My husband is always telling me that I am far too open with my children about, well, everything. This annoyed him a great deal when they were younger. While I am the best person to tell your secrets to (I hate gossip and I know how to keep my mouth shut) it never felt…right, to me, to cover up my children’s questions with a lie or a half-truth.
I was a child born of the generation of parents who felt that children should be protected from family secrets – even the really awful secrets like, say, which Uncle to avoid because of the tendency his hands had of wandering where they shouldn’t. As I grew older, this habit my parents had of ‘protecting’ me from the truth extended to the time they euthanized my sick and aging cat after I had moved away from home (even though I made them swear to let me know when it was time) or telling me three months after the fact that a cousin I had not been that close to due to distance, had died three months earlier. As a result, when my kids ask me a question, I have always been inclined to answer with the truth.
“Mom, have you ever taken drugs?” asked my son one day when he was perhaps 11 or 12 years old. I took in a big, surprised breath. Oh, boy… My experience with drugs was thankfully very limited, but I did have a rather boring story to share. Now, how to do that honestly without tacitly giving him (and his younger sister – she was in the room when he asked) permission to ‘go for it’ when their time came in the not-too-distant future? (i.e. ‘Well I know YOU did drugs, Mom, so don’t go telling me that I can’t.’)
“Yes…” I admitted, as my son’s eyes opened wide and his sister’s head whipped around in astonishment. “I tried marijuana three times in university. A couple times, I felt nothing at all but the last time, I got really, really paranoid. It wasn’t pleasant – actually, it really scared me – and I never bothered with it again.”
“What about other drugs?” asked my daughter, now clearly as interested as her brother.
“Nope.” I was pleased to report. “Never tried anything else – that’s it.”
The thing is, though, there’s something to be said for being honest with your kids: when I tell them something, because I have always answered as truthfully as I could (based on their age, of course), they believe me. And they know me. There will be no questions unanswered; no words left unsaid when I am gone. It may not all be pretty, but they will never be left wondering.
As honest and forthright as I am with my children, I hold my cards tight to my chest with the rest of the world. I was blessed, in my early twenties, to have a friend who repeated each and every word anyone said to her. She loved to be the bearer of good and bad news. She loved to be the person ‘in the know’. She couldn’t help it, and yet somehow, I loved her anyway. I did learn, though, that anything I said to her was, 100%, going to be repeated. It was great practice for the rest of my life: I learned to filter what I did tell her, and if it was something I didn’t want repeated, I learned to keep my mouth firmly shut.
A dear friend of mine recently told me that when she was growing up, the words ‘I heard (…)’ and ‘Did you hear (…)?’ were forbidden in her home. You didn’t repeat personal information that had been shared with you – in secret or even casually. The news being shared belonged solely to the sharer. And the sharer alone could communicate that news as they pleased. Whether it was the joyous news of a much-wanted pregnancy or the terrible news of a friend’s husband’s infidelity. I feel exactly the same way: when someone tells me something, and until they get to know me, if they ask me ‘not to say anything’, my answer is always the same; “That’s yours to share. And I appreciate you sharing this with me.”
It has taken me months to finish this post. I couldn’t figure out why I was writing about that long-ago question my son asked about drugs, or what point I was trying to make. But the point is this: over time, my children have earned my trust and more importantly, my honesty, when they actually do ask me a question.
We tend to forget, today, how sacred it is to share a bit of ourselves with someone else. Social media has made it possible for us to disclose our every move in real time, should we choose to do so. But real sharing: crying on a friend’s shoulder over a break-up; trusting another with your biggest secret; being completely open and vulnerable with another human being; those are gifts: not to be taken lightly.
Not to be shared by anyone but the sharer…
Patti Moore Wilson/ © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com