Tohru: No, and please don't tell her.
Everyone knows that Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas and because that's the case, a lot of bad men, whether they might be gangsters, Professional Killers, Corrupt Corporate Executives, Hitmen With A Heart, Gentleman Thieves or Anti Heroes in a morally questionable job will try to do their utmost to keep their mothers from knowing what it is they really do. This can extend to getting enemies to join in on The Masquerade in order to keep her blissfully unaware.
Naturally there are many variations on this, as the character in question may be trying to keep the truth from a father, sibling, True Companion, etc.
Some criminals doing this often like to think of themselves as The Dutiful Son, providing for and protecting their mother or family while also keeping the knowledge of where the family's prosperity comes from secret, but their true status will depend on their other actions, as the character in question may be anything from a Delinquent to an Anti-Villain. In many cases this trope is a source of Wangst or Pet the Dog moments, but when the secret is sufficiently important, it can turn into Poor Communication Kills.
Plenty of the mothers know what their sons do, but some are either in denial about it or not saying anything about it for the sake of family peace and quiet.
Often requires at least some Parental Obliviousness in order to work. Most characters that engage in this do so because they desperately crave hearing those magic words "I'm so proud of you" and don't want to make it go away.
See Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal for when she learns the truth and struggles accepting it.
- There's a variation in Code Geass, where Lelouch tries to keep his alter ego secret from his sister.
- Anti-Villain variation in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, where the Wolkenritter keep their gathering of Linker Cores to complete the Book of Darkness and save Hayate's life a secret from Hayate, knowing that she would not approve. She eventually finds out about what they were doing during the final battle; the Wolkenritter apologize and Hayate forgives them.
- Death Note has Light Yagami, The Protagonist of the series, who tries not to let his parents and sister know that he is Kira... though not for emotional reasons so much as practical ones; his father is the chief of police.
- In Digimon Tamers, Rika tries to keep Renamon a secret from her mother, as she thinks she wouldn't understand. She said this phrase to her grandmother. Eventually, her mother does find out about Renamon and seems to be fine with that.
- Onidere: Saya wants to keep her delinquent status a secret from her little sister.
- In an episode of Pokémon, James convinces Jessie, Meowth, Ash, Brock, May, and Max not to let his grandparents know he's a member of Team Rocket because it would break their hearts. Despite Jessie and Meowth going back on it and trying to steal the grandparents' Pokemon, he manages to keep up the charade... and then tells them everything in the end. As he waves goodbye, his grandparents discuss what a wonderful boy he is and even if he is a member of Team Rocket, whatever that is, they're still proud of him.
- A major part of the plot in Haruhi Suzumiya is the other characters trying to keep the easily-bored titular character ignorant of the fact that she's actually a Reality Warper that can, on a simple whim, rewrite, destroy and/or replace the whole universe with an all new one that's more to her own liking. Some villains related to the Data Overmind try to provoke a reaction like this from her by, for example, attempting to harm her True Companions... which is the kind of bull that eventually leads Kyon to outright weaponize this trope by threatening the D.O. to reveal "John Smith" to Haruhi, the end result which would doubtlessly make Haruhi remake reality so that the D.O. never even existed.
- In one Golden Age story, one of the things that Plastic Man told Woozy Winks that convinced him to make a Heel–Face Turn was, "What would your mother think?" (Referring to his life of crime.) This line was homaged when Plas guest starred in an issue of the 1990s Power of Shazam series and faced a gang of hoods. Unfortunately, in this case the hoods' reaction was "Don't talk about our mothers!"
- Lieutenant David Elliot Hanneth Solomon, from Soda, is a cop faking to be a priest for the sake of his beloved cardiac mother.
- Sin City:
- In the original Sin City comic (later renamed The Hard Goodbye), Marv visits his mother's apartment to pick up the handgun he stored under his childhood bed. When his noise wakes her up he tells her some lies to reassure her about himself and why he's there that night.
- Becky from The Big Fat Kill gives this as part of her reason for selling out the rest of the girls of Old Town to the mob.
Becky: Sure, you could have protected my mom! Sure! You could have moved her into Old Town and let her know her daughter's a god damn whore!
- In the original The Hood mini Parker Robbins keeps lying to his mother about him being a Super Villain. Helps that she has Alzheimer's and doesn't remember when he changes his story.
- Sandman, a Fantastic Four and Spider-Man villain, completely kept his mother in the dark about being a villain. He even explained that he changed his name when he became a criminal so she wouldn't find out.
