Monday, May 5, 2008

Do as I say, not as I did/didn't/would never/umm...

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.

16 comments:

Nancy said...

And when they point blank ask " did you ever try pot? coke?" ... etc

It depends on the kid. In my case I lied. Why?

Because with my daughter if I said "Yes, I smoked pot BUT" ... (and then went on to explain why she shouldn't), the only thing she'd hear is "yes".

Marie said...

I guess I'm lucky in this way, my life has been very uneventful. I'll be able to say "and that's why I never did such and such. But your FATHER on the other hand..."

Domestic Spaz said...

So far I have been honest with my kids when they have asked questions. However, I haven't volunteered information I didn't have to volunteer and they're young so they haven't asked most of the tough questions.

I hope I can continue to be honest with them, though. Even on the tougher questions. I hope they can learn from my experiences.

kristi said...

I have a 12 year old and she HAS asked me some questions. I do try to be honest but not TOO honest!

Janet said...

mmmm...mushrooms! It's a good thing I never had kids ;-)

Lis Garrett said...

I can't imagine you ever having had a "colorful" past!

I was a fairly nerdy tween and teen, so I don't have a lot of information to side-step. However, I had my fair share of teenage love and angst that consumed WAY more of my time than it should have.

~Virginia~ said...

that IS a tricky situation! since i don't have kids yet i can postpone thinking about that for the time being. :)

angie said...

I have a feeling there is going to be alot of this going on in my house, "prevarication and a lot of redirection". Oh, wait, there already is. But seriously, I think many things children don't ever need to know.....

Julia Smith said...

'Oh god, I'm so overthinking this that I've turned into a Gilbert and Sullivan musical. Shoot me now.'

LOL, Robin! True, I don't have any children myself, but the thing that strikes me about friends who are in this dilemma: I point out that although they might have done this or that which they now regret or at least don't want their kids to know about, they've turned out okay. Probably your kids will do things you wish they wouldn't, but they will more than likely turn out fine.

Phyllis Sommer said...

yep, wait and see. sounds like a plan to me:-)

Mom not Mum said...

I think you can sidestep it exactly that way. Use what YOU learned to guide your children without saying that you actually did it.

Flea said...

Nancy's got a point - it depends on the kid. I think, though, that the age is more relevant. Kids are really concrete till they're nearly teens. We let our kids know at young ages that there were some things about mom and dad that they didn't need to know till they were older. ("We'll talk about that when you're a little older") As they've come up against some of the same struggles, we've been able to determine what is relevant, timely to them. Some stuff we still say is none of their business.

They're 14 and 15 now and it's nice to be able to ease their minds when they struggle so hard with different temptations by saying, "Yes, I struggled with that and made the wrong decision and regret it more deeply than you can imagine." The age it really hit for us was about eleven - curiosity ran wild.

Shannon said...

Such a great post! Having an 11 year old has brought up a lot of questions before I was even close to ready. Lucky for you, you are giving it forethought and will hopefully have good responses to the tough questions. At the end of the day, we can only do the best we can...not that that statement makes any of it easier:)

Fairly Odd Mother said...

I have no idea how I'll handle this. I think in a few years, I'll be posting this very question on my blog while I hold my breath and hope for something ingenious to strike me. The only thing going for me is that, for most of the 'bad' stuff, I was (almost) over the age of 18 and can therefore say I was an 'adult'! Ha!

poppy fields said...

This is going to be hard for me as I had a period when I did everything I shouldn't do and I don't want to see my daughters going through that. I guess we'll play it by ear with the questions and answers...

marcia said...

I had such rotten examples in some of my siblings, parents I knew I did not need to try it all so I USE MY FAMILIES EXPERIENCES TO TRY AND TEACH MINE ---NOW THAT THEY (no reason for caps)are all about grown only one has had to 'experience' things for themselves