Carolyn Hax: Come clean about past lie to child

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

On undoing a lie you’ve told to your child: Consider the smoking mom (who lied to her child about smoking): How about ’fess up AND quit?

Sit the daughter down, say she has something important to talk with her about, and then come clean. Something like … “Remember when you asked if I smoke? Well, I lied to you about it. It was my cigarettes you smelled. I’m very sorry for lying. It was the wrong thing to do. I was afraid that if you knew, you might be more likely to take up the habit yourself, and I don’t want that for you. It’s so, so hard to quit. I don’t want you to have to go through that. But I was wrong to lie about it. I hope you’ll forgive me that and be supportive while I do my best to quit again.”

And then give quitting her darnedest. And let the daughter see the struggle. And if she falls off the horse, let the daughter see that, too. If she doesn’t succeed in quitting on the first try – or the fifth, or 15th – at the very least the daughter will see what a powerful hold smoking can have on a person, and that in itself might be a valuable cautionary tale in making her own choices as she grows up.

People often hold up the example of smokers telling their kids not to smoke as the height of hypocrisy. It’s not. What’s hypocritical about being in the grip of a difficult addiction and not wanting your kid to go through that? Every human being has their struggles, and what parent wouldn’t do what they could to try to help their kid steer around a kind of struggle they know up close?

And if the mom doesn’t want to quit, that can be part of the talk, too. Confess to the lie and explain that this is something she is willing to accept about herself and a risk she is willing to take because quitting is too hard and she’s just not up for it at this point.

It’s OK to not quit and to tell the daughter why. But it’s NOT OK to lie. – Owning It Is Not the Same as Condoning It


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