- During Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin's original death in Spider-Man his last words were a plea to Spiderman not to tell his son Harry Osborn that he'd been the Goblin. This carried over to the first Spider-Man film.
- For that matter, Peter Parker has gone to great lengths to hide his Super Hero identity from his Aunt May, who is as good as his mother. In at least one version, May has arachnophobia and is thus not overly fond of Spiderman, hence Peter's actions.
- And when she died the first time she revealed that she'd known for quite some time, and was very proud of him.
- Peter Fox once gets in a fight with a student. As the principal lists the punishments, Peter agrees to them all, only freaking out at "And of course, I'll have to notify your parents".
- A Golden Age Batman story was about the Penguin's aunt coming to visit in Gotham City, and he begged the Dynamic Duo to help him put on the facade of being a law-abiding citizen because he couldn't bring himself to disappoint her with the fact that he's a criminal. The story follows with Penguin's aunt believing him to be a weapons developer for the military and that he helps Batman and Robin fight crime.
- In Constant Temptation Mello, Matt, and Near find themselves in a position where they have to confess to spying on L and Light. They don't want L to know about it, even if it means facing Kira's wrath:
Near: Are we sure we want to do this?Mello: It's not like you to have doubts.Near: I don't usually face such definite trouble.Matt: That is the one thing we can guarantee will happen. We still in agreement over who to confess to?Mello: Light?Near: Light.
- In If Them's the Rules Tom Riddle doesn't want to disappoint Harry so he makes sure he hides his darker tendencies.
- In The Lovers Left Broken, Laurel encounters Thea with some "friends" all varying degrees of drunk and high. In order to get them the others to leave, she threatens to call their parents...and makes it genuine threat.
- American Gangster. Frank Lucas spends the whole film treating his mother like an unwitting Innocent Bystander, but towards the end of the movie she tells him that she never asked him where all the family's prosperity came from just so that she wouldn't have to listen to him lie to her. Furthermore, she goes on "The Reason You Suck" Speech about he's responsible for all the other members of his family being in the drug trade, because they never would have gotten into it if not for him. Then she says that all of them, including her, will walk out on him if he does something as suicidally dumb as declare war on the cops, which was exactly what Frank was planning to do at the moment.
- In Rush Hour, Detective Carter gets certain information from his criminal cousin by threatening to arrest him, thus notifying their Aunt Bootsie about his dealings.
Carter: Luke, I know what it is you do, and the only reason why I ain't busted your ass is because you're my cousin... and it'd kill Aunt Bootsie.Luke: ...Why you gotta put Aunt Bootsie in this?
- There was one part in the movie Bulletproof where Damon Wayans' character goes along in lying to the mother of Adam Sandler's character in order to reassure her. Note that he blames Sandler's character for shooting him in the head, which shows both how far this trope and Rule of Funny can stretch.
- This is parodied in Johnny Dangerously. It's painfully obvious to everybody (including the pope) except for Johnny's mother and his brother that he's a mob boss.
- In Scream (1996) when Sidney informs Stu (one of the killers, who is already bleeding to death) that she's called the police about the murders, he pathetically breaks down and cries "My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me!"
- Goodfellas: Tommy lies to his mother about why he and the guys were there that night to keep her from finding out that he'd just killed someone for no real reason.
- Inverted at the end of the first Spider-Man film. "Peter... don't tell Harry." It takes an actor of Willem Defoe's caliber to do all the things the Green Goblin did in that film and still make that last request a Tear Jerker - and it's doubly poignant when you realize that Peter honored that request. Led to Poor Communication Kills in the following two movies.
- In Kung Pow! Enter the Fist the Chosen One enlists a group of men to help him train to fight against the evil Betty, telling them to beat him with sticks until he tells them to stop. After beating him until he's unconscious, the men nervously sneak away, and one of them says "Don't say anything to mom."
- In Clueless, Dionne pulls this on Murray when she's had enough of his wild antics:
Dionne: You know what? Ok, that's it.Murray: (mimicking) That's it.Dionne: You wanna play games?Murray: (mimicking again) You wanna play games?Dionne: I'm calling your mother.Murray: I'm... I'm ca... Oh, wait! Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, wait. Don't call my Ma.
- Invoked in True Grit, when a dying man asks Rooster Cogburn to get word to his brother (a preacher). Rooster asks "Should I tell him you were outlawed up?" The response is that it doesn't matter.
- The Gauntlet. Malley calls her mother to inform her that she's fallen in love with a cop called Shockley. In the middle of the conversation, she casually mentions her job as a secretary (she's a prostitute).
