Should I lie?
March 30, 2009 8:34 PM   Subscribe

I will be deploying to Afghanistan and I'm considering lying to my parents/family about it. Is this an exceptionally bad idea?

I was in the Army for 4 years, and got out last summer. However, I still have a few years left in the IRR (i.e., the Army still owns me) and so I've been involuntarily recalled to active duty in support of OEF. Wasn't expecting it, but that's the military for ya.

Only my fiance is aware this is going on, and he's military too so he knows the drill (and is currently in A-stan himself). I've kept quiet about it otherwise because I know the news won't go over well with some, but sooner or later I have to spill the beans that I'm leaving for a while and won't be getting hitched this fall or continuing at school.

I've been to Iraq a few times already, and my previous deployments were hell on my parents. Especially my mother, who is a nervous person generally and, more importantly, believes just about anything if it's coming from an even semi legit news source. Which is never a good thing, but this in particular is what I think made deployments much rougher on her... at least, judging by all the questions she asked and concerns she expressed whenever we talked, and what my brothers have mentioned to me. No matter what I said, I was unable to get her to be a little more skeptical about what she was watching or reading.

I do get that it's a good parenty thing to be concerned about your kid in a war zone and all, and that them caring about me is better than, well, not caring about me. However, my parents are dealing with other big things right now, and my mother has some medical issues that are exacerbated by high levels of stress, so worrying about me going to A-stan is pretty much the last thing they need right now. I have no idea how to otherwise relieve that worry or minimize their stress about me.

I once met a soldier who was lying to his wife about being in Iraq - he'd alter everything he said or wrote to make it seem as though he was in Kuwait all along. Admittedly I thought it was messed up then, so I guess this is hypocritical, but I find myself considering something similar with my parents (and, by extension, pretty much the rest of my family). Since it'd be sort of difficult to hide a 545 day mobilization, my idea is to let them know I've been recalled, but instead I'd pick some other overseas base and tell them I'm being sent to that Not War Zone to work at the medical facility there. (I'm a medic.) Still outside the US and several time zones away, but not in a place where their imaginations will run wild with every 6 o'clock news report.

And, basically, lie to them a lot. Is this a terrible idea? Am I being ridiculous by wanting to protect them from it this time? Is it just too much dishonesty? The only other person who knows this is going on is extremely busy, so this idea has only been rattling around my own head and I can't tell if my being so indecisive and uncertain is a sign that I'm a glaring idiot and shouldn't even consider doing this.
posted by lullaby to Human Relations (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't lie about this. For a million reasons, don't lie.
posted by jayder at 8:38 PM on March 30, 2009 [10 favorites]

Jesus, don't lie. Like jayder says, there are a million reasons, but what if something happened to you and on top of everything else your mother had to deal with the fact that all of your interactions were a lie?
posted by sugarfish at 8:40 PM on March 30, 2009

Seconding jayder.
posted by trotter at 8:40 PM on March 30, 2009

As a practical matter, how bad would it be for them to find out? Would "I didn't want to worry you" cut it as an excuse?

I don't think it's a bad thing to shield them from the worst, but living a large lie seems like a bad idea. If you're not dealing with enough stress already, you'll have maintaining a fiction to add to that. Can't you make do with vagueness and an optimistic slant on things?
posted by fatbird at 8:41 PM on March 30, 2009

Don't lie. Instead, describe what you will be doing on a day to day basis (will you be in combat? what is the real risk, in relative terms?), and outline the risks. Give your parents some sort of a tool like a checklist or a list of questions they can ask themselves to evaluate news reports, preferably a checklist where most of the answers will point to your safety.

Ultimately, parents are going to worry if their children are in a war zone. Most people develop some basic, healthy coping mechanisms to deal with this stress. Some people do not, and that is a separate issue from your deployment.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:42 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

The people who love you are entitled to worry about your welfare. It would be cheating them to hide the truth of your situation.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:43 PM on March 30, 2009

I consider your situation akin to many other things we might want to hide from loved ones: serious illness, major personal problems, etc., in the hope that one can privately deal with them and no one will be the wiser. It may be true that you are protecting them, but the effect could be that you would upset them and scar them far more if they find out that you hid this.

