Telling white lies can be a useful parenting tool, says a Calgary humour writer

By Leanne Shirtliffe on April 23, 2013
The best advice I ever got about parenting came from my older brother. “Don’t be in a hurry to toilet train your kids.”

This advice has come to underscore one of my theories of childrearing: If you wait long enough, your children will just do it themselves. It worked for breastfeeding; Vivian and William weaned themselves. Years later, I’d learn that it worked for tying shoes, riding bikes and braiding hair.

My brother’s advice worked for toilet training. By the age of three, William and Vivian just started to use the toilet themselves. No potty, no charts, no placing Cheerios or food colouring in the toilet bowl on purpose. Just a lazy mom who couldn’t be arsed.

Getting rid of their pacifiers required a bit more ingenuity.

Vivian and William had been sleeping with these plugs since they were tiny, and they’d developed the habits of long-term smokers, dangling their pacifi ers out of their mouths like they were lit cigarettes, waving them around for emphasis when they were speaking, and frantically looking for another fix before bedtime. Since my ignore-and-they’ll figure-it-out approach was not working, I applied another one of my parenting strategies, which was also not in any books: I lied.

It was autumn. Chris had volunteered to take over the gardening. He was cleaning up our flower beds by pulling all our perennials, which he thought were undercover weeds.

I, meanwhile, went to William and Vivian and told the most heart-wrenching fib I could create.

“I think it’s time to get rid of your dummies,” I said. We’d used the British euphemism for pacifiers since we’d lived in Thailand.

William and Vivian’s eyes grew big and they searched their pockets for their addiction.

“There are other babies in the world who need dummies,” I said, employing my best Sally- Struthers-help-underprivileged children voice. “I think we should send them to Santa Claus.” Four unblinking eyes stared at me. “Santa will deliver the dummies to other babies at Christmas.”

Both Vivian and William looked down and nodded.

“For babies?” Will said.

I nodded.

“They won’t cry,” Vivian said.

I nodded again.

Those two little urchins went on a mass dummy sweep, searching for pacifiers that had been lost since dinosaurs walked the earth, which was the last time I’d vacuumed their room. William and Vivian found many amid dust bunnies and long forgotten library books. I grabbed a large envelope and addressed it to Santa. We deposited the dummies in it, and I threw it in the garbage when they weren’t looking. The score: Made-Up Parenting 1; Parenting Books 0.

With their pacifiers in a landfill, we survived the night and the winter and spring. It was time to stir things up again, this time with a car trip.

William and Vivian became good car travellers early on, mostly because they were easily hypnotized by the hang-fromthe- rafters DVD player in our minivan. Occasionally, though, guilt would set in and we’d stop the Dora the Explorer marathon. After we ignored them for long enough, Vivian and William would invent their own games. Sometimes it was I Spy; sometimes it was a game that had the same amount of logic as the parents of toddler beauty contestants competing on Jeopardy.

We were driving through Saskatchewan, which is like North Dakota, but with fewer people and straighter roads. The directions for driving across the Prairie Provinces are this: Drive in a straight line until you want to slit your wrists; you’re 10 percent there. Every few hundred miles, there were signs along the highway that said, “Watch for pedestrians.” I once asked Chris if there was a prize if we saw one.

We were in one of these long stretches when I noticed something was going on behind me. I craned my already spasming neck. Vivian and William were wriggling and contorting themselves behind their blankets. I watched this for the length of three wheat fi elds until I figured it out.

“They’re playing hide and seek,” I said. “In their car seats.”


Maybe this was proof our children didn’t qualify for early admission to Mensa. More likely it was proof that our DNA wouldn’t fetch much at the cloning auction.

Leanne Shirtliffe is an award-winning humour writer and blogger. She lives in Calgary with her husband, Chris, and twins Vivian and William. Reprinted from Don’t Lick the Minivan, by permission of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.

By Leanne Shirtliffe| April 23, 2013

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