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Old Wives’ Tales and Half-Truths Our Parents Swore Were Absolutely Real

Everything our moms and dads told us may have come from a good place, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t also come with a healthy helping of bullshit. Still, that b.s. can be tough to shake, since it was imparted to us when we were young and naive—and by the very people who brought us into the world and were tasked with getting us through it safely. With that in mind, here are a few of the most erroneous — though unforgettable — pieces of advice our parents offered up to us when we were kids.

Nick Leftley, Senior Editor: My dad sometimes tries to tell me that British colonialism wasn’t such a bad thing for the peoples we inflicted it on because [then I don’t know what he says because my brain drowns it out with pterodactyl screeching noises]. It is not advice/wisdom that I intend to pass on to my own children. Sorry, Dad.

Alana Levinson, Deputy Editor: My mom always used to tell me women shouldn’t sleep with underwear because you “have to let your ‘gina breathe.” The implication was that wearing undies 24/7 would cause yeast infections or some such, which I’m pretty sure isn’t at all true? Anyway, I sleep in the nude, thanks.

Josh Schollmeyer, Editor in Chief: To this day, I only use public restrooms for number twos in extreme emergencies — completely and totally because my father told me that he’d gotten crabs on two occasions by allowing such a communal toilet to touch his bare ass. (In hindsight, I’m pretty sure this was cover for the real culprit, which I refuse to guess at.) His warning was really twofold: 1) Forego public bathrooms unless shitting your pants is the only other option; and 2) When that’s the case, cover the seat with as much toilet paper as you can spare (more or less the whole roll) in order to provide a measure of protection against these tiny insects (???) that hope to live among your pubes like woodland creatures.

I’m happy to report that his advice did, in fact, work — i.e., I’ve never had crabs — but this is probably more because you can’t get crabs in such a manner than because of my hypervigilance. Still, I refuse to take any chances and eschew skin-to-seat contact whenever presented with a toilet that doesn’t fall within my own four walls. I’ve also destroyed my stomach by holding in a number of bowel movements that I should’ve allowed into the world. Thanks, Pop!

Jeff Gross, Social Media Editor: Just your typical, run-of-the-mill food-related stuff, like that carrots were good for your eyesight. I had trouble with veggies when I was a kid.

Ian Lecklitner, Assistant Editor: My parents only tell the truth.

Miles Klee, Staff Writer: My parents weren’t big on fables, actually — in my house the Tooth Fairy always “forgot” to leave me a dollar, which I’m still mad about. But for some reason my dad once thought to make me drink my milk by telling me it would otherwise evaporate. There followed many experiments where I left a cup of milk out in the kitchen and checked on it every 20 minutes or so for any change in level, which was probably not the result he’d hoped for. As I discovered much later on, it also closely mirrors the obsessive behavior of the protagonist in Guy de Maupassant’s The Horla as he slips into total insanity. I’m totally normal, guys!

Tracy Moore, Staff Writer: I heard all the traditional old wives’ tales growing up, like about catching your death if you went outside without a coat on, or that if you make a funny face, your face might get stuck that way. And yet, now that I have a child of my own whom I routinely overdress, there’s probably nothing more concerning to me than when I send her off to school without the proper jacket, and picture her shivering on the playground, vulnerable to virus. Or I tsk her when she makes goofy faces for an hour straight, and I wonder when she’ll outgrow it in favor of a more graceful disposition.

I know better, but research into the history of our disdain for these stories is rooted squarely in the fact that women, long uneducated and also burdened with the responsibility of raising children entirely, told such fanciful stories to their children to warn them of the dangers of the world. They wanted both to keep them safe and to entice them to act and look right to be accepted in proper society. We mock those stories because we’ve always taken the wisdom of women less seriously than that of the educated man, but I’ve come to understand such finger-wagging as what it always was: an act of love.

Serena Golden, Managing Editor: My dad once told me — and bear with me here — that he thinks the reason so many teens smoke cigarettes is “they know the government lied to them about the risks of pot, so they don’t believe what it says about tobacco, either.” This is a real thing that he really said to me when I was probably 13 or 14. My dad is a man of many theories.

Andrew Fiouzi, Assistant Editor: When I was growing up, my mom always told my brother and me that if we wanted to grow up to be tall like our uncle we had to drink milk. Lots of milk, like a gallon a day. So drink we did, but grow we did not. I’m 5-foot-6. I can only hope that my bones are indestructible.