When your kids are little, it is easy as a parent to uphold the pristine spitting image of perfection in the face of your children. They look up to you, honestly believe you are the best thing since sliced bread and would never for a minute believe that you just might have a tainted past or questionable period of raging youth. As mom, it is easy to buy into this façade as well – and it is easy and probably comforting to buy right in.
Then slowly but surely you watch your children getting older – and you realize that they just might make the same mistakes that you did. You see likenesses in their attitudes and actions that feel extremely close to home – and you recognize that every mistake you ever made is about to come full circle. With age and maturity, the question becomes a matter of whether to parent from the point of experience as in been there done that – or to hide your own faults from your children and assume the role of just knowing what is best.
Whether to be honest with your children about your past or not is a question that cannot be easily answered. There are certainly some things in your own past – that might be best kept under wraps. At the same time, if sharing one of your own experiences can help your child avoid a painful mistake – then purging yourself may have a benefit. Obviously, sharing your past with your kids will erase that persona of perfection that so many parents blanket themselves with. Yet at the same time, it can also make you seem more approachable, more real, and more trustworthy as a source of direction for your kids.
The next step is of course to go with what the experts think. And like most things in life, the jury is still out. Some professionals believe that being honest with your kids about your own past is simply a way for adults to deal with their own emotions and guilt. These same experts, insist that sharing your own stories and history of drug use or less than modest behavior turns the focus of raising children to the parent – rather than the child. Do kids really need to know that you had premarital sex? Should they know that mom and dad followed the Grateful Dead for a few months, indulging in mushroom sandwiches that made them feel loopy? Should they really be informed that their parents skipped school, lied to their own parents and made horrendous mistakes along the way? The experts against sharing your past with your children strongly believe that telling kids only acts as a catalyst to giving your children ‘rights’ of sorts to do the same thing. Its like saying, “Hey, I did this and that…and look at me, I turned out just fine.” What is the incentive for your child to learn from YOUR mistakes – when seemingly everything worked out fine?
Other experts feel that being honest with your children about your past can be a meaningful and powerful way to bond with children. They believe that the benefits to sharing real experiences with your children gives you a ‘leg up’ so to speak in the experience department. If you can say you made grave mistakes and share real world consequences with your children based on reality rather than what a parenting book says – some kids may be more committed to avoid making the same mistakes.
When then Senator Obama sat in front of a group of high school students and shared his previous history of drug use, he was widely criticized. However, at the same time – many people believed that his straight up approach, both courageous and honest – was an incredibly bold way to immediately reach beyond the defenses of children. They didn’t just look at him as a goody two shoes speaker who had no idea of the pressures facing teens today – but as someone who has walked in their shoes. Even more importantly, when adults are honest with children about issues like drugs, sex and less than perfect behavior, children are able to move beyond a point of self-judgment, where they can actually heal from their own mistakes and learn from those made by the adults in their life.
Inevitably, before you are completely honest with your children about your past – you must first gauge your child’s maturity. You don’t want to have these discussions with children who aren’t old enough to understand. You may even want to wait until you are confronted by your children about your own imperfect life before you begin sharing.
You also need to ensure that sharing your own plights will in some way be beneficial and relevant to what your child is facing. Indiscriminate tattling on yourself can actually have the opposite effect on your kids. The most important aspect of being honest with your children about your past is this. When you can be honest in the face of shame, you teach your kids that they can do the same. There is an immense amount of concern felt by parents because they feel their teens lie to them all the time. Yet, who is teaching the children to lie? Perhaps being honest yourself, at the right time and under the right circumstances – can alleviate the fear your children have of being honest as well. Ultimately, communication is the most important factor in our relationships with our children, especially as they grow up. If honesty can help to bridge that gap – and the benefit is worth the disclosure, being honest about your past can be the perfect solution.