Full disclosure with kids

In this day and age it seems as if no one has any secrets any more. Facebook and twitter and blogs and texting – well, some people use the internet to record every waking moment, every thought, every event. With some of the new applications out there, you can even update your location with maps and everything. (I briefly signed up to foursquare. I deleted the app from my Blackberry yesterday. Not for me).

Some of my friends have their kids as Facebook friends. I don’t allow my children to have Facebook accounts, so I am not worried that they will read something on my page I don’t want them to see. In fact, I won’t add a friend’s kid unless they are over 18 and I know them well.

Our kids are used to knowing everything real time. But how much is too much information? We sit down and talk to our children about the dangers of drugs and smoking. It has to be an honest conversation if we want them to really understand the consequences of certain types of behaviour. But then again, if you were a pot-head as a teen – and your child / teen asks you if you ever inhaled – do you tell them the truth? Perhaps a sanitized version? Perhaps the truth with a huge disclaimer along the lines of “we didn’t realize back then what consequences it could have had, and now I regret it”?

I have told my kids that smoking is bad for them. They know their grandfather smoked a heck of a lot and died at a young age. They also know that if I ever caught them smoking they would be in trouble. “It isn’t the cigarettes that would kill us, Ima would kill us first”. But it’s totally hypocritical of me. As a 17 year old starting college I smoked. Silk Cuts to be precise. For 3 months. I tried hard but I couldn’t get addicted. Thank God!! If the kids ask me if I ever smoked do I tell them the truth? That I did it to fit it with all the other students who were puffing away? That it did nothing for me except make my clothes and breath smell? Or do I lie and say I never smoked? I try so hard to be honest and open with my children – but where do you draw the line?

How about disclosing a previous marriage? Do kids need to know about that? Sometimes people have had a “starter marriage” – first marriage, totally wrong for each other, lasted all of 10 seconds, everyone moved on to bigger and better things, leaving just a tiny little blip on the horizon. Do children of the subsequent marriage have a right to know about the first one? Is it any of their business? Is it a part of what makes them who they are, or is it not necessary to their life? I have a couple of friends who had babies in their teens as unwed mothers and gave them up for adoption, moved on with their lives, got married, had more kids – when do those kids need to know about their mother’s story? Never? What if that child comes looking for his / her biological parent?

As the children get older the boundaries seem to blur a little – their maturity level makes them more understanding and trustworthy. They can handle uncomfortable truths. But does that mean we need to share all those family secrets that we have been withholding up until now? How much is too much?

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  1. I have a few lines with Evan. He doesn’t know my Dad is my stepfather. He doesn’t know that I have a whole other family that I am aware of. I don’t want anything to do with them, why would I even want him to? He does know my mom was adopted. He doesn’t know I was. He doesn’t know how horrible my childhood was – how the police came all the time and my Dad beat my Mom black and blue. Things have changed. My Dad can never do teshuva to be forgiven by my Mom but he did ask me for forgiveness and I gave it. We moved on.

    As far as FB, Ev does have an account and I found it a great way for him to interact with his NCSY group who live far from us. I check it regularly and he can only use the computer in front of me…so I keep an eye on it.

    We found with Ev that sometimes we do need to play things close to the vest. He worries obsessively about people and pleasing people…so sometimes not letting him know things until they actually come to be is better mentally for him.

    But I do agree, sometimes life gets a revision in our house. As far as Evan needs to know, “Grandpa is the best ever, I wish he had been MY dad!” And I just smile.

  2. Lion of Zion says:

    “If the kids ask me if I ever smoked do I tell them the truth?”

    well i guess it’s irrelevant now.

    • Mark says:

      LOL. One of the hazards of blogging is your kids eventually finding out about everything (you write about)!

    • HSaboMilner says:

      the kids do not read my blog without my permission and most ppl know not to mention what i discuss on these pages when the kids are around.

      I often discuss subjects that are not appropriate for children, so they know they have to ask before they visit my blog.

      So LoZ and Mark – shhh!

