The Torah says, Midvar sheker tirhak (distance yourself from falsehood), and repeatedly extols truth and decries falsehood. Still, Judaism doesn’t expressly forbid lying and recognizes that occasional lying may have justification. I recently took part in a discussion where parents defended lying in order to help children deal with a difficult question or situation.
Last night we attended an event in memory of my mother-in-law, whose yahrzeit (anniversary of death) fell on Shabbat. My 3yo daughter called (her older brother helped dial) and asked when I was coming home. “Later,” I replied. “I want you to come home now!” She was certain to fall asleep before we got home whenever we left and I could have easily told her we were on our way. But I didn’t (couldn’t) and she cried.
I would sympathize with a parent who chose differently in such a case. Below I list reasons I avoid lying to my children, even when there are extenuating circumstances.
- I avoid lying to anyone, and because I most value the relationships within my own family I try to be straight even with my young children. Older children in earshot provide added incentive!
- I don’t want my kids to lie to anyone either. Especially me.
- Even if I can justify it, lying isn’t a skill I wish to cultivate. I feel that by lying I would be training myself to fool my children.
- Lies can come back. At the time, it seems like a one-shot deal, but I might be asked to repeat or expand on it later. You never can predict what details children remember, especially in stressful situations or when something strikes them as off.
- I want my children to trust me. If they catch me in a lie about a small thing, they may not believe me about the important things. My friends know when they ask sincerely I will give a tactfully honest opinion, and they’ll never get false flattery.
My parents answered my questions honestly. I trusted them enough so that even when I could tell they weren’t sharing everything, I assumed they had a good reason. Belief in my parents’ integrity was such a fundamental part of my existence that I never questioned the need for honesty with children.