- In To Be Number One, Ho ascends from an impoverished refugee from mainland China to the most powerful crime boss in Hong Kong. When he's wealthy enough to bring his family over to Hong Kong, his mother sees the limousine waiting to pick them up and congratulates her son on having made so much money in the rice business.
- In The Waterboy, when coach Kline goes to talk to "Mama" Boucher about letting her son, Bobby, enroll in the university and play football, she flat out tells forbids it, and politely asks coach Kline to leave. As she goes into the her room, coach Kline tells Bobby his own mother wouldn't let him get a tattoo, as he leaves the house, coach Kline pulls his pants down, shows bobby the tattoo on his but cheek, and says: "What mamma don't know, won't hurt her. I trust you'll make the right decision."
- In Harry Potter, when Hermione finds the Weasley twins testing out their homemade joke candies on younger students in Order of the Phoenix, Hermione demands that they stop. They taunt her by saying "Or what? You'll put us in detention?" Hermione coldly responds with "No, but I will write to your mother." This scares the twins so badly that they immediately comply, an action that has never been seen before or since.
- Odd inversion: Peter Wiggin of Ender's Game and the Ender's Shadow sequels, rather than having to hide an evil secret, is reluctant to let his parents find out that he has a secret identity as the great Chessmaster named Locke. When he tells his parents, it turns out that they already knew; and as it happens, Bean and Sister Carlotta knew that Peter's parents knew before Peter knew it.
- In The Thorn Birds (though not the better-known film adaptation), protagonist Meggie's oldest brother Frank runs away from home when she's a girl, after having a fight with their father. Said fight revealed that Frank was actually the son of a different man. Years later, their mother, who doted on Frank, happens to find a newspaper in which an article announces his conviction for a terrible crime. Frank's only comment to the press was "Don't tell my mother."
- Artemis Fowl really doesn't want his mother to know he's turned to a life of crime in order to sustain his family and continue the search for his Disappeared Dad, even if she does suspect he takes after his father in this respect.
- In Guards! Guards!, one of the things Constable Carrot does on his first night on patrol is shame a bunch of bar-brawling dwarfs into behaving themselves by asking what their mothers would say if they found out. It works.
- Played with in Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain. On the one hand, yes, Penny really doesn't want her parents to know she's a supervillain. On the other hand, she never actually says it outright.
- On The Wire, Omar Little becomes enraged at rival gangsters after they violate the Sunday truce and blow his cover to his elderly grandmother.
Omar Little: I damn near got that woman killed, yo. Y'all should've seen me in Sinai Hospital while they stitching her up, lying about why somebody wanna shoot me down the street. That woman think I work in a cafeteria.Kimmy: Cafeteria?Omar Little: At the airport, yeah.Kimmy: The airport? Why the airport?Omar Little: 'Cause I know she ain't gonna never go down there to go dining, that's why! Hey, yo, Kimmy, this ain't funny, yo! That woman raised me!
- Spy turned The A-Team style gun for hire Michael Westen from Burn Notice spent a long time trying to keep his mother in the dark about things, but ultimately had to break the news to her. Since then, she has played small roles in his operations, even once getting information out of a captive after Michael's interrogation techniques didn't work. Despite this, she wishes he would settle down, and the things she is asked to do sometimes unsettle her.
- A running gag on Hill Street Blues was Belker constantly booking the same criminal for various minor offenses and the criminal always giving him a fake name. This went on for years, until the criminal was accidentally caught in the crossfire of a gunfight he had nothing to do with. He was mortally wounded and asked Belker to call his mother, finally giving Belker his real name. Belker did so, telling the criminal's mother that her son had been a fine, upstanding citizen.
- In one episode of Brimstone, Zeke finds out that Gilbert Jax, the guy who raped his wife, is one of the 113 souls that escaped from Hell and that he has to find and send back. He also finds out that Jax has started with his old pattern again. He finds out that Jax is living with mother again, and tracks him to the mother's house. There he encounters the mother and talks to her, although he doesn't have the heart to tell her the truth about her son. Jax returns home at that point, and screams that "Getting my mother involved in this is low, Stone". Zeke defeats Jax, but afterwards still doesn't have the heart to tell his mother the truth, and lets her believe that he sent her son back to Heaven instead of Hell.
- Inverted on Wiseguy, where federal deep-cover agent Vincent Terranova is forced to mislead his mother into believing he's a criminal. He's deeply troubled by how disappointed she is in her "no-good" son, and immensely relieved when she eventually learns the truth.
