The Ultimate Guide to Bizarre Lies Your Mom Told You - Atlas Obscura
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The Ultimate Guide to Bizarre Lies Your Mom Told You

Turns out mothers all over the world are telling a lot of the same outrageous fibs.

No one knows how to lie like a mom.
No one knows how to lie like a mom. Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer/Public Domain

Being a mom is a tough job, in large part because you just can’t reason with small children. What you can do, however, is lie to them. In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to send us the most outlandish white lies their mothers ever told them. As it turns out, moms all over the world are telling some wonderfully inventive lies.

We received over 500 responses, and as uniquely crazy as many of them were, there was also plenty of common ground. Many mothers still tell variations on the classics: If you make a funny face, it will stay that way; if you eat before you swim, you’ll get cramps (or die); moms have eyes in the backs of their heads, and so on.

But then there were the more esoteric fibs, such as the dangers of dragonflies sewing your lips together, that playing in puddles will give you polio, or that a little man lives in your eyes and signals your mom when you aren’t telling the truth.

We couldn’t include all of the fantastic entries we received, but we’ve collected over 100 of our favorites below. Check and see how many of your own mom’s fantastic tales you recognize. Oh, and watch out for the “Lie Man” …

Lies and Cheats

“If you lie to me, I will know because when I ask you to look into a bowl of water, I will be able to see your reflection.” —Patricia Petersen, Vancouver, British Columbia

“In order to keep us kids from stealing pennies from water fountains, my mother told us the water was electrified and we would die.” —G. Johnson, Georgia

“That a little birdie followed me around and flew back and told my mother when I was doing something that wasn’t allowed, like cycling down 11th Avenue, or stealing more than my share of cookies.” —Sherrie, Fredericton, Canada

“Mom always knew when I was fibbing. She said she could tell because I had a black mark on my forehead. My grandma used to say the same thing. I would run to the mirror to see it, but it was never there. They said I couldn’t see it because fibbers eventually go blind! I was scared to death.” —Batzion, Chicago, Illinois

“That she could tell I was lying by looking at my tongue. I lived in fear of her telling me to stick out my tongue.” —Ann Chafin, Oak Hill, West Virginia

“That my eyes would turn yellow if I lied.” —Terry Burd, San Juan Capistrano, California

“I asked my mom about little bumps I would get on my tongue. She told me they were liars bumps.” —Donna, Cheyenne, Wyoming

“That if I ate bread-crusts my hair would get curly.” —Ysabet, Tucson, Arizona
“That if I ate bread-crusts my hair would get curly.” —Ysabet, Tucson, Arizona Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer; Bread: dmjarvey on VisualHunt.com / CC BY 2.0

Bread (Hair-Related)

“That eating bread crusts would make my hair curly. It never worked on me, because I didn’t want curly hair!” —Emma, Oxford, United Kingdom

“If I ate the crusts of my bread, my hair would get curly (I wanted curly hair)!” —Kate, Des Moines, Iowa

“You won’t have curly hair if you don’t eat your crusts. I’m not sure I wanted curly hair but I must have eaten a lot of crusts.” —Martin, Stourbridge, United Kingdom

“Eating burnt toast at breakfast would take the curls (very unmanly) out of my hair.” —Brent Parks, Radford, Virginia

“When I was very tiny, my mother always told me my pin-straight hair would grow in curly if I ate my all bread crusts.” —Emily, Iowa

“My mother told me that if I ate my sandwich crusts all the time, my hair would curl. I had very straight long black hair as a youth.” —Margie, Oregon

“Eating the crusts of your bread will give you curly hair.” —Rosie, Farnham, United Kingdom

“As a little boy, my husband hated his white blond hair, and although he also didn’t like bread crust, his mother said if he ate it he would get the brown hair he so wanted.” —Jeannie Havnen, Clive, Iowa

“The claim was that my very straight hair would become lovely and curly if l ate all the crusts on bread, instead of just the soft middles. I ate mountains of crusty bread, and my hair is still as straight as a yard of pump water!” —Pam Rankin, Boise, Idaho

“She told me I would get curly hair if I ate the burnt toast. I don’t think I ever really believed her. I’m 81 years old now.” —Patricia King, Ocala, Florida

Bread (Other)

“You had to eat your bread crusts if you wanted to learn how to whistle.” —Rose Bork, Appleton, Wisconsin

