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What the Kids Don't Know Won't Hurt Them

Photograph by Getty Images

I met a mother on the playground during our daughters' first week of kindergarten. We would chat occasionally before the line-up, and one day I asked her if Alex would like to come over and play with Jane after school. "Oh she’d love it," the mom replied. We made a date for the next week. As they filed into the classroom, she said, "I'm going to tell Alex about the playdate!" Then she stopped herself. “Better not,” she said, "that’s a rookie move."

We both knew what she meant. Falling for the temptation to break good news to your child—good news that involves a fun event at some point in the future—was the stuff of a novice parent. Such a revelation could only bring heartache, misery and disappointment.

Our older children taught us that anticipation of any variety breeds meltdown. There was the time we told my son about the preschool's outdoor ice cream party. It was cancelled due to rain and, amid tears of hysteria, we ended up driving during naptime to the desolate local creamery in the freezing rain. There were the birthday parties we said yes to and talked up, then declined because of a sore throat, runny nose or upset stomach. Even fulfilled anticipation—when you actually make it to the event—can end up in overstimulation or crushed expectations.

There are also the times you plan a fun event and then don’t feel like your child deserves to be going anywhere. That camping trip with your school? Forget it. A matinée of Wreck-It-Ralph? Not after the way she’s been acting. When your kid's being a jerk, it's a lot easier if she's none the wiser when you keep her home for the day. If she knows about the party, or the zoo outing, or the trip to the candy store with grandma, it’s too terrifying to think of what might happen when you tell her the party is off.

My philosophy: Don’t Tell Them Anything. Sometimes my husband thinks I’m being a boring ninny by keeping all the fun news to ourselves. "You didn’t tell him about the sleepover tonight, did you?" I'll say, just checking (by now my husband knows not to say anything until he gets the official green light). Unless a certain dress code is required, my kids don't have any idea where they're going or what they're doing until we're in the car driving there.

True to our creed, we didn’t tell Eddie about the sleepover with his best friend Jake. But when Jake got into the car that Friday morning (yes, I'm hardcore), and said, "We’re having a sleepover tonight!" Eddie shouted from the backseat, "Is that true, Mom?"

"Yes," I said, up against a wall, "that’s the plan." They screamed, bounced up and down in their seat belts and exchanged high-fives.

That day after school, I got a text from Jake's mom, "Jake is crashed out on the couch with a fever. So sorry, but I think we better take a raincheck on that sleepover."

Dang it. We’d spoken too soon.

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