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The Battle of Lies Your Parents Told You

'If you keep making that face, it will stick like that.'


'When I was your age, I had to walk ten miles in the snow to...'

And some people walked 15 miles in the snow to make their face look like that.

This one isn’t very close to my heart, because my parents never tried these baloney threats on me. I think they had too much–what’s the word? Respect?–for my intelligence, and were also much more creative than either of these warnings allow. Instead, my brother and I were set straight with tales of the ghost-cat-skeleton stuck to the ceiling of his closet, which I’m pretty sure I believed until I was 14.

But, I hear these are pretty common fears / guilt trips given to children, grandchildren, or anyone short enough to be confused for a youth. They each have their specific purposes: “If you keep making that face, it will stick like that” is a superstitious fear-tactic used to prevent children from making annoying faces that ruin family photos. “When I was your age, I had to walk ten miles in the snow to…” has many variations, from “without shoes” and “without a coat” to “twenty miles” or “twenty miles in the sweltering, malaria-filled heat.” All variations, however, are guilt trips intended to remind children of how easy they have it and make them grateful for things they hate. “You don’t want to go to school, eh? Be grateful you even get to go to school. When I was your age, I had to walk ten miles in the snow just to sit outside the schoolhouse and try to learn by reading the teacher’s lips! And then I had to whitewash their fence while my friend Tom played hooky.” The older the guilt-tripper, the more fiction-ridden the story becomes.

Besides being blatant and universal lies, I don’t believe either line has ever achieved its desired result. They’re the sorts of tales that kids are born with disregard for. Maybe someone’s grandfather somewhere had to walk fifteen miles in the snow just to learn to spell his own name, but it wasn’t your grandfather, and it certainly wasn’t your father. If anyone’s face stuck a certain way after making googly eyes, it’s because they had grossly untreated Tetanus. So that line could be threatening, if your mother was sticking a rusty nail in your arm while quoting it.

These are just two of the more common, but ultimately equally useless, threats parents attempt to keep their children in line. Similarly disappointing are “Don’t make me turn this car around,” which is usually more of a threat to the parents than the children, who likely don’t want to go to church or Aunt Mildred’s or the orphanage or wherever they’re headed. “If you do X, you’ll go blind,” is slightly more effective than its previously mentioned siblings. Many kids would welcome a permanently-disfigured face that would torment their sisters and friends, but would despair at going blind and missing all their horrified reactions. The “Santa knows when you’ve been bad or good” singsong lie is probably the most terrifying, because I don’t want that jolly bastard watching my every move. Even if I’m being good, I’m still moderately traumatized.

I think this one comes down to which of the two competitors is the most useful and least absurd. “If you keep making that face…” is only applicable in very specific situations, and will be outed as a lie by any child who opts to continue making that face anyway. “When I was your age…” has almost limitless possibilities as a guilt trip, and can only be undeniably proven as true or false by some reconnaissance work: asking the parents of those using the phrase. “Grandma, did Dad really have to walk twenty miles in the snow just to earn 3¢ a day as official taste-tester for the much-hated mayor?” And even then, you’re not guaranteed a straight answer. “Did I ever tell you about the time your father ate thirteen apple pies in two days?” “No, but Grandma…” “It was on a leap year, and he had sworn off pies since his dog was killed by the Clabber Girl three years earlier…”

It’s the phrase that keeps on punishing.

“When I was your age, I had to walk ten miles in the snow to…” for the win.