“Mom convinced me to eat the crusts of bread by telling me that ‘that’s where all the vitamins are,’ as though vitamins could somehow migrate outward during the baking process. I’m not entirely sure why she imagined that, at age 5 or 6, I’d even care about consuming vitamin-rich foods, but it worked.” —Nicole, Rochester, New York

“Eating end of a bread loaf will help to grow breasts.” —Elina, Latvia

“We were told as children that eating the crust on bread makes your teeth whiter.” —Scott Cooper, North Tazewell, Virginia

“So she wouldn’t have to cut the edges off of my sandwiches, when I was 8, my mom told me eating the bread crusts would make my boobs grow big.” —Sakana, Santa Fe, New Mexico

“Growing up we always had a toaster that made the bread a little ‘toastier’ than would be desired. Mom told her three daughters that if we all ate burnt toast, we would become opera singers. As you would guess, none of us went into show business.” —Del, South Carolina

“White bread is only for white people. We buy wheat bread, because we’re brown.” —Isa Flores, Austin, Texas

Catching Birds

“If you sprinkle salt on a bird’s tail, it will sit still and you can catch it.” —Frank Hartigan, Springfield, Oregon

“I wanted a pet very badly and my mother told me that if I could put salt on the tail of a bird, I’d be able to catch it. Hours were spent outside with the salt shaker and various homemade traps.” —Anne Falbowski, Colchester, Connecticut

“To catch a bird, sprinkle salt on its tail, and it can’t fly away.” —Pat Benard, Spruce Pine, North Carolina

“She would bring salt shakers to the beach and told us if we were able to get salt on a seagull’s tail feathers it would become our pet. Her way of keeping four kids occupied.” —Charlie, Florida

“If you put salt on a bird’s tail, it will freeze and you can catch it. She would send me out to the backyard with a salt shaker. I would spend hours ‘catching birds.’” —Sharon Arthur, New York City, New York

Body Horror

“My mother and my friend’s mother told us that the the inside of our ears would turn black if we were naughty.” —Úlfhildur, Iceland

“If I didn’t stop crying my head would fall off and laugh at me.” —Amy Garnet, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

“You would get spots like a rotting banana if you didn’t go outside.” —Jay, Newfoundland

“My intestines would rupture if I continued to use my belly as a bongo drum.” —Jen, Colorado

“If you play with fire, you will pee in the bed.” —Sara Klinglesmith, Louisville, Kentucky

“That if you play with fire, you will pee the bed. She also said that if you get a stye in your eye, you had taken a pee along the road. Obviously a urine-centric theme.” —Thomas Lhamon, Traverse City, Michigan

“That when you drive by a field and smell the fertilizer/manure, you should breathe in deeply, that it is good for your lungs.” —Katerina, Czech Republic

“Not to play in rain puddles. Will get polio.” —Maryann Kelly, Boston, Massachusetts

“My mom told my sister this, but she said that if you keep scratching your booboos and drink water that all the water would start pouring out of your cuts and scrapes.” —Carrie Engerrand, Texas

“She told me that my head would turn around if I would leave the house with my hair wet.” —Luka Bak, Croatia

“Potty training: Mom always reminded my sister and I that if we didn’t wipe front to back we wouldn’t have friends.” —Christy, Georgia

“My mother used to convince me that I was tired by telling me that I had ‘twirlies’ in my eyes that she could see. The more twirlies you had, the sleepier you were. Always sent me running straight to bed.” —Sarah Khalil, Beirut, Lebanon

“Freckles are erased by rubbing cucumbers on them.” —Caitrin McCormick, Minnesota

“My mom told me that if I didn’t wear socks with my tennis shoes, my toes would rot off.” —Taryn Sparacio, Bellevue, Washington

“If you water houseplants while you are menstruating the plants will die.” —Susan, Mesa, Arizona

“I’m gonna unscrew your belly button and your legs will fall off!” —Deborah Riehl, North Creek, Washington

“When you lose a baby tooth, if you don’t put your tongue in the hole where the tooth was, you’ll grow a new gold tooth in that spot. Our mom HAD a gold crown on a molar, so we really believed that we, too, could grow a gold tooth.” —Tracy Monroe, Indiana

“You get canker sores if you pee off a bridge.” —Stacey Henrikson, Rochester Hills, Michigan

“Never cover your belly button when pregnant or your baby can’t breath.” —Linda Lightner, Indiana

“My mother told me if I bit my nails, a hand would grow in my stomach.” —Mary Pagone, Los Angeles, California

