Posted: November 12, 2007
One of the more fascinating things I have witnessed in the weeks since Deceptively DeliciousSM was released is a raging debate the book seems to have triggered among parents.
I'm not referring to the silly, made-up issue of who invented pureed vegetables. Seriously, how can anyone claim they invented a technique that's been around for generations? I wasn't the first person to have the idea, nor was any other recent author—check out these books: Confessions of a Sneaky Organic Cook (Or, How to Make Your Family Healthy When They're Not Looking!) (1972); The Art of Hiding Vegetables: Sneaky Ways to Feed Your Children Healthy Foods (2005); Sneaky Veggies: How to Get Vegetables Under the Radar & Into Your Family (2006); The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals (2007).
No, I'm talking about the pitched ethical dispute about deception. Does a hidden vegetable in a child's food amount to lying? Is it ever okay to deceive children or do we owe them the whole truth—and whole vegetables?
Whether we admit it or not, parents don't tell children the whole truth about a great many things, and mostly for very good reasons. It's our job to decide when our children are ready to take on responsibilities, weigh choices and accept consequences. And until they are, we take those responsibilities on ourselves. We hold their hands when they cross the street. We protect them from graphic images and language. And we shield them from the enormity of difficult and profound concepts.
When a preschooler asks, "Where do babies come from?" most parents give an answer that contains a simple truth ("Babies come from mommies' tummies."), but one that also ignores or obscures a complex issue (sex). Why not tell them the whole truth? Because until we feel they are prepared to fully understand and incorporate these concepts into their own lives, they can bring anxiety, confusion or even harm to a child's development. In fact, I believe much of my duty to my children amounts to making important decisions for them, and making their lives simpler, healthier and happier.
While it's clear every parent makes daily decisions about how much information to give his or her children, it's also clear that every parent applies his or her own standards to those decisions. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, for instance, are outright fictions—not just lies of omission—with which the vast majority of parents in this country routinely choose to deceive their children. Is that wrong? I don't think so. There is plenty of time left in a child's life to learn and understand the true meanings of the holidays; and if the Tooth Fairy's magical reward system helps a child cope with what can be the frightening loss of a body part, isn't that a worthwhile diversion?