Friday, 6 December 2013

Big lies to tell small children

As we approach Christmas, the topic of lying to your children seems apposite.

Lying to your children is great fun. I'm not talking about 'I'm not your real Dad' type lies... just daft things that one day they will have a little chuckle about and then use on their own children. This is our folklore… if we no longer wrestle bears, we can at least pass on stories and knowledge around petty wind ups from generation to generation.

There are some standard classics. For example, if the ice cream van goes past with the music on, that means it has run out. I'm pretty sure that one featured first in a stand-up routine, and I think it's become something of an urban myth that all Dads in the 1970s used this one. (Incidentally, ice cream vans are a good prompt for lies and humour in general. For example, when my 7-year-old recently saw an ambulance flash past and called out 'You won't sell many ice creams going at that speed!', I knew that my work here was done.)

In fact, you will find books full of great lies to tell small children. Many revolve around food and drink, for example 'Beer makes Daddy clever', guacamole is chopped up lizards, dry roasted peanuts are just normal peanuts that have been nibbled by maggots, or that Twiglets are actually baby giraffe legs. There are also websites: I particularly like 'If you don't eat your dinner, Buzz Lightyear will die'.

There are interesting cross cultural aspects. This infographic shows some interesting national differences... For example, if you don't go to bed in Spain, Portugal or Latin America, a cloaked man with red eyes called El Cuco will eat you.

I'm also interested in whether lying to your kids is gendered... in other words, do Mums do it anywhere near as much or in the same way? Apparently they often lie to other parents, but my guess would be that Mums' lies to their children aren't half as common, persistent or evil as us fellas. I could be wrong, and I would love to hear about research or personal experience on this topic. But I think lying to your children could be seen as a form of risk taking, you're pushing the boundaries and taking the chance that your children will grow up thinking you're a dick at best and completely untrustworthy at worst. Us Dads actively take on the role of 'spiritual guide to the dark side'… 'stick with me, kids, I'll show you how everybody lies so you can be on the lookout for it when it matters'. Maybe that's a bit of a leap from Twiglets being baby giraffe legs, but then I am a psychologist.

I'll try to think of more of my own, but for now I would love to hear yours and I will leave you with the thoughts of Jack Handey:

"One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. 'Oh no,' I said, 'Disneyland burned down.' He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting late."

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Dad song #11

Today's Dad song is 'Father and son' by Cat Stevens.

It's a well-known song, with many cover versions over the years that don't compare to the original (step forward Ronan Keating, who should never be allowed to record another cover after changing the lyrics to Fairytale of New York). Perhaps less well-known is that it was originally written about a father pleading with his son not to join the Russian Revolution.

In its broader interpretation, the lyrics can apply to pretty much any Dad not understanding their child's desire to break away and form a new life. I thought of it this week on seeing Tom Daley's YouTube video where he announced he is dating another man. My heart goes out to the lad, and I wondered – as Tom acknowledges, many people will be thinking this – what his Dad would have said?

Unfortunately we'll never know, but from the outside they seemed to have a really strong and loving relationship. Despite the mixed reaction he has received from some family members, I suspect that as he says his Dad would have simply said 'As long as you're happy, I'm happy'. That would be the 'Dad Pride' way, and I'm sure most Dads can identify with that.

Any Dads that are more resistant might react along the lines of the words in Cat Stevens' song:

It's not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy.
You're still young, that's your fault,
There's so much you have to know.
Find a girl, settle down,
If you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.

But if they do, they can expect the son's reposte:

How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.
It's always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.

As ever, listening and learning from your child – and not treating every interaction as a chance to teach them a life lesson – has to be the key to good parenting.

Incidentally, Tom Daley's video also reminded me of this story from earlier in the year. As the quote at the bottom says, "The fact that it has been shared by so many sadly means that this kind of acceptance is both too rare and deeply craved by LGBT people so used to being rejected by families."