yoghurt the following day. “There are some days when I keep this promise and days that it is only a lie. Most of the time, it is a lie. I think, at his age, I cannot reason with him on why he should eat. It forces me to lie,” she says.
Akoth says that she would, however, not tell a bigger lie to her son since when the child comes to full knowledge that it was a lie, he would have a hard time distinguishing truths from lies. And raising a child with lies could create mistrust.
She recounts the lies she was told when she was growing up.
“I was told that children are bought from supermarkets. I was also lied to that I should not sit on a chair that a boy had previously sat on because I will get pregnant. The main reason for the lie was to keep me away from boys. I understood the message when I got older -- as much as it was passed through a lie,” she explains.
Dolphine Achieng, 27, does not remember a day her parents ever lied to her. She is following in their footsteps to her son.
“I don’t like to lie to my child even though we have had a lot of struggle when it comes to have him finish his food. I tell him that if he finishes eating his food, I will let him go to play outside. I will do my best never to lie to him. I would rather tell him the truth than him having high expectations that I will not be able to fulfil,” Dolphin says.
Truth will always come out
Ken Aringo (pictured with his wife), is a pastor and relationship therapist in his early 40s. He says he lives by the principle of telling the truth now instead of a lie that will come out later.
“When it comes to parenting, I have come to appreciate, and rightly so, that children are like a fertile ground, and whatever seed (in this case lying) the parents choose to sow must grow. So, personally, I would highly discourage any form of lying from parents to children because it will be reproduced in the next generation and the cycle will never stop,” says the father of three children between the ages of 8 and 14.
He adds: “I am aware there are moments when telling your children the truth will expose the parents’ own vulnerability, but the truth that unsettles you now is better than the lie you may never undo tomorrow.”
Wellington Edaki, 25-year-old lawyer and advocate-to-be, says he grew up in a transparent home. A lawyer with an interest in psychoanalysis and behaviourism, he says his parents always told him the truth.
“Sometimes they were half-truths depending on the type of issue and whether I could absorb the bare truth at that age. However, I have never felt that what I meant to know was concealed. Since my environment was transparent, I am able to tell when people lie and when they are being honest,” he says.