- On Malcolm in the Middle, Hal and Lois leave the boys home alone for the weekend, and a drug gang commandeers the boys' house for their own purposes. The boys try to think of ideas to get the gang to leave, and Dewey (the youngest brother) suggests telling their mothers. This sounds like a childish idea when Reese and Malcolm first hear it, but it turns out to work perfectly: the gang members' mothers show up, and the whole incident induces enough shame in the gang members that they abandon their plans to take over the main characters' house.
- In The Mighty Boosh, Vince blackmails Bob Fossil into giving him and Howard a gig spot by threatening to call Fossil's mother. Fossil quickly agrees to the demand, mainly because his mother's under the impression he's still being held prisoner by the Vietcong.
- This references back to the original radio series, where Fossil quickly agreed to his late brother's demands under threat of his mother finding out Bob was still alive, given that he'd convinced her that he'd died in Vietnam and didn't have to go and see her.
- One The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode had two brothers, feuding THRUSH middle managers, concealing both the feud and the nature of their employment from Mama ... until she turned out to be the THRUSH supervisor who showed up to inspect their operation.
- There was a variation on M*A*S*H. Klinger wasn't truly a criminal (unless you count all his attempts to go AWOL) but he tried to keep his mother in the dark for a long time about him being in Korea so that she wouldn't worry, trying to make her think that he had never been transferred from Fort Dix. He simply had his old pals at Fort Dix take about a hundred pictures of him when he was there, and sent one of them to her whenever he wrote. As it turned out, however, his mother knew all along, proven when Hawkeye organized an event that brought the families of the whole camp together; seems you really can't hide some things from your mother. In a sweet twist on the trope, she had allowed him to think she believed he was at Fort Dix so that he wouldn't worry about her.
- The Colbert Report Christmas Special has a variation. When Stephen hallucinates Willie Nelson and they duet about a gift for baby Jesus, the last line sung by Stephen is "You're really high/I'm gonna tell your savior!"
- The Borgias: When Micheletto and Cesare visit the former's hometown Forli, Cesare discovers Micheletto not only has a mother, but she's rather doting and completely oblivious about what her son really is, believing he is studying to become a doctor. Cesare plays along with this lie by posing as his mentor, out of his own amusement.
- Better Call Saul: Tuco Salamanca, maybe the most terrifying, unhinged gangster in the Breaking Bad universe, feels this way about his sweet abuelita. Is that blood on the carpet? No, abuelita, I just spilled some salsa. Yes, abuelita, I’ll clean it right away, go watch your novelas. No, abuelita, I won’t forget the club soda. Viewers have noted that club soda does jack for removing salsa stains, but it's fairly common knowledge that it's great at removing bloodstains. This implies that abuelita knows exactly what Tuco does for a living. Either that, or Tuco "spills salsa" on the carpet so often, she really does think you clean it with club soda.
- Similarly, Nacho Varga doesn't want his very morally-upstanding father to know that he runs with the Salamancas, but is ultimately forced to tell him in order to warn him that Hector Salamanca wants to use his business as a front and won't take no for an answer. Nacho's father is both furious and heartbroken that his son is a criminal and disowns him on the spot.
- Gotham: Oswald "Penguin" Cobblepott keeps his beloved mother utterly in the dark after his involvement with the mob, presenting himself as a simple nightclub employee (and later, owner), so that she can be proud of him. When Maroni (who can't touch Penguin while he's under Falcone's protection) strikes at Penguin by telling his mother the truth, Penguin swears revenge, and once in private later, breaks down in tears.
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Doug Judy's mother, despite Doug being a notorious thief and Chessmaster extraordinaire, has no clue that her son is a criminal. He tells her that he works at an architecture firm, that he does charity work in his spare time, and that Rosa is his girlfriend. Unlike most examples, Doug is friendly and amiable enough, both on and off the clock, that one can see why his mother doesn't suspect anything.
- Jon was at Irma's Diner and she pointed out he didn't eat the vegetables. He sarcastically asked if she'd tell his mother. When she said that she would, he quickly started eating them. Garfield told Irma to tell Jon's mother he ate the dessert first.
- Cabaret is the Trope Namer: the so-titled number features Sally Bowles singing about how her mother thinks that she's living in a convent in France, or touring Europe with her schoolfriends and a chaperone, while she's really living up the seedy life. The trope itself is not actually invoked in the story however, merely in the performance of the song.
