To tell or not to tell, this is a common problem many parents with shady personal histories face. Should we tell the kids about our past drug usage? How about a relational indiscretion? What part of our past must we reveal to our children?
This is not as difficult as it may seem at first glance. Here are the parenting principles to guide you through this question.
It is none of their business…
First, the behavior you demand from your children has no reference to how you behaved as a child/teen. Many people have told me something similar to this: “Our kids have a right to know, I don’t want them to find out from someone else.” My response is: “it is none of their business.” Parenting is not about defending my past, it is about establishing a healthy context for growth in the present, with good results for the future. My children don’t have an inherent right to know every detail about my past.
Parenting is about breaking bad habits and patterns that reside in the family dna and establishing the healthy values that characterize our family now. What I did in high school is irrelevant to the values I want to instill in my family now that I have grown up. My behavior cannot be used as a license for my children’s desire to act out. If you allow residual guilt over indiscretions in life to rule your present parenting posture, you will equivocate in your communication to your kids.
My father smoked and drank before I was born. He came to faith in Christ when I was young and he changed many patterns of behavior. I did not need to know the information, it was not my “right” and it had no impact on whether it was ok for me to smoke or drink. I found out these details about my father as an adult, and it didn’t traumatize me, nor should it have traumatized me.
You are in charge…
The underlying problem that lurks here is the notion that the children are in charge, or that they have a right to make these egregious and stupid choices for themselves. Now when it comes to “being in charge” the best approach is to exhibit a healthy and positive lifestyle that is attractive to emulate. I don’t mean enforcing values that you do not hold yourself.
It is good for parents to be in control.
First, of their own life and values. Living a positive and strong lifestyle becomes the key to parenting, and passing on values to your children. So be in control of your life, that is the fruit of the Spirit the Bible describes as self-control. If your past contained indiscretion, join the human race. Whose hasn’t? Don’t allow your children to use the stupid manipulation that claims a right to your prior misbehaviors as license for their own. Instead turn it around on them. Say something like: “we obviously recognize that such and such behavior is unattractive/stupid/destructive and we don’t all have to suffer through it.
So many parenting challenges come from the reversal of authority. It is really the same problem described in Genesis 3, the authority structure gets rearranged. When we usurp God’s rightful authority, things get all messed up. When the authority structure in parenting gets rearranged, things get all messed up. Being in control in parenting means leading to godliness: first by example then by instruction. It is imparted with confidence, and there is no concession to manipulation.
This bears repeating. It amazes me that people allow their children to think that they have a right to “experience” vices for themselves. I have never taken drugs nor have I ever been drunk. I haven’t missed anything, and I didn’t need to “experience” drug abuse or drunkenness to see it’s downside. It does not have to be a part of my children’s experience. In the same way my children don’t need to experience violence to know it is bad, they don’t need to experience other vices, even if I did. We wouldn’t say: “my kid needs to be beat up a few times so he can learn that violence hurts.”
So should you tell your kids about your past? Maybe, maybe not. Use your head and don’t let your past control your confidence in parenting.