How Much of Your Past Do You Share with Your Children?
Like I’ve said before, Matt and I are approaching a whole new level of parenting. The questions now aren’t about when to potty train or whether or not to allow them to ride the bus. In a couple of weeks I will have a daughter entering high school, another entering middle school, and my son will be entering intermediate school (grades 3-5). Don’t ask me how this has happened. I have great potty training advice, and I could probably write my memoirs about the interesting conversations that have come from driving my kids to and from school myself. But now I have new questions.
One came up over the weekend. My nieces and nephew were getting baptized in the Anglican Church of North America and my sister and brother-in-law asked Matt and I to be Godparents. With this new honor and responsibility, I attended the parent class on baptism with them. The pastor was getting practical as he was talking about raising children. As he was giving good advice about giving many hugs and making them a priority, I blurted out my new question. “What do I say when my children ask me about my past?” It’s not rated G. It’s not rated PG. I’m unsure about how much to reveal.
Obviously I’m not going to offer up details. And of course there is an age-appropriateness involved in the whole thing. But like I said, I have a 14-year-old. We have had many talks about purity, so she is pretty educated about sexual activity. And she is well aware of drug use. Although I don’t believe she has encountered much temptation yet in these areas. As much as Matt and I have tried to prepare her, I keep stumbling on my “premeditated” answer for the doozy question. Currently, she still has a somewhat godly picture in her head about her parents. Matt has stated that we have made mistakes that we do not want them to have to endure. Do we just keep it at that?
Do we tell her what we’ve done? Do we honestly answer in a vague way, and then explain some of the spiritual and emotional consequences of our past decisions? Of course, I’m not volunteering to offer up any information unless confronted. I vocalized in the class my fear of them thinking, “Well mom and dad have done it, and they turned out to have a good marriage.” My children don’t have parents that use illegal drugs or have any STD’s. And yet there is so much more to it beyond these fearful consequences. I don’t want them to think that it is just a matter of escaping the doozies.
The pastor pointed out a recent study that reveals telling your kids about your sinful past can make them more likely to commit the same sins. He said I may be right about them thinking that mom and dad turned out fine, so why not try it. Like a good little student I went home and did some research. The study shows that telling your children about your past drug use does make them more likely to try it themselves, even if you are using yourself as an example to teach a lesson.
So it has been on my mind. Do I rely on the study? I don’t want to lie. Is it really going to help my kids to only find out the truth as adults that I told them I was somebody I wasn’t? I do care about credibility in the relationship. And I don’t want to hinder the truth about God’s grace. Frankly, I am where I am now because despite myself, God has been gracious. Sure, there have been consequences. But I didn’t get what I deserved and I know it.
There are a couple of families in our church where the story has turned out a little different. There are some wonderful women that my kids know who have had their first child out-of-wedlock when they were young. The biological father is out of the picture and they are now remarried to men that have adopted their firstborn. Now they have more children together and function well as a Christian family. But it isn’t easy, of course. In fact, it can be very difficult. And yet God is still gracious.
But we should never be presumptuous with God’s grace. And teenagers are the ambassadors of presumption.
My kids also have very real examples of couples that are intentional about pursuing purity in their relationship. Their youth leader, whom they adore, is now engaged and has been upfront about the purposeful ways that he and his now fiancé have strived to keep one another pure (of course, I am using the word pure loosely here, not because of any specific acts committed, but because of the reality of our sinful conditions). And there are others.
Help me out, readers. How much of your past do you share with your children? What have been your experiences with these discussions as you raise teenagers?