And while you are, on some level, "protecting" them, you're also ignoring a more fundamental principle of our relations with family and friends, which is that that we are there to support each other and include each other in what's going on in our lives. You're cutting them off, in a sense, and not allowing them to play that important role.

If you mislead family about this, you breach a fundamental duty of respect toward them: the duty to respect them enough to tell them the truth. I have always felt that lying to someone reveals a lack of respect for them, by implying that they cannot handle the truth. It's a grave insult to the person you're lying to, even if it is meant with the best of intentions.

And beyond the duty of respect for your parents, there are practical concerns:

(1) How will they feel about you if they find out you lied? You may expect that they will appreciate your attempt to protect them, but they may resent you for shutting them out of such an important thing that is happening to you.

(2) What memory of you will they have if you die over there? Do you really want them to have grapple with what it meant that you lied to them, in addition to dealing with your death? At least telling them the truth gives them some advance warning that you are in harm's way; not telling them where you are, could cause a great deal more shock and suffering if you are killed.

(3) How will you feel about yourself if you lie? Children tell their parents they are going off to a war zone. It's part of life, unfortunately. Isn't it possible that you will regret this decision to lie, and that in addition to the normal psychological stresses of war, you will have to deal with the psychological stress of lying to your closest family?

(4) Consider the important need for family support during your time in Afghanistan. You are eliminating this if you lie. And you are potentially alienating yourself from your parents in the long term, because they may be upset that you did not include them --- did not allow them to play a role --- in this incredibly important part of your life.
posted by jayder at 8:53 PM on March 30, 2009 [8 favorites]

Your first duty to those you love is the truth. They are relying on you for information to help them make decisions. If you lie to them they will not trust you as much. This would make a future deployment overseas to a safe place nervewracking for them.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:56 PM on March 30, 2009

If you're concerned about it because of your parents' worry and the stress that it puts on them, think of it this way: If they find out that you're in Afghanistan and you misled them or lied to them, not only will they worry AND be crushed and angry, they'll likely wind up in a state of constant worry about you if you ever go anywhere again, because they won't be able to trust that you're honest about your whereabouts. This lie, if you're found out, could cause them to worry very much about you for far longer than they might worry for the length of this deployment.

I also think that they love you and they have a right to know.

It's not a terrible idea in the sense that you're coming from a good place and you're trying to spare your parents pain in a less than optimal situation. But it's highly unlikely to be effective and could cause far more pain and worry than simply telling the truth will.

In short, don't lie.

And -- good luck to you, here is hoping that your deployment is short and safe.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:56 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, I vote for lying, if lying will help. I would consider this to be a white lie if you are really lying to them for the reasons above. If it's a case of stress and worry then go ahead.*

But make sure it'll work!

Make sure you get your story right and check ahead of time that your SO is willing to support you in this, as must be anyone else who's going to know a)where you really are b)your parents. Work through the logistics and make sure that when you will be talking to them/calling them/video conferencing/whatever it won't be immediatly obvious that you're faking it. Don't claim to be in Germany if the timezones don't match up and there's a little too much sand in the background. Can then send you mail if you give them the wrong address? 500+ days is a long time to go without a care package especially if they think you're in a place that should be easily getting the normal mail service.

Also, write a letter and explain why you felt it was necessary. Just in case.

*I'd vote no to lying if it were a case of hiding it from friend/family who have objections to the war as such. Lying to avoid discussing the issues is, to me, different than lying to avoid causing someone grief.
posted by tiamat at 8:56 PM on March 30, 2009

Basically I want to agree with what eberyone else so far has said. Don't lie. They deserve to know, for a variety of reasons.

1) Imagine something bad happens while you're away (your Dad dies, or something along thos lines). They try to contact you at Not War Zone, but are told by the Army you're actually in War Zone. Imagine how pissed off they;d be, compounded by whatever grief they're feeling at the bad event they're trying to contact you about. Not what you want, I'm sure.