  3. Chav says:

    I think we need to be honest with our kids but there is an appropriate time and age for the honesty. You never want your grown child to lose all faith in you after putting in years of hard work raising them to trust you, and then they “find out” that you have been lying or hiding things from them. To a child it feels like betrayel. I don’t think its approriate for a young child to know all the details of certain things you went through in your life as an adult, but there has to be a time where you are open and honest with them. And never outright lie about it either. If a young child asked point blank after , let’s say, a movie about an adopted child finding his mother, “Mommy do you know anyone who is adopted?” , it would be awful if you were adopted and said, “No, sweety. I don’t.” There has got to be a balance. Truth..always. But they don’t need to know everything when they are 5. So you tell it when you feel it’s appropriate for them. You tell it when you are sharing and you know they are able to process. You tell it and you talk about the feelings that come along with it. My point is, YOU TELL IT! Secrets have this snarky little way of coming out and biting you in the butt. In my opinion, it is never worth it. Keeping secrets forever causes alot of stress and is usually not worth it. Just so I’m clear, I don’t think keeping some of the details to yourself is damaging at all. Some things are none of their business at all. Just the biggies. The basics. They need to know the biggies.

  4. Mark says:

    Chav has it right above. Basically, you tell the kids whatever necessary at an appropriate age. How do you define “necessary”, well, it’s anything that you think would be better for them to find out from you than from someone*/somewhere** else.

    * For the smoking case, all it takes is you inviting an old friend over to the house someday in the future and the fact can easily slip out.

    ** For the brief marriage case, for example, all it takes is for the marriage license to be filed electronically somewhere, and a genealogy site to pick it up. Later when the kid does a search, all is suddenly revealed.

  5. mrsmelissasg says:

    I always knew growing up that my mom’s parents were strict, and my dad was a bad-kid. As I got older they would share more details about how things looked in their homes and why they parented us the way they did. It was a chance to make things make sense in a relevant context. They never sat us down and said “don’t smoke” – they let us see what it did to those around us. Having a mother with chronic bronchitis and knowing it is from second hand smoke is more powerful than anything she could have told us.
    A prime example of doing it at age appropriate times is actually the story of how my parents met. I had always been told my dad was supposed to be going to buy an engagement ring but sat talking to my mom at a diner all night instead. This always made it sound like it was a serious relationship. However, when I was 25 my dad told me how glad he was that I had dated multiple people and had relationships, b/c no one else in my family did that before they got married. “Umm… dad, you were about to be engaged?” “Oh no, we just thought she was pregnant so I was going to do the right thing.” – Ya, not so much what you tell your kids, but it worked into everything else I knew about my dad and I laugh about now.
    I guess that is my stream of consciousness reply to say that you have to give your kids a sense of who you are and where you come from, in age appropriate ways and in the right moments. I strong believe that if they ask you outright you have to be honest with them, but that includes telling them that we didn’t know then what we do now, etc….

  6. fille says:

    Well, interestingly enough, by disclosing things to your kids you can at the same time hide them from their view.

    If you disclose to your kids “I was always a bad student and had difficulties getting passing grades”, they will never challenge you on your academic achievements.

    My parents (not religious) made it very clear to me that they did not want me to get pregnant before I finished my studies (they were fine with sexual experience, but not getting pregnant). I accepted this an heeded their advise.

    All along, I knew that my mother got pregnant when she was 17 (before finishing high school), that my parents married before she was 18, that they moved in with my paternal grand-parents to have a child, that my paternal grandmother cared for the child during one year while my mother finished her high school.

    Yet, it did only hit me now, at age 40, that my parents did exactely what they did not want me to do.

    So go ahead, if they ask you whether you used to smoke, tell the truth. Tell about the first marriage, child placed in adoption, etc. Children in general do have such a strong bias in favour of their parents, especially if they are honest with them, that parents can confess virtually everything.

  7. RivkA says:

    1. I do not believe in lying to kids – ever
    2. If you do not want to share information with them, tell them “that is not something I am going to discuss with you at this time.”

  8. HaSafran says:

    “As a 17 year old starting college I smoked. Silk Cuts to be precise. For 3 months. I tried hard but I couldn’t get addicted. Thank God!!”

    Well, of course, you didn’t, silly, you were smoking Silk Cuts. You might as well have been smoking air.
    Now, if you had smoked Dunhills, you might have had a problem…

  9. mrsjessica says:

    It’s funny – two of the situations you dealt with were ones that we have in my family.

