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Why I’m Raising My Toddler on a Steady Diet of Lies

Lies are like a bucket of baking soda that you toss on the grease fire of your kid's insatiable id.

3:58 PM EST on January 6, 2023

A father tosses his kid in the air playfully at sunset at the beach.

(lauren lulu taylor / Unsplash)

I can’t stop lying to my three-year-old daughter. Nor do I intend to. Stopping now would be a huge mistake. 

I’m not referring to lies of any real magnitude. I do try to give honest answers to most questions, like why I’m taping paper bags over the windows of her bedroom at the Airbnb, or where the poop goes after the potty slurps it up (sorry, non-breeders). But as any parent of a toddler knows, lies—or as I like to call them, "Dadda's L'il Helpers"—can be like a bucket of baking soda that you toss on the grease fire of your kid's insatiable id, which demands constant gratification and cannot abide a world in which even the slightest whim goes unmet.

Some child psychologists argue that parents are missing an opportunity to teach their kids about adversity when they lie and claim, for example, there are no more Bunny Grahams left. What you're supposed to do instead is show empathy and impart the concept of moderation to a screeching rip in the space-time continuum that's devouring the kitchen floor where your human child was just standing.

The other day, after I told her not to climb onto the windowsill in our third-floor apartment, she sternly explained to me, as though I was the child, "I am a big kid and that means I can do whatever I want to do." Later that day, after I prevented her from walking in traffic on 41st Street, she became enraged, shouting at me that I was "ruining her whole life." That remains to be seen, but you can understand the challenge here, right? (She also grabbed my cheeks earlier that day and told me she loved me and would never leave me, so I guess we have our whole lives to determine who’s ruining whom.)

Do I worry that experts specializing in early childhood development might know something I don't? Sure. On the other hand, lies work? As I type this confession, a framed photograph on my desk shows her running through a sun-drenched field, smiling beatifically, blissfully unaware of all the tangled webs I weave. Could it be that Dadda’s L'il Helpers are making daily life a little easier for both of us, giving her a happy childhood unfettered by the relentless grind of honest answers? At the very least, it's worth holding onto this photo so it can be submitted as evidence in my defense during the future Elder Truth & Inadequacy Trials.

And as we both grow older, with her remembering more and me less, it takes a lot of focus to keep all the various lies straight. So lately I've been keeping a list of some of my daily Dadceptions, to help me keep all my false stories straight. Here are some of the most road-tested prevarications. Feel free to use them if you ever find yourself scrambling to come up with some fresh alternative facts for your kids.

  • Bad news, the playground’s closed!
  • I’m sad too! This is my favorite playground to go to in a heat wave. I love that there’s no shade and all the water fountains are broken, plus the view of the Superfund site is breathtaking! 
  • No, I don’t see any kids. Oh, over there on the swings? Well, those kids are about to go to jail for trespassing. Yeah, I’m calling it in right now, let’s go.
  • Oops, the “regular” Frozen movie won’t play tonight. I know, it makes me feel frustrated and sad too! Even though I know we’re lucky this live concert documentary appears to be working.
  • Peppa Pig won’t play on our TV either. Because our TV is vegetarian.
  • Look, here’s the truth: this is a really old TV that gets tired and falls asleep at nighttime. 
  • STOP! That’s Dadda’s juice! No, you cannot have a sip, because it’s too spicy. 
  • I know it’s hard when there’s no more granola, even though you know there’s a worldwide granola shortage due to supply chain problems. 
  • I feel sad too, because I know granola has become a monkey on your back, but we just have to take it one day at a time.  
  • A monkey on your back means, like Curious George. Being silly.
  • Our TV doesn’t play Curious George either. And I think we lost the book.
  • Amazing news, the corner deli just got a fresh shipment of granola!
  • Remember? Mama went to London with her friends because she knew that Dadda needed a week with you all to himself.
  • I’m not looking at my phone!
  • This is a crib, not a cage. Think about it: if this is a cage, wouldn’t there be bars on top? It’s open air! This is really more like a fence, or maybe a paddock, to keep you safe.
  • Monsters aren’t real.
  • Just give me that water bottle so it can be recycled.

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