Pros and cons for telling kids about our past

pros and cons of sharingAsk yourself 5 questions as you weigh the pros and cons of what you tell your kids about your past. Author David Sheff (Beautiful Boy) writes, “It has to do with the relationship you have with your kids, and how open are they going to be with you, and how involved in their lives you are to perceive the struggles they’re having below the surface.”

  1. Is my child very likely to hear about my past from another source? If family members, friends or neighbors know about your past, there is a good chance your child will eventually hear about it too. Is it important that they hear it from you?
  2. Is there an uncomfortable secrecy in my family?  Will your children feel empowered within your family from knowing what the others know? Will the initial upset they feel upon hearing it be less than the damaging effects of hiding secrets?
  3. Am I clear about my motives for doing this? Children respect parents who are honest with them, but you have the right to your privacy. If you don’t want to reopen old wounds, don’t feel obligated to do so. Will you be sharing from a place of free choice, self-imposed pressure, or outward compulsion?
  4. Have I made peace with myself [and my God] about my actions?  “There are shameful things that parents feel, and they have to come to terms with that first,” says clinical social worker Eileen Bond. “Shame should not contaminate their response. And that requires reflection.” When making peace with past experiences, many people turn to a counselor, clergy person, chaplain, support group, or spiritual director. What are your resources for reflecting and processing toward a place of greater peace before discussing it with your children?
  5. Is my child judging and criticizing others? Older children are insightful enough to know you have things you aren’t proud of. How will your honesty make you more believable and approachable? What will be the reward for self-disclosure?

One mom was watching a talk show with her 12-year-old daughter and the topic of abortion came up.“ Those women must be awful,” my daughter said scornfully. “How could anyone kill a baby like that?”

At that moment, I knew that I wanted to tell my daughter about my own past. I offered a silent prayer, then burst into my story. “Those women aren’t necessarily awful,” I began. “Sometimes they’re simply trapped. I had an abortion when I was a teenager. I was young and scared, and I thought abortion was my only option.

My daughter was crushed. “She cried like a baby about my past. I felt terrible, but I knew I was right to tell her and I believe she won’t go on being judgmental toward women who’ve had abortions.”



Children’s personal disappointment with God

As children get older, their disappointments grow larger. Hurt and angry feelings get directed at God too, often due to:

  • Prayers not answered.
  • Hurt by religious people.
  • Overwhelmed by evil and suffering in the world.

Many children say that unanswered prayers disappoint them the most.

personal disappointmentThey see the needs within their extended family. They hear the adult conversations. Some of them pray about it. When the situation doesn’t change according to their wishes, they may conclude that God hardly listens and feel personal rejection by God.

This topic is obviously a vast and complex one. My only goal here is to try to find a few ways we can help children when they feel disappointed with God. We can help them when we:

  • Offer empathy by listening without trying to change them or their feelings.
  • Accept all the child’s feelings and thoughts about God.
  • Express care and support.
  • Be mindful of our own feelings about God and not try to project them onto the child.
  • Sort out expectations or conditions the child places on God.

Every relationship involves expectations.

1. Ask the child, “What do you expect God to do when you pray for something?” Allow the child to respond by writing it or by speaking it or by returning to it later after they think about it. Now here’s the part we almost always overlook:  Help the child find a way to express expectations directly to God (and how they feel about it), using an approach they decide on.

2. Help change expectations to be more realistic.

  • In what ways do they expect God to respond?
  • What are God’s limitations? (For example, some would say that one of God’s self-imposed limits is refusal to force people to do anything against their will.)
  • Observe others and search out some different expectations for God.

3. Decide what to do.

  • Exit:  Some children choose to terminate the relationship with God, but that is rare before adolescence. (And from many sources we glean that God never stops trying to connect with them.)
  • Stay and withdraw:  These children continue to believe in God but withdraw from trying to have any kind of relationship with God at this time. If the family is religious, they may pretend to go along with it.
  • Stay and revise:  By changing expectations of God, the child is more conscious of the possibility that God’s perspective is different, and that God’s gift of presence is only beginning to be discovered.

Dr. Bill McRae’s organizing principles for expectations were adapted here for use with children.