    My father is a doctor, so there’s always been a very strong sentiment against smoking. However, I knew from the time that I was pretty little that my mom had smoked for six months. She was teaching, had been unhappy and bored, and smoking seemed like the thing to do. She gave it up when she got short of breath teaching a class one day (she was a Hebrew teacher at the time). And that my grandmother died partially because she smoked cigarettes and that my grandfather only quit after he was in hospital for terrible pneumonia from it. Those stories helped – my mom didn’t like it and it just about killed two of my grandparents.

    As for the starter marriage – my MIL had one of those. I’m not sure when DH found out, but she doesn’t seem particularly ashamed of it. I should ask DH when he found out…

    Parents are human and kids are smart. It’s a matter of knowing how to talk to them, etc. and lying is always a bad policy. It’s something like when kids ask about the birds and the bees – what’s age appropriate? and go from there.

  10. kisarita says:

    1. If the kid is old enough to ask the question he’s probably old enough for an honest answer.

    2. I’m a strong adherent of maase avos siman l’banim, also known as family systems theory. Basically, the things you are convinced are trivial may not be at all trivial, and may be somehow affecting your relationships, and your kids may be likely to repeat the same pattern.

    3. Dishonesty about important issues in important relationships, is likely to affect your self expression and awareness of your feelings overall.

    4. Adoption is a TERRIBLE example. How do you know these mothers don’t suffer daily wondering what was their child’s unknown fate? How do you know the adopted children aren’t suffering? How do you deny someone knowledge of their own sibling?

    People who work with adoption know that adoption has the potential to be a huge psychological issue.

    HMM actually adoption may be a very good example indeed.

  11. Rabbis wife says:

    My parents were pretty open with me about most of their failings. When I asked about baby-making at age 7 and didn’t believe the stork version, my mom told me the real deal. I asked if she and dad had to do that and she said yes.
    I said “Ick!!”

    i also believe in telling kids what they can understand about your past. I know as a B”T my kids will be appalled that I know what bacon tastes like. When the time is right, they will have to know about their father’s first wife. But can my 3 year old understand any of this? No, and it won’t do me any good to tell her about it. We’ll see what SHE asks about when she is seven!

  12. Jack says:

    I tell my children what I feel they need to know. That changes from day to day, year to year etc. Age and circumstances play a big part in it.

  13. jean says:

    From reading Jack’s blog, I get the impression his kids know a lot more than most adults. The question is, will they tell HIM what he needs to know? ;)

    My opinion as a non=parent is that kids are a lot more perceptive — either cognitively or intuitively — than many adults give them credit for. They know when something major is not being disclosed. Waiting till they are of an appropriate age for certain types of information is one thing. Out and out denial doesn’t fool them, however, and comes off as disingenuous. (I hated when my mom would side-step stuff, and assumed far worse than the truth, it turned out.)

    You parents have quite a difficult job balancing caution, protection (of them ) and privacy (your own) with honesty and communication! Do you ever manage to anticipate the tough questions with Plan A and Plan B responses? Kudos to you all.

    • Jack says:

      Oh they’ll tell me a lot, but they’ll be like all children and censor pieces. The trick is going to be finding the holes in their stories and figuring out how to fill them in.

      But you are right about perception. They have years to watch and learn how we act and react to things. Makes it far easier to manipulate us just as we sometimes do to them.

  14. Lyn says:

    As someone who has been married three times and has three daughters, I have struggled with this exact question .. how much is too much? It has been my experience that secrets have a way of eaking out. I simply don’t have any. That doesn’t mean I go around advertising my past and pontificating etc. I have raised my children with the notion that there is a gift in every adversity and we must seek to find the lesson. I do not reinvent my past. I have photos from every era of my life displayed and I do not apologise for any decision I have made. I didn’t ever have to tell them about previous marriages that I had or that occurred in our family, because these experiences were integrated into my life and not cordoned off. As they asked about my personal experiences — did I smoke, did I experiment with drugs, how old was I when I had sex etc – I answered honestly, and briefly. I didn’t over answer. [Answers: I tried it and I was lucky I didn't get addicted due to the family history; once - I didn't enjoy feeling altered; too young and I wish I had saved that gift for someone more special.] Funny enough, often when you answer casually, they are satisfied and it doesn’t become a big deal. It is one of the biggest questions we have as parents … but I vote for full disclosure. Tell them what you learned from each experience.

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