Parents’ white lies are a time-honored tradition

02/06/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:21 AM

Generally speaking, mom Shannon McCormick loves fruits and vegetables and wants to pass that on to her 4-year-old, but her resolve is tested when she encounters her plump, red nemesis: the tomato.

“Tomatoes are my kryptonite. I hate them. My daughter loves them and I don’t want to even suggest that they’re anything less than delicious,” said McCormick, in Columbus, Ohio.

That’s why she choked down an evil chunk when her child stabbed it with a fork and held it to her lips a few months back.

“I just sat there and looked at her and thought, ‘Well, I just have to do this,’ ” McCormick recalled. “I swallowed it whole.”

Kids, parents are people, too. Remember that when you’re older and learn of all the little things yours hid from you for the greater good or their pleasure alone. Absent serious crimes and misdemeanors, you’ll live to tell about it. Consider such moments great family stories and decide for yourselves whether you want to carry on the time-honored tradition of hidden vices and small deceits in parenting.

“I’ve been hiding Twinkies under the front car seat since my first kid was in diapers,” said Genevieve West, a stay-at-home mom of three in Portland, Ore. “Now that she’s 12, my husband and I hide all evidence of our Starbucks trips or Thai takeout so we don’t suffer her wrath.”

Fast food was also a problem for Katrina Olson in Urbana, Ill.

“My husband abhors it, so when our girls were toddlers and wanted to go to McDonald’s, we told them it was closed for cleaning on Tuesdays or Thursdays, or whatever day it happened to be. It worked for several years,” she said.

Her girls are now 10 and 12 and their parents have other secrets. One involves Whiskers the cat. Or rather, the gender of Whiskers the cat.

When the sisters were about 18 months old and 3, they picked out Whiskers at a shelter. The family had to wait three days before picking him up once he was neutered. That’s when Olson’s oldest stated her preference for a girl pet.

“My husband and I discussed it and decided we would just tell them it was a girl, so Whiskers has spent most of his life wearing girl doll clothes and pink bows. When the girls accompanied me to a vet appointment, I called ahead and requested that they refer to Whiskers as a ‘her,’ ” Olson said.

Fast forward about seven years, when her oldest was flipping through a cat care book that got her thinking something was amiss.

“She tells me she thinks Whiskers is a boy. I feign ignorance,” her mom said. “She’s almost 13 and I still haven’t told her the truth.”

Elisabeth Wilkins in Portland, Maine, is the editor of Empoweringparents.com, dedicated to helping parents change kids’ questionable behavior. But Wilkins is also something else: a third-generation chocolate hider, on the matriarchal side.

“My brother and I would find it in the coat closet or the back of the freezer,” she said. “My aunt had a very sensitive nose and was able to sniff it out.”

Her son is now 11 and inherited that sensitive chocolate nose. At 4 or 5, Wilkins relied on the old “mommy’s vegetables” response when he caught a whiff of the dark stuff on her breath.

“I’d say, ‘Oh, I just had some broccoli,’ or I’d say an onion and he’d go, ‘Ew’ and walk away,” Wilkins said with a laugh.

She and her husband aren’t so strict as to never allow their offspring a bite of chocolate. She just wasn’t sure she wanted to reveal exactly how obsessed she was – and she wanted to reserve the good stuff for herself.

“Sometimes I go into the bedroom and shut the door for, like, a half-hour and have a little bit of chocolate, then I’ll go rinse my mouth out. Seriously. You feel responsible. You don’t want to teach them bad habits. You don’t want to teach them your bad habits,” she said.

Eli Federman in Miami Beach, Fla., understands. He’s the senior vice president and co-founder of an online startup that offers flash sales on electronics, but he and his wife quickly realized that handing over an iPad to their daughter before she hit her second birthday was a mistake.

“She was always attracted to the iPhone. When she was around 1 we bought her the mini iPad. We thought because of the kids games that are on there, and because of the learning apps, she could interact,” he said.

And interact she did.

“It just got so out of control. Even when she went to sleep she would request it. She’d be in the crib shaking the crib going, ‘iPad, iPad, iPad.’ She refused to go to sleep without it. There was no moderation. We were, like, we have to get rid of this, but we wanted it for ourselves, so we lock it in the chemical cabinet and wait to use it when she’s sleeping or we’re out or something,” he said.

Writer Laura Hedgecock of Farmington Hills, Mich., blogs about family and the importance of sharing memories. She also comes from a long line of treat stashers.

When she buys Girl Scout cookies, she keeps a box for herself and savors it for days, whereas her two teen sons scarf their share in a couple of hours. But they’re on to her.

“I hide chocolate in my underwear drawer,” she said. “In their opinions, no craving is worth delving into that territory.”

But there’s more going on, Hedgecock said. Growing up, she “stayed out of the marshmallows that Mom hid in the electric skillet, or just took one, and left alone the Hershey bar Dad had at the bottom of the magazine rack by his recliner.”

It’s not about the hiding, she said: “It’s about respecting what is special to someone else.”

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