Ask 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.”
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.”