2) By knowing you're in a war zone, your mum will stress, sure, but she can brace herself and be ready for the worst, if the worst happens (and we all hope it dosen't). But if she didn't know where you really were, and this news comes to her out of the blue, she'll be angry at you and it will be like a bolt out of the blue. This isn't fair to her at all.

Basically, I think your heart is in the right place, but I do think it's a tad selfish as well in the sense that you want her not to worry, but you don't want to worry about her worrying.

So again, yes, don't lie. You think it might be easier on everyone in the long run, but in all likelihood it'll probably only be harder.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:58 PM on March 30, 2009

It's not your job to keep your parents from worrying. It's certainly not your job to lie in order to keep them from worrying. They're adults. It's up to them how they handle their feelings.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:05 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go against the grain, and side with tiamat. I went thru a difficult situation several years ago, and withheld info about it from my mom, because I knew full well from experience that her reaction would only compound my own stress. She did find out and was angry. But all these years later, I have no regrets about it.

If lying to your family will increase your stress level, then don't. But like tiamat said, if lying will help, then go ahead. Only you know what will make it possible to maintain your own peace of mind in a tough time. They love you and will forgive.
posted by marsha56 at 9:16 PM on March 30, 2009

There's some old joke that goes "Don't lie to me unless you're absoutely certain I'll never find out." Since you can't be certain, don't lie here. My own daughter, as it happens, just joined up. She's my only kid, and you'd better believe I'll worry. But if I ever found out she'd lied to my face about a matter of life and death, it'd impact the quality of trust in a relationship we've built up over the 20 years of her life. And, if, God forbid, she never made it back, that lie would make it even harder, if that's possible. Please don't.
posted by tyllwin at 9:27 PM on March 30, 2009

People lie all the time. Go ahead - it will help you and it will help them. You can always change it later ("wow I got re re-deployed"). Or just bend the truth ("I'll be traveling, to many locations, all over the place; I'm so important, they want me to go to different place to fill-in-blank-here").

Good luck. And thank you.
posted by Xhris at 10:13 PM on March 30, 2009

Um, no, this is not a white lie. If my loved one were being deployed into a life-threatening situation, I'd be devastated and horrifically scarred if I were to find out about such a lie.

Respect your parents' ability to be adults. Be the adult that you are. Don't lie about this.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:40 PM on March 30, 2009

Don't lie.

And thank you.

For being involuntarily recalled? :\
posted by The Monkey at 10:41 PM on March 30, 2009

Don't lie, for all of the perfectly good reasons stated above. Don't lie because even if you can handle the pressure of spinning tales while you are deployed, you will have to come back and watch every word you say forever, and hope against hope that they never, ever find out. Don't lie because you never know when you will need them to support you, stress cases and medical issues and family problems and sheer worry and all.

I understand the urge to protect them. Lying won't protect them, it will only force you further away from them. They have each other and their own support networks to help them get through it, too. You can all handle this.

And yes, good luck. And yes, thank you.
posted by juliplease at 10:45 PM on March 30, 2009

I also vote no, don't lie. As for your mom, one thing to consider: everyone is stressed out and anxious when their loved one goes into a war zone, but people process and manage it differently. Is it possible your mom is just one of those people who expresses her anxiety more freely?

Either way, I sort of think it's a parents' right to fret about their children, whatever that child is going through. As someone said upthread, it's not your job to protect her. Let her be your mom.

Also: thank you.
posted by lunasol at 11:08 PM on March 30, 2009

To address a few things--

how bad would it be for them to find out? Would "I didn't want to worry you" cut it as an excuse?

I don't know. Truthfully, I just do not know.

will you be in combat? what is the real risk, in relative terms?

Yes. Pretty high risk. Looks likely I'll be a medic for an infantry unit. I am pretty sure details (outside of the nicer "hearts & minds" type of stuff) would make it worse in that case. Although the checklist idea sounds like a good, concrete way to try and change the way they look at news things as it relates to me.

Can then send you mail if you give them the wrong address?

