I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Past Secrets’ by Cathy Kelly (a bit of chick-lit) and it made me think… when is it right or wrong to keep past secrets from your children about your adolescence?
The dilemma presented in the book was a single mother with a soon-to-be 18 year old daughter, who had lied to her daughter about the status of her father. She had always said that her father died in a car accident while she was pregnant with her, when in fact, she had been a band groupie, fell in love with the lead singer, had sex with him, found out she was pregnant, and she she went to tell him, he had some other floozie on his arm and didn’t care one iota for her. She felt like a fool, cried to her mum, didn’t tell the father, and she brought up her daughter on her own. She decided to live a responsible life – not having any male friends and creating a special bond between her daughter and herself. They happily did everything together, until about a month prior to her daughter’s 18th birthday, her daughter started to become rebellious without her mother knowing (she thought she was at a friend’s house studying for exams), and then her daughter left – saying she was in love with a rockstar and she was his inspiration for writing music, so he’s invited her to join their tour over in America (the book is based in Ireland) and her mother can’t stop her. From the daughter’s perspective, she felt her mum was a goodie-two-shoes who didn’t know how to have a good time, had no idea what it was to be loved by a man and she didn’t want her mother’s boring ideals imposed on her. But little did she know, that she was only repeating what her mother had done 18 years prior.
I’m sure there are plenty of parents in the same situation. They don’t tell them the truth because they are scared of them using it against them. “I know you smoked dope when you were 16, so don’t tell me I can’t…” Those sort of antics. But most kids aren’t stupid. Most kids can see that the ‘whole truth’ isn’t being revealed.
For instance, my friend’s parents told their children that they were together from the time they were 15 and 17 respectively, but never had sex until they were married at the ages of 22 and 24 – seven whole years. They said, ‘we never thought like that,’ ‘we were too busy doing other things.’ What a load of hogwash! And somehow, two of their children were caught in teenage pregnancy debacles… like it wasn’t in their gene pool. And her grandfather, at the age of 97, raves on about the Viagra sitting in his fridge! What, does a sex drive skip a generation? How could my friend’s parents not be interested in sex as the advent of the pill came in and the sexual revolution was buzzing all around them? But it wasn’t just sex they kept secret from my friend and her siblings – it was periods, how boys treat girls, how to shave your legs without cutting yourself, make-up… the whole puberty debate – none of it was ever discussed. They were shoved a copy of “Where Do I Come From?” in front of our faces to look at cartoon couples making love in a bed with little heart shapes floating around them. But now, in their twilight years, my friend’s parents seem to have a sparkle of naughtiness between them… did they discover how amazing sex was in their 50s after their children left the nest? It’s hard to believe isn’t it?
So as a parent, fully aware that secrets can only cause harm to our children, I am very open with my kids. However, before revealing all, I find out how much they know and then clarify the truth to make them more educated. If they ask questions, I tell them the reality of it all. It’s only fair to them. It’s not about them growing up too fast – as they find out information from friends who’ve got older brothers or sisters. What would you prefer them to know – stretched out tales from pubescent know-it-alls, or carefully guided parental knowledge? I’d rather my kid tell his school mates the truth with confidence and give the older sibling a run for his money.
At the same time, I think the more your children know about your past, the less likely they will rebel in their teen years. They know it’s nothing new to you, but it is to them, so they will most likely have a lot of questions for you to make an educated decision to work out if whatever they plan to do is right for them or not. Of course, there are two types of child – one who will be inquisitive and the other who will say ‘you did it, so why can’t I?’ It is all in the attitude, so if you confide in your child, they will more likely come to you for help and guidance. But you just can’t blurt out “This is my past, and I need you to know about it.” It has to evolve over time. The trust in telling the truth has to begin from the time they start asking questions. That’s how you build trust within your relationship with your kids. And you need for them to discover things on their own. You can’t protect them their entire lives, you need to give them some freedom and responsibility for themselves.
I know it’s easy for me to say it when my kids are only 10 and 8. But I have vivid memories of my teens and scrutinise how things should have been different and I may have made better decisions for myself. I see the overwhelming protective boundaries that are put on children today. It is mind-boggling that the adults of the next generation won’t know how to go to a friend’s house without their parent doing a security screening on their friend’s house; what the value of a dollar is because they have never had to earn a dollar; they won’t even know how to catch public transport because their parent’s drove them everywhere. The more we protect, the more they will rebel – it’s the yin and yang of parenthood – there has to be balance.
So if you want a truely ‘balanced’ relationship with your children, you can’t afford to have secrets. Telling the truth can only ensure that your children will respect you and think beyond themselves.