There was a big article in yesterday's Washington Post talking about a subject I've given a great deal of thought to over the years - how much of your past do you, or don't you, share with your children? I'm sure we've all thought about this to some extent, but I suspect the issue is a bit tougher for those of us with more, how shall I put this, colorful pasts. Yes, colorful. There you go. A nice euphemism for "boy was she a screwup, god I'm glad she wasn't my kid".
It's inevitable. Someday my children are going to grow up and discover that there are all sorts of temptations out there, some a bit of harmless fun, others much more sinister. I hope that when that time comes we will have the type of relationship where they will feel close enough to me to talk to me before the moment of decision arrives. And when they do I don't have the faintest idea what I'm going to tell them. Sometime between now and that future I suspect will all too rapidly arrive I have to figure out how to walk a very fine line between being "relevant" and sharing some of the lessons I learned and being a piss-poor example of reasonable teenage behavior.
For now, we've still been able to teach values without getting into such sticky questions as our personal histories - yes, cigarettes are disgusting, no, no one should smoke. Yes, some people do smoke. Why? Because when they started they didn't know yet how very dangerous it is and how hard it would be to stop, but today since we know that already it doesn't make any sense at all to start. Besides, it's completely disgusting, remember? See how I managed to sidestep the fact that I myself smoked a pack a day for seventeen years, stopping only when I began trying to get pregnant with Itai?
I'm not fooling myself though. As they get older the questions will get tougher, they'll probe deeper. The issues will be even bigger. The drug question is in many ways harder, but also a bit easier - maybe I'll take the tack of "in my day (back in the old days, since mom is of course older than dirt) they didn't have such dangerous drugs like ecstasy and meth. Those are SO dangerous, look at what could happen!" Maybe I'll get lucky and by then things like mushrooms will have gone so far out of fashion that it won't even come up (she says foolishly). More likely I'll dwell on the dangers out there, WHY they're dangerous, and then focus on tactics - what to do if you're confronted with something you're not comfortable with, the fact that you can ALWAYS call us to come and get you, no questions asked, that sort of thing.
Sex? I can't imagine children actually wanting to know what their parents got up to. Not really. That one can hopefully stay on the hypothetical plane.
The truth is, I don't think I'll have any idea how I'll actually handle this until it comes up, and then I'll have to make a judgment call based on the actual conversation, the age and maturity level of the kid in question, and my own gut. I don't want to lie outright, but I also don't feel that my past has to be an open book. On the other hand, I don't want them to be so afraid of a misstep in front of some kind of mythical perfect and completely out of touch parent that they are afraid to come to me. I'll be looking for a balance which allows me to share enough to create a bond of trust, without sharing too much and creating an unacceptable example of acceptable behavior. (An unacceptable example of acceptable behavior? Oh god, I'm so overthinking this that I've turned into a Gilbert and Sullivan musical. Shoot me now.)
I'm thinking prevarication and a lot of redirection are going to be involved.
So what have I accomplished here? I've waffled around for an entire post and said nothing more substantial than "I'll have to wait and see". Yup, sounds about right.
At least the experts in the article didn't have anything better than that either.