Mail isn't really addressed "Sergeant XYZ, Baghdad, Iraq" -- Army Post Office has different letters and numbers used that wouldn't immediately indicate to which country the address belongs. This is a good point though, since I am not sure an idle google search of the APO zip code wouldn't lead to Afghanistan. (& I'll be active for up to 545 days, but probably in Afghanistan for only about a year... and, yes, the army has clearly warped my perspective when it's "only" a year.)

if it were a case of hiding it from friend/family who have objections to the war as such

Nah. Some of my family members are a little too rah rah amurka for me, if anything. It's not really a political issue with my parents and I.

I do think it's a tad selfish as well in the sense that you want her not to worry, but you don't want to worry about her worrying.

I hadn't thought of it like that, but I admittedly think that's kind of true.

I am definitely not ignoring what everyone else wrote, this is just what immediately jumped out at me right now as more straightforward things to respond to. Thank you all though - I needed this. And I need to sleep on it some more.
posted by lullaby at 11:29 PM on March 30, 2009

When joining the military, you made a decision that causing other people pain in some circumstances is OK. I'd stick with that. Don't lie.
posted by dhoe at 11:31 PM on March 30, 2009

There are a lot of compelling reasons not to lie, not least of which are foundational trust and ethical issues. However, your reasons for wanting to protect your mom are also compelling. If she's in really delicate health, I wonder if you could maybe swing this another way -- perhaps tell a few key people where you'll really be stationed, but have them play along with the story you want your mom (or both parents) to believe. It's not a great solution, and it would likely fall apart before you came home, but it would be better than leaving your entire family in the dark. But unless you're certain it wouldn't just cause further drama/heartache, I really wouldn't bother with a ruse.

I really think your best option is to tell them the truth, and then to tell them, unreservedly, how much you love them. I'm sure they know, but expressing your love will go much further toward helping your mom than lying to her would. While you're gone, keep in touch as much as humanly possible, and don't try to cover up what's really happening with you (I mean, aside from the details you can't divulge.) Perhaps if they feel they have a strong line of communication to you, where they're getting the real story and not a stiff-upper-lipped candycoating of what's happening, it will actually help them to cope better. They're going to worry; but you can help them get through it.

Very best of luck to you, and, yes, thank you for your service.
posted by peggynature at 11:39 PM on March 30, 2009

Lullaby, not to put too fine a point on this, but were something really serious to happen to you, they would find out. And if you were not there to explain to them why you had felt it best to lie to them, they would be both heartbroken and very, very angry.

That is a far worse scenario IMHO than your mother being stressed out during a long but safe deployment. By all means downplay the risk factor but don't lie to them about where you're being deployed.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:16 AM on March 31, 2009

I see 3 possibilities:

1. You lie. They don't find out, and don't worry as much. You come back safe and live with the fact that you lied.

2. You lie. They don't find out, and don't worry as much. Until you're injured or, God forbid, killed in combat. Then they find out that you essentially not only were lying to them about your life, but your death as well. You never get the chance to apologize for that. Their stress levels are comparable to or greater than option 3.

3. You tell them where you're going. You do all you can to ease their worries. Their stress levels are elevated but at least they'll know where you are, and that you're honest with them. You try to stay safe.

IMHO the risk in #2 outweighs the reward in #1. Go with 3.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:29 AM on March 31, 2009

I think that lying to them will put you under much more stress than you need to be while you are already in a war zone.

Perhaps you could explain to them that while having concern for your well-being is natural, jumping to extreme worrying over every little bit of news is actually a *choice* they are making, and that the best way to support you during this deployment would be for them to learn to suck it up and rise above the worry.

I know it's hard to re-educate parents on things they've been doing their whole lives, but perhaps you could find a way to phrase it that would make it clear that your job is to go and do your (forced) duty, and *their* job is to learn healthier ways of coping with their fears. It would be a great way to honor you while you are deployed.
Instead of sitting around literally worrying themselves sick, perhaps they could turn their energies toward supporting the troops in general, by going here.

