Having my first baby was everything that I had hoped it would be. I never felt so at peace or so fulfilled.
And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
Truth be told, I spouted these and many other exaggerations during my son Harry's first year. To the pediatrician I would solemnly swear that I brushed my son's one tooth -- I just didn't say it was only once a month. To my friends I would explain that I couldn't make a playdate because Harry was sick -- when I really just wanted to nap. And to my husband I would pretend I didn't realize the baby's diaper was dirty (fat chance).
I'm not the only one, though. According to numerous studies, everyone lies every day. And Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, says new moms are particularly Pinocchio-prone. Why? In addition to greasing the social wheels and avoiding hurting someone's feelings, lying lets moms sidestep potential confrontations where they'd be forced to "work through" an issue. And what new mom wants any more work?
Lies we tell strangers
Renae Chaves of Cranston, Rhode Island, lets a trickle of half-truths loose on a daily basis. "When people can't think of anything else to ask but 'Is he sleeping through the night?' I just say, 'He sleeps great!'" she says. "Because these childless people have no idea that no baby sleeps through the night."
Why deceive someone you may never see again? Because you may never see them again, says DePaulo. In fact, research suggests that we direct most of our casual lies to strangers. Sometimes we do it just to deflect embarrassment. "I always feel the need to explain to the dressing room staff that the clothes didn't 'work out' because I just had a baby," says Linda McKenzie of St. Louis. "Meanwhile, I had the baby more than nine months ago." (At Babytalk, we say if you've given birth in the past three years, you're allowed to say that you "just had a baby" when trying on clothes!)
Another mom told us she lied about feeding her kids only organic food since that's what the other moms she knew said they did. She thought they'd think she was a terrible mom if she admitted that -- gulp! -- she didn't spring for the organic produce.
It's counterintuitive to admit to something that might damage the "good mother" facade. "I know that I'm supposed to dread going back to work, so that's what I tell people," one mom recently revealed to us. "The truth is that I'm really looking forward to it."
Most of the fibs we tell strangers are harmless. But do -- and should -- we share our true feelings with close friends?
Kitty O'Callaghan is a Babytalk contributing editor and mother of two boys and a girl.
Lies we tell our friends
Although it would be helpful if we did, says DePaulo, women find it hard to come clean, even with longtime confidantes. But if the mother who is secretly excited to return to work had told a true friend, says DePaulo, she might have received validation that she is still a terrific parent -- and that she's probably not alone in her sentiments.
That said, "Lying does bring some social rewards," says Robert Feldman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "If you compliment a friend, she's likely to reciprocate. Everybody ends up feeling better."
"I told a girlfriend her baby was adorable, when I really think he's quite odd-looking," says one mom from North Syracuse, New York. Indeed, most moms' lies are told simply to spare the feelings of their pals. And this kind of lying is made much easier, says Rachel O'Connor of Bedford, New Hampshire, with a baby as an excuse. "You know when you get trapped on the phone with someone who talks too much? Conveniently, my baby always has to go down for a nap, be fed, have her diaper changed, or is crying!"
A mom from Laguna Niguel, California, uses the same tactic: "When I'm invited to an event that I don't want to attend, I decline by saying that it's during my daughter's nap- or bedtime. It may not be true, but it saves my sanity."
Using your child as an excuse with friends -- to get out of social functions and to get off the phone -- is a time-honored tradition among new moms. So don't feel bad: Your friends with kids are using the same lines on you!
Lies we tell our parents
If there's one thing that mothers and mothers-in-law are good at, it's giving unsolicited advice. So how do you tell these opinionated women that they don't always know best? You pick up a paintbrush and start whitewashing.
As one mom put it: "My mother-in-law vehemently disagrees with me on most aspects of child-raising, and I can't take the stress of that on top of the stress of raising kids and working. So I say, 'Yes, Mom, I've been letting the baby cry it out,' which actually means that I let her cry for two or three minutes. Or I say, 'Yes, she loves the present you sent' -- that choking hazard I stuck in the attic."
