So yeah. I just read the article you forwarded to me from Huffington Post, by the 50-year-old woman who lied about her age to her little girl: It’s My Birth Date and I’ll Lie if I Want To. Like you, I kept waiting for the author, Ramona Duoba, to reveal the punchline: oh, she was just kidding, she really doesn’t mind aging so much; and lying to our kids is bad, so she fessed up and made amends, and….
But nope. None of the above. Her daughter asks her what year she was born, and she offers yet another vague—and untruthful—reply. That’s it? That’s the story? A mum lies to her daughter, and then when she has the chance to make things right…she lies again? Well, then.
But this story reminded me of another one. When Mitchell was born, his mother, Phyllis, was 37 years old. That was considered an advanced age for a new mother, and she was self-conscious about it, so to forestall Mitchell telling all his friends about his “older” mother, she shaved 10 years off her actual age. At some point, though, she let slip that she’d been born in 1921.
So poor Mitchell, who was good in math, would try to add it up mentally: “Okay, Mum is 37 now. She was born in 1921. 1921 plus 37 equals…no, wait, that can’t be right. Okay. Let’s do it another way. It’s 1968, and 1968 minus 37 equals…but that’s not right, either! Why doesn’t this work?” He went over and over it in his head, and he could just never get those darned numbers to add up.
It never dawned on him that his mother might have been intentionally misleading him—why would she? She always told him it was important to tell the truth! It wasn’t until years later, when she confided that she hadn’t wanted his little friends to take tales back to their (possibly gossipy) mothers, that he understood that his mental math wasn’t the problem.
A cute story, but ultimately, what makes me uncomfortable with Duoba’s version is not just the lying to her kid. I’m pretty sure we’ve all told our children things that weren’t strictly true (coughEasterBunnymissedhisflightcough), and they’ve grown up relatively unscathed. I think.
My problem with her piece is that in lying to her daughter about her age, she’s passing along a very destructive and potentially damaging message: “It’s not okay for women to grow older.” If she really is “lying in order to feel better about myself,” she’s telling her daughter that for a woman to feel good about herself, she must remain perpetually young (and by extension, sexually attractive).
Duoba writes, “This past December [my daughter] said to me in a concerned tone, ‘now wait, you’re not going to be 50, are you?’ This was my chance to come clean and explain to her why I haven’t been completely honest. But, how could I? She seemed genuinely disturbed by the idea.”
If a kid spends her life around someone who’s afraid of their own age, don’t you think that’ll rub off? There’s nothing heroic about “saving” her daughter from the horrible truth that her mother is (gasp!) 50 years old; but there’s a lot that’s cowardly and short-sighted.
Dear Readers: What do you think? Would you lie to your kids about your age?