And then maybe you could show them some Homefront movies from WWII so that they have inspiration and examples of healthier behavior.

Thank you for serving your country. Again.
posted by Brody's chum at 12:47 AM on March 31, 2009

I have known a few people who have done the 'I'm only in Kuwait/Qatar/Bahrain' gambit and it seems to work out ONLY if it is an unspoken lie that is never discussed.

Admittedly, it's not the most emotionally stable solution but it seems to work out for them.

Also, while yes, you will have an APO address some of them are predicated with FOB Houston or Camp Phoenix. So even if you do lie, they may still be able to find out.

You ever hear te Three Stages of Medics?

Stage 1: Why the F**k is that medic with us?
Stage 2: Where the F**K is the Medic?
Stage 3: Thank God we had that Medic with us.

See ya around.
posted by Dagobert at 2:36 AM on March 31, 2009

I sorta lied about my time in combat.

I was in AF special ops way back when we didn't have so much discipline. Even now, people reading this will not realize that AFSO folks did go into combat; AFSO is pretty much relegated to the rest of the "Chair Force", so I took advantage of that and didn't tell my parents that I was jumping into combat alongside the Rangers.

I spent nine years on various missions and training. My folks didn't find out about combat involvement until after I got out.

All this to say that I regret hiding the truth from them. I was badly injured on a training jump shortly after I got back from a mission, and they had the opportunity to visit me in the hospital (I was there a month). My unfortunately-still-tanned skin gave it away; I hadn't even told them about going to Iraq, so I had to make up a story that I had been doing "desert" training. It's damn hard to hide the truth, and not worth it.

Yeah, it'll stress out your mom and dad. Yeah, you don't want to feel responsible for stressing them out.

After finding out about my true military career, my mom told me that she had worried every day, she thought I was hiding something but didn't know what ... and I think now that not knowing was more stressful on her.
posted by dwbrant at 5:50 AM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Traditionally, you tell them where you're going, and downplay how dangerous it is.

"Yeah, I'm going into Afghanistan, but 90% of the time I'll be in a clinic."

"What about the other 10%?"

"Oh, it's not nearly as bad as the papers make out."

They'll know you're fibbing, but it'll make it easier on them, and if God forbid something should happen, you did warn them about the 10%.
posted by musofire at 6:58 AM on March 31, 2009

I'd like to suggest another way to approach this.

The issue is that you're going to Afghanistan, your mother worries a lot, and she has medical issues that are complicated by stress.

Your mother worries because she cares. She probably watches all the news about it so she can feel like she is helping in some small way, because she has no control over whether or not you get hurt, and that probably drives her crazy and scares the hell out of her. So let's give her something she can do to help you.

You go to your mom and dad and tell them you need to have a serious conversation. You tell them you're going to Afghanistan. You tell them you know your mom worries and that you are worried that this will make her medical situation worse. But you don't have a way out of it, you owe the Army the time. And you even considered lying to spare your mom the stress, but you just couldn't do it.

Then you ask them both to please, for you, invest time in things that will lower stress. Limit news consumption. Therapy, meditation, prayer, whatever helps. Perhaps her doctors have some suggestions, since stress makes her condition worse. Tell her that if you know she is not getting sick from worrying over you, it will make your time there much easier.

This gives them something concrete to work on to help you while you are deployed. Lowering her stress for you, because you are in the military gives her both the motivation to work on this and give her a role in protecting you. It brings you together instead of hiding from each other.
posted by heatherann at 8:22 AM on March 31, 2009 [7 favorites]

First, thank you for your service. I have family members who served in the Navy and I have so much respect for anyone who can serve in the military.

So. On to the problem. I don't think you should lie. I also don't think it's fair for your mom to make you worry about her worrying! I'm a mother, so I do completely understand where your mom is coming from. She's terrified. You're her baby and you always will be. That's just the way it is. Maybe you could ask your brothers to intervene for you. They could say something like, "Mom, we're all scared for lullaby. We know how terrifying it is for you. But it doesn't help her at all when she knows how much you're freaking out. You need to be stronger for her. You also need to stop obsessively watching the news/googling xyz/listening to people who don't know what they're talking about. In return, lullaby promises she won't sugarcoat anything and she'll be as truthful as she can be when you ask her questions."