"Whenever I was scared to go to sleep in my room as a little kid, she would give me a spray bottle of 'Monster-be-gone' and spray it upstairs. It worked pretty well." —Star, Texas
“Whenever I was scared to go to sleep in my room as a little kid, she would give me a spray bottle of ‘Monster-be-gone’ and spray it upstairs. It worked pretty well.” —Star, Texas Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer; Spray Bottle: Public Domain

Technology

“If you looked at the microwave while it was in use, you’d go blind.” —Sean, Memphis, Tennessee

“Don’t let your umbrella open inside the house or your mommy is going to die.” —Norton McColl, Sao Paulo, Brazil

“If I touched the basement freezer, I would be sucked inside and no one would be able to hear me scream.” —Niki Cotton, Virginia

“My mom told me that jet streams coming from airplanes were actually toilet paper and that if I fell into the airplane toilet I could get sucked out along with it.” —Keilah Keiser, San Diego, California

“That if I sat too close to the TV my eyes would become square.” —Hayley, California

“She said that if I wore my watch to bed, lint would jam up the gears and break it.” —Molly Pohlig, Brooklyn, New York

Sewing

“She said I should never sew on Sunday, because the Devil would make me rip it out with my nose. I was never a seamstress of any kind, but saw no reason to tempt fate, even when I took up embroidery.” —Kathleen, Indianapolis, Indiana

“If you have your clothes sewn while wearing them, to suck on a piece of thread to avoid losing your mind.” —Eny Steinberg, Mexico City, Mexico

“If you sew on a Sunday, you’ll spend eternity in hell picking out the stitches with your nose.” —Cara, Washington D.C.

Cold Concrete

“If you sat on the cement, you would catch a cold.” —Maria Martinez, Napa, California

“Going out with wet hair, wearing fashionable cropped clothing that didn’t come right down to your bum and sitting down on cold concrete all cause a mysterious illness known as ‘a chill on your kidneys.’ When questioned on the symptoms when I was an adult, mum still said ‘well you’ll know all about it when you catch one.’ It seems to also be caused by inadequate vegetable consumption and staying out late without your good coat.” —Sarah, Manchester, United Kingdom

“If you sit on a cold, concrete wall you’ll get a urinary tract infection.” —Anne, Maryland

Strange Men

“That there was a man that traveled around town and he would chop off your middle finger if you used it to make crude hand gestures.” —G. Johnson, Georgia

“If I don’t behave the chimney sweep will come and take me away.” —Bernie Harshman, Arizona

“It is something that I used to tell my boys when they were little: I used to tell them that there was a tiny Lie Man that lived in their eyes, and if they ever told a lie, that little man would show up in their eyes, and I would see him. From that time on, if they ever tried to tell a lie, they would close their eyes, so I couldn’t see ‘The Lie Man.’” —Heidi Harrison, Beacon, New York

“In the pre-internet era, she told me that the mailman could read everything I mailed, and that I should never write anything that I wouldn’t want him to read.” —CLK, Vero Beach, Florida

“If my brother and I didn’t behave, she was going to call Joe Schmoe, the baby cop, who would take us to baby jail.” —Bruce S. Bevitz, Orlando, Florida

“She said that the dust under my bed (if not kept clean) would turn into a man. And I thought about that every night before turning off the light.” —Betty Skalski, Winnetka, Illinois

Fairies, Etc.

“House elves exist and that if I follow them to the fairy ring in the yard then I have to stay with them forever.” —Alexandra Green, Ashland City, Tennessee

“This story isn’t about my mother but rather my grandmother who used to watch my sister and I during the summer time when my parents had to work. She had a pocket door off of her kitchen, and for some reason, I was always playing with the brass latch, probably because of the sound it made. That used to annoy her, so she used to tell me that an evil fairy lived within the latch and if I kept playing with her home, she’d come take me in my sleep.” —Owen McCafferty, Cleveland, Ohio

“If I wore my clothes backwards, the fairies would take me away.” —Beth, Ottawa, Canada

“She told me that my freckles were ‘fairy kisses’ from fairies kissing me while I was asleep. Fortunately, I didn’t think it was a scary thing to have happen.”Kathryn Adams, Toronto, Canada

“My mom would always tell me that under the little silver drain covers in bathrooms, lived a small city of tiny people. She would mention how they survived by drinking the drain water, and would wait for humans who knew to feed them. I would often feed them my leftover bread, tear my food into small pieces to give to them, and put pennies or dimes down the drains where they would fit.” —Elise B., Pico Rivera, California

