Updated: Mar 16, 2018
Our children learn from what they see. And make no mistake about it, regardless how often they may act like people “we didn’t raise them to be,” they are watching us like hawks - and learning. It wasn’t til my “kids” were well into their twenties that I realized, huh, they were actually listening.
So what are we demonstrating to them? Are we open about our shortcomings or do we pretend we are perfect? Do we say one thing and do another? “Don’t curse,” we preach, as we flip off the passing motorist. “Be honest,” as we sit silent in the face of mistreatment. It’s ridiculous when you think about it – how full of you-know-what we can be – and that we think we can get away with it.
Are you authentic with your children? Do they really know who you are - the good, bad, and the ugly?
Kids are not stupid. If they are anything like mine, they smell BS a mile away. Oh sure, they may not tell you right away, but they are soaking it in like the little sponges that they are. In fact, any hypocrisies they may witness will be stored in their “teenage ammo” file, ready to fire off at the most opportunistic of times. Trust me.
It behooves us to be honest. If we curse, own it. Don’t tell them to be one way then behave in complete contradiction. If someone treats us badly, hurts or offends us, why act like it is okay, that it doesn’t hurt? Especially in front of the kids. Wouldn’t it be great to show them how we stand up for ourselves with dignity and respect in the face of injustice or abuse? To share with them our past – the good, bad, and the ugly, including how we walked through the rough spots? To be honest in every way even if it makes us look vulnerable or flawed?
Is your past an open book or has it been sealed like King Tut’s fifth shrine?
When I was a teen I got caught up in drinking and drug use. By age 24, I quit and moved forward in sobriety til this day. The dilemma: what to share with my children? Do I tell them the truth or hide it like it never happened? Can I give it to them slowly according to what they could understand at the time? And what about the sexual assault or the many other gender-based abuses I’ve experienced throughout my life?
How honest should I be?
Being truthful is not always easy. Especially when it comes to parenting, we want to be seen in a certain light, even if it’s fiction. We’d rather present a good image than show them our truth.
Look at me, your supermom, coasting along, no sweat - meanwhile I am paddling with vigor, barely staying afloat.
I believe kids need to know the truth. They need to have the facts so they can prepare to deal with life as it is, not as we want it to be. If they learn that everyone has faults, that people aren’t always nice, and bad things do happen, they will have a foundation of reality from which they can build practical, healthy coping skills which are more likely to get them through their rough spots. And importantly, the wisdom we gained through our own experiences and hardships may give them information which can help them with their journey.
I decided to be age appropriately transparent. When topics came up about addiction in their 4th grade studies, I disclosed our family history and their own disposition to addiction. If we passed a drunk person on the street, I took the opportunity to share what it was like to be out-of-control and how I got help. And a little bit at a time they learned the whole truth.
We all want our kids to think we are superheroes. We want them to believe we have them covered. But doesn’t honesty show them courage and resilience and the truth about our world? Even if we are knocked down a peg from superwoman, don’t you think they will embrace our authenticity and humanness as qualities they can count on always? All ways?
So let’s be honest.
With ourselves and with our kids.
Let’s share with them who we truly are. Rather than tout from our soapbox a long history of obedience, virtue, and unicorns - let’s get real. Especially as a female, we need to pass on to our daughters and sons all the facts of life. Sharing our humanness can offer them permission to embrace theirs, and share that with us. It goes a long way in reinforcing trust and confidence in one of their greatest allies, their mom.
Our children are watching us. Let us show them the truth. Let us share with them our life’s lessons, even those that are hard won. For when they are armed with the skills to cope with what’s truly out there, we can rest more easily in the increased probability of their safety, their freedom, and their happiness.
Kathy Greene Lahey, LMSW, AC, is the author of Taking Flight For Girls Going Places, a preventive tool to help independence-bound girls stay safe, confident, and empowered.