In the long run, the truth is always better. Always.
posted by cooker girl at 8:23 AM on March 31, 2009

A close member of my family likes to lie about big issues to protect people. While I understand why you might want to do this, here are a couple of points from my experiences with him.

First, are you going to lie to your entire family? And, if not, how will the people who know the truth feel about having to lie themselves to keep up the lie? (I had to do this for my family member for awhile and finally told him that either he would 'fess up or I'd rat him out. I just wasn't comfortable continuing.)

Second, I am currently one of the family members he's lying to (hiding a serious illness). I feel hurt and betrayed that he has decided to do this. Your parents may feel the same way if they find out.

Third, even if nothing bad happens to you, this seems like a huge thing to reliably keep a secret. I found out about my family member's lie b/c another family member felt we should know. This could happen to you. But even if no one had told us the truth, cracks in the story became apparent and it became obvious something was wrong. It's possible your parents will pick up on something being off and worry about that.
posted by Mavri at 8:53 AM on March 31, 2009

I want to throw out an idea that in addition to being in a combat zone, the idea that you must also expend energy calming and assuring your parents from afar is causing a lot of this anxiety. Being forced to say to them over and over, "everything is fine, I will be fine" when, in fact, that is not the case, is stressful!

So, if I were you, I would not lie to them but I would have a more direct discussion of what you expect from your mom and dad through this ordeal. You guys have been through this once so I think it is fair and appropriate to set some ground rules. Tell your parents that life is going to be very difficult for you, you are going to be in a stressful situation and you will be desperately missing your significant other and your family. You have to put your life on hold and you need to keep focused in order to make it through this with your sanity intact.

Tell your Mom that you'll do your best to keep her updated on how things are going but that when you call her you can't spend all your time re-hashing the global worries about this war and that what you need are updates from home and a sense of support and normalcy.

When you write them letters/emails don't spend time going point by point deflecting their worries -- talk about what is going on with you -- share anything good that has happened. Be honest in your worries and thank them for their support. In phone calls, allow maybe a little venting or fear from your parents but then shut them down. And if they quiz you on news stories that they've read, forget trying to refute them just tell them that you don't know anything about that and change the topic. It's not possible for you to know everything that is going on everywhere and you shouldn't let yourself get trapped in those pointless discussions.

I say this from experience with my own family. I was recently in a rather stressful medical situation and the fears and anxiety expressed by certain family members was really stressful and draining. Sometimes there's this weird superstitious idea that if you let out all your fears and unload everything that none of that will come true. It's as wrong as the idea that bottling it up will also make it come true. You should tell your parents directly that you need a little more of a Pollyanna attitude coming from them for this time around.

Anyway, good luck -- sounds like an incredibly shitty situation. But, if you can get the support you need from your family, even if you have to ask them directly for it, then I think you should take it. They need to act like grownups about this, too.
posted by amanda at 9:25 AM on March 31, 2009

heatherann's answer is the best so far.

but if you have to stretch the truth to protect your mother's health I think you should.
posted by cda at 10:35 AM on March 31, 2009

Thank you.
posted by lullaby at 1:47 PM on March 31, 2009

Yes, I'm with everyone else in saying that having your parents find out about your lie via something awful happening to you far, far, far too risky to outweigh your concern for stressing them out.

Don't lie and do everything that you can to stay safe, so that you really can reassure them that you ARE safe.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:24 PM on March 31, 2009

DO. NOT. LIE. to ANYONE who CARES about you. At all. In the least.
posted by Drasher at 10:07 AM on April 1, 2009

Also, you'll be cheating your parents out of getting to be immensely proud of you for it and telling every friend, acquaintance, and grocery store clerk about how their daughter is in the service over there. They will, you know.

They'll be afraid and stressed, yes. But they will be proud of you, and that's a nice feeling for all of you.
posted by ctmf at 5:31 PM on April 1, 2009

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