“She told me that the sudden appearance of dandelions in the yard was because when a leprechaun drops gold coins they turn into flowers in the sunlight.” —James Mitcham, Baltimore, Maryland

Holidays

“Every Easter my mom would take me to a quiet room away from the kitchen. She would sit me down on a comfortable cushion and very seriously tell me that if I sat quietly and concentrated very hard that I could lay an egg. I would sit there, checking behind me occasionally. Sure enough, after close to an hour, an egg would magically appear. Elated, I would run to my mom and triumphantly hand her my magic egg!” —S.Lan123, California

“The brand names on Christmas toys were the names of the elf who made it.” —Thipu, New York

"To deter my brother and I from eating my mom's delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies she told us the extra crunch to them were frog legs. Really they were walnuts." —Jen, California
“To deter my brother and I from eating my mom’s delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies she told us the extra crunch to them were frog legs. Really they were walnuts.” —Jen, California Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer; Cookie: Public Domain

Eating

“If I swallowed orange seeds, trees would grow out of my ears.” —Sharon O’Connor, Texas

“To deter my brother and me from eating my mom’s delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies she told us the extra crunch to them were frog legs. Really they were walnuts.” —Jen, California

“If you don’t eat your green vegetables, you will get yellow jaundice.” —Joel H., New York City, New York

“My eyes would turn blue if I ate lots of carrots!” —Dominique, Mexico City

“If you don’t eat beans you will suffer from something she called, ‘Lack-a-Beany.’” —Joyce Ford, Seattle, Washington

“Never go swimming in the pool/ocean after eating watermelon (common parental lie in Israel).” —Sharon, Israel

“You will grow horns when you have a snack while lying in bed. I was quite intrigued as to where the horns will grow and what they will look like (like a cow or like a reindeer or like a wild buck) so I kept on asking irritating questions, until mom gave up and tried to explain the crumbs will change into rocks, which led to more questions…” —Tessa De Villiers, South Africa

“That the peach pits I found outside were ‘hoppy toad’ eggs.” —Kristine, California

“My mom told me that sugary foods had little bugs on them, and the bugs liked to eat teeth, but if I brushed, then it would take them off.” —Adam Drew, Calgary, Canada

“Rich people eat shrimp for breakfast.” —Teresa, Chicago, Illinois

“Eating any seeds (watermelon and apple) would cause that fruit to grow in my belly.” —Andrea, Massachusetts

“That if I stretch my arms above my head when I’m eating, the food goes to a ‘donkey stomach’ instead of my own.” —Pia, Houston, Texas

“If you leave your glass of orange juice sitting out too long, all of the vitamins will evaporate from it.” —Mark Schaeffer, Oakland, California

Coffee

“Coffee turns your knees black.” —Ryan Maloney, San Diego, California

“Drinking coffee will make hair grow on your toes.” —Lesley, North Carolina

“As a small child I always wanted to drink coffee like the adults. In order to deter this urge, mother told me that if I drank coffee I would break out in freckles the color of coffee. Not wanting freckles of any kind, I believed her, neglecting to question why none of the adults in the family that drank coffee had freckles!” —Debbie Bruce King, Franklin, Tennessee

“That if I drank coffee I would grow hair on my chest!” —Terra Salazar, California

“My hair would turn red if I would drink coffee (hers was red).” —Suzanne, Netherlands

Dead Pets

“For our first pet, my mom agreed to let my brother and I get a parakeet. Though I have no recollection of it, we picked out a green-and-yellow one. The next morning, my mom found the bird lying dead on the bottom of the cage, so she brought it back to the store to get another one. But there were no more green-and-yellow birds left—only blue ones. My mom begrudgingly exchanged our now-deceased choice for a light blue bird, and when she got home, she told her three- and five-year-olds that the parakeet had simply taken a bath. We must have accepted it right away, because I can’t ever remember a time when our parakeet was yellow and green.” —Madeline Bilis, Boston, Massachusetts

“I was a pre-schooler when my pet turtle died. Mom had been sick and the turtle was neglected. When mom was better, she told me the turtle was hibernating. I was unaware she replaced the turtle, but one day she had me come to see how my turtle had resumed an active life. She told me the truth when I was an adult in my 40s. Not only had the turtle been replaced once, but many times.” —Janet, Ontario, Canada