- Subversion: Tony's mom in Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. She knows and approves of his job, and even puts a contract on him when she's dissatisfied with his advancement.
- SWAT 4. The serial killer in the second mission sometimes reacts to being handcuffed with this phrase. Of course the chances are that you already tazed or mazed her at this point.
- Invoked in Simcopter; one of the phrases the player can shout at criminals to distract them is, "Does your mother know what you're doing?"
- Dead Rising: "Don't tell Jessie about this".
- Haze: After you fatally wound Duvall, he apparently realizes, for the first time, all the atrocities he's committed while being high on nectar. His final words?
Shane...please...don't tell my mom...
- In Tekken 5, in one of her win poses, Lili bends down to the camera (perspective of the defeated opponent) and says
Please don't tell my father.
- The ''Meet the Sniper" video is made of this. Sniper gets a lot of grief from his parents due to his choice of career.
Sniper: [on the phone] I'm not a "crazed gunman", Dad. I'm an assassin. [Beat] Well, the difference bein' one's a job and the other's mental sickness!
- In Rise of the Argonauts, there's a sidequest you receive from a girl named Elpis to not tell her old and ill parents that she was almost killed in the attack on the palace at the beginning of the game. Instead, she simply wants you to tell her parents she was too busy to see them. You can choose either to lie on her behalf or to tell the truth.
- Drakken's mom was probably the single funniest thing in Kim Possible, one of the reasons for this being that she completely believes he is a radio talk show host. This despite the fact that he studied robotics, not psychiatry. Then again, anyone would want to cover up the fact that their world domination schemes were foiled by teenagers.
- Tohru's mom in Jackie Chan Adventures is unaware that her son was working as a thug for Valmont and not knowing that the latter is a Diabolical Mastermind. All she knew was that Valmont was a rich gentleman and assumed Tohru was doing legitimate work. Because of this, she sees working as Uncle's apprentice to be an enormous step down.
- The Simpsons provides the former page quote. When they went to Florida during Spring Break, the local sheriff was disappointed with Joe C. (the foul-mouthed little person who toured with Kid Rock). A parody as much as anything, given the utterly inconsequential matter.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon are terrified of their mothers finding out about their attitude problems. A later episode reveals Diamond Tiara is actually afraid of failing at anything, due to her mother's insistence on always being seen as a success, whatever the cost.
- The episode "Stare Master" has the villain set right by Fluttershy threatening to tell his mom on him.
- Subverted in "Bridle Gossip". Applejack tells Apple Bloom not to go into the Everfree Forest or she'll tell Big Macintosh on her. Since she was previously shrunken by Poison Joke, you can see where this is going.
- Stōked: In "A Prank Too Far", the groms were tricked into thinking they accidentally killed Bummer. When it seemed they'd be arrested, Reef begged them not to tell his mother.
- Evil Con Carne: Hector's blind mother doesn't know he's the head of a terrorist organization trying to take over the world and he wants to make sure she remains ignorant of that fact. Subverted in that she only pretended she didn't know.
- An episode of Totally Spies! shows what happens when this trope is defied. Clover discovers that every girl in school is actually dating the same guy, who was jilted on Valentine's Day and for revenge planned to jilt as many girls as he could at the Valentine's Day dance. Clover exposes him to every girl at the dance, but for a fitting punishment, she told his very large mother that he had been taking expensive jewels from her store to give to the girls as gifts. We then hear rather ominous stomping before his mother bursts into the gym screaming "EUGENE!" The last we hear of the guy is his horrified shrieks.
- In the episode "Let's Get Respectable" from Darkwing Duck, the villain-vanquishing vigilante is trying to improve his public image, and as a result, is not allowed to use his gas gun or karate skills to take down some criminal thugs. What does he do? He resorts to threatening to tell their mothers. Amazingly, it's more effective than one would think.
- In The Year Without a Santa Claus, the Miser Brothers are terrified at the thought of Mrs. Claus going to tell their mother about their squabbling; mostly because this is Mother Nature we're talking about here.
- There's a Stock Joke in aviation that goes:
Don't tell mama I'm a pilot; she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.
- Variations on the same joke refer to lawyers, politicians, and other Acceptable Professional Targets.
- Albert "the Mad Hatter" Anastasia, a mobster in the 1930s to 1950s, changed his surname from Anastasio so his parents wouldn't read about his crimes in the newspaper. His brother "Tough Tony" Anastasio did not change his surname, but everyone knew their relationship. Perhaps he hoped his parents could plausibly deny being his parents.