Kristin Carlson of Appleton, Wisconsin, agrees. "My mom wants me to feed my baby solids to help him sleep longer, but I think it's too early, so I tell her that I tried but that he refused to take it. I don't feel great lying to her, but I just don't want to do it." (For the record, Kristin, if you don't want to lie, the truth is that starting solids early does not help infants sleep longer.)
Sometimes, the fibs just boil down to pride: "If I'm having a bad day, I definitely don't tell my mom," says Beth Vagle of Denver. "I don't want her to think I can't handle it."
Lies we tell our husbands
Yes, it's true. A new mom's partner in parenthood isn't immune from deceit. "Since I've been pregnant," says Megan Gross of Seaman, Ohio, "I've told my husband that the smell of dish soap makes me nauseous. Now he has to do all the dishes!" Hmm, maybe that would work with laundry detergent, too.
"My husband and I have an agreement that whoever is holding the baby when she poops is the one to change the diaper," says Kristina Landreneau of Langley, Virginia. "Sometimes when I know she has a dirty diaper, I pass her off to him. A few minutes later I say, 'I think I just heard the baby poop.'"
As long as you don't hide your underlying feelings -- whether it's resentment that he's not helping out enough or worries that you're not a "good enough" mom -- from your husband, DePaulo says, small lies like these are common and most likely go both ways.
Sometimes the lies a new mom tells her husband serves more to alleviate her own guilt than to deceive him. Case in point: finding personal time. At Babytalk, we think moms have the right to demand a little time to themselves, but many of you feel so guilty about making "me" time that you find it easier to sneak it in instead. "I'm with my three kids all week while my husband works," says Emma Haygood of Berrien Springs, Michigan. "On Sundays, I tell him I have to go grocery shopping for a few hours. I really do go shopping, but I spend at least 40 minutes at a nearby Starbucks sipping a latte and reading the paper before heading home. It's my little secret!"
The award for best poker face, however, goes to a New York City mom of two who wishes to remain anonymous (so as not to blow her brilliant cover). "I had a day off from work that my husband didn't know about. I left the house for work as usual, but I spent the entire day by myself -- going to the movies and the gym -- before coming home. He never knew."
Lies we tell our doctors
While pediatricians may have years of medical school under their belts, no one knows your child as well as you do. One New York City mom couldn't agree more: "At my baby's 12-month checkup, I agreed to give up the bottle at my pediatrician's urging. But does the doctor really think I'm going to put up with an hour of crying when I'm exhausted and a nice warm bottle means I can get a little time with my older, neglected child? Still, it's easier to tell the doctor what she wants to hear."
A Fair Oaks, Pennsylvania, mom echoes that logic: "My pediatrician asked at every well-baby visit if my daughter was sleeping in her crib. I knew his view on co-sleeping, and I didn't want to hear the lecture about how hard the habit is to break, so I said yes. Meanwhile, she slept with us until she was two. It's just something that worked for our family."
Some of you have exaggerated to your doctor about your child's first words (one of you told your pediatrician it was "mama" when it was really "no"), first steps, and temperament -- just so your infant would seem higher up on those percentage charts. After all, your baby is incredibly special -- and ten minutes in a fluorescent-lit exam room isn't always enough time for your doctor to see it.
If you consistently mask your real feelings, of course, you may be preventing yourself from getting the support you need. "People always asked how I was doing after I had both of my kids," says a mom from New Paltz, New York. "I always told them I was fine when I wasn't. I really needed help but didn't know how to say yes when it was offered. I realize now that I might have been suffering from postpartum depression." The lesson? Find someone you feel comfortable talking to honestly, whether it's your husband, a friend, a relative, or a therapist.
In most cases, though, a few lies here and there may help you ease the transition into parenthood. In those first few sleepless months, when you feel more like a soldier at battle than a new parent, "it's easier to lie than to fight," one mom told us. "When the whole world wants to tell you how to raise your child, lying can feel like your only defense mechanism."
Rest assured, however, that as you become more at ease with being a mommy, the truth will gain ground.