“When I was three years old I was told the family dog, Inky, died because he fell in the soap bubbles.” —Joe Milici, Mount Joy, Pennsylvania

“My pet chickens and rabbits had gone ‘to the farm’ when in fact my former farmer Dad had turned them into dinner.” — Pat, Arlington Heights, Illinois

Kissing Elbows

“She told us that if you kissed your elbow you would turn into a boy.” —Tara Bryan, Flatrock, Newfoundland

“Because of something my younger sister got to do that I was not allowed to do I told my mother I wanted to be a girl. So she told me if I could kiss the tip of my elbow I would turn into a girl.” —Mark Moore, Knoxville, Tennessee

“If you kiss your elbow, you’ll turn into a princess.” —Peggy Sanchez, St. Paul, Minnesota

“That if I could put my elbow in my ear, I would turn into a boy. I thought that changing sexes could be a super power disguise, so I spent hours trying.” —Jill, Seattle, Washington

"I hated fish so my mom told me tuna wasn't fish, it was 'the chicken of the sea.' I actually believed that for a while!" —Estelle, Québec
“I hated fish so my mom told me tuna wasn’t fish, it was ‘the chicken of the sea.’ I actually believed that for a while!” —Estelle, Québec Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer; Fish and Chicken: Public Domain

Animals

“If a snapping turtle bit you, it would not let loose until it heard thunder.” —J. Bonamour, Louisiana

“For as long as I can remember when we would drive to Rhode Island, she would tell me that the forest rangers used giraffes to prune the trees. I would always be looking in just the wrong direction and miss seeing one as we went by.” —Edward P. Steele, Connecticut

“If you continue to stare into a mirror, a monkey will pop out.” —Joan Henehan, Los Angeles, California

“If you whistle at night, snakes will hear it and come into your bed.” —Vito Delsante, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“My mother told me the winter sand barrels at the sides of steep parts of mountain highways were for the convenience of traveling cats. I was mad and sad for the cats.” —Thomas Tigaboj, Denver, Colorado

Dragonflies

“I was told that dragonflies will sew your eyelids shut if you were not careful.” — Joe Becker, San Francisco, California

“Playing with my belly button would make my butt fall off. And dragonflies (called darning needles then) would sew the lips together of children who misbehaved.” — Michael Hewins, Washington D.C.

“Dragonflies would sew my mouth shut.” —Meredith Roy, New Jersey

"My mother used to tell us not to eat paper, crayons, or glue, because if we did, it would give us worms, and then worms would grow in our bellies." —Amanda, Oregon
“My mother used to tell us not to eat paper, crayons, or glue, because if we did, it would give us worms, and then worms would grow in our bellies.” —Amanda, Oregon Photo Illustraion: Aïda Amer; Glue: Apfenn1/CC BY-SA 4.0, Worm (all): Brian Gratwicke/Katja Schulz/CC BY 2.0

Worms

“Eating chocolate chip cookie dough would give you worms.” —John, Assonet, Massachusetts

“The bubbles in the icicles hanging from the roof were worm eggs.” —Pete Haerden, Carver, Minnesota

“My mother used to tell us not to eat paper, crayons, or glue, because if we did, it would give us worms, and then worms would grow in our bellies. That was enough to deter me from ever eating any of that stuff.” —Amanda Stanley, Oregon

“If you eat raw cookie dough you’ll get worms.” —Gwen Demombynes, Seattle, Washington

What Happened to the Other Kids

“Sometimes when our house settled it would make little creaking noises that seemed to come from under our home, only accessible by a hatch into the crawl space. When my brother and I asked her what was making the noises under the house she told us that’s where our misbehaving siblings lived and if we didn’t behave that’s where he and I would end up.” — Jen, California

“There was a gravel factory near the town where we lived and my mother told us it was ‘Kids Jail’ and that if we were naughty we would have to go there and bust rocks all day and only eat bread and water. Every time we drove past that place my sisters and I would be absolutely silent in the car so she wouldn’t have a reason to drop us off at the kids jail.” —Whittney Bishop, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

“She told me that the grease spots in the street in front of our house were stains that were left from children being hit by cars who had ventured out into the street.” —Jerrilee, Poseyville, Indiana

“My mom told me that the gum spots on the sidewalk were actually blood from the kids who didn’t look before crossing the road.” —Ava Moody, Fort Worth, Texas