The Backwoods

Where we teeter between our love of modern convenience and the yearning for something long past; a world where neighbors knew your name and a “Friend Request” was eye contact and a smile.

To Tell Or Not To Tell

Posted · 31 Comments

Today a friend asked me if I shared my history with my kids…if they know my sordid past or if I keep the dirty details to myself.

Funny, it never even occurred to me not to tell my kids…at least my teens…my story.  It is me.

They know it all. They know I smoked pot.  A lot of it.  They know I drank and drove drunk and got pregnant at sixteen.  They know I screwed up my life time and time again.  They know, not because they heard it from others and get mixed stories, but because they’ve heard it from me.

I tell them because I am a believer in “teach by example”, even if it is…by bad example.

I tell them because it gives us an even playing ground.  To claim I’ve not caved to the same pressures would be like telling them their pressures aren’t viable….that their failures are not my own.  That I don’t understand where they are coming from.  But I do.  I’ve been there.

I invented there.

I tell them so they know I’ve walked their path and that I struggled because of it. They know about blackouts and keg parties.  They know about back seats and teen pregnancy and dropping out of school and marrying young and divorcing soon after. They know about what it takes to struggle through college at 30 with eight kids because I screwed up so bad when I was their age.

They know me.  And because of that…I know them.

I tell them so that when they walk out the door and I say, “Be careful,” they know what I mean.  I tell them because when they are in some dark room at a party, half lit from the keg and some guy they barely know is doing things he shouldn’t, they will hear my voice saying, “There was this time when…and here’s what I learned…”  and know what to do next.  Or what not to do next.

I tell them so they know that I stared down at the white powder and said, ‘bring it on’, and some guy I barely knew saved my life when he said, ‘Your first time?  Not with me…” and took it away.  They know I didn’t do it and they also know that I would have. They know that it’s normal to be tempted.  They know that it’s okay to be curious and to think about it.  And that thinking doesn’t mean doing.  And hopefully….God, I pray…they will use that example in their own lives when that inevitable pipe passes by and they hold up their hand and say, “no, thank you.”

I tell them so they know the price I’ve paid for my mistakes and that when I tell them not to walk in MY shoes, it’s because my shoes are worn and tattered from use.  They know I speak from experience and not from some ‘grownup’ world that doesn’t ‘get’ them.  They will know…I understand.

I tell them so when they need to talk to me…about anything…they know I won’t be surprised. They know I’ll listen.

Because once we stop talking…it’s too late.  By then, I’ve lost them.

31 Responses to "To Tell Or Not To Tell"
  1. the road we walk, no matter how hard, is the road we are meant to walk.  That road is what has got you to the point that you are a loving and caring, parent of child at risk.  I agree share, as I have with my daughters, because truth is the best teacher.  May you path continue to be full of the blessings of much love

  2. Christine Smith-Johnson says:

    You are so right. We have to talk to our children until we are blue in the face. I have an article on my site for the parents who are not comfortable being so honest with their kids. I always tried to raise my babies not to struggle the way I did. It horrifies me to think of them walking in my shoes. I also never used college as option. It was mandatory, you have a minimum of 14 years of school. We have to teach them to set goals and focus on those instead of taking the wrong path. Parenting is a scary thing. Great blog! Thank you!

  3. Lori Hattori says:

    I went down a twisted, winding path as I was growing up too.  Made some not-so-wise decisions – and paid some pretty high prices.  I regret nothing other than the pain I brought to my OWN parents – because they didn’t deserve the lack of respect and consideration that I showed them due to my teenaged narcissism.  But I learned a lot about the person I wanted to be – and the person I DIDN’T want to be – along the way. 

    I shared some things with one of my daughters, as a way of saying “I understand what you are thinking and feeling – but please be wiser than I was and don’t suffer as I suffered.”  My other daughter was ‘born old’ – has always had a ton of inner strength and self-respect and discrimination between smart and not-so-smart behaviors.  Very different, the two of them – same nurture, different nature – as someone else said!

    Yes, it’s good to talk.  Even if they act like they aren’t listening, sometimes things slip in.  That could make all the difference.

  4. Snbrn says:

    It’s a brave parent who will let their children know them, and forge that bond so much stronger. As someone who is in her 40’s and is just learning about who their mother is, a painful process after all this time, I commend you.

  5. Liz says:

    ok, so what do we do with the 18yr old lad in the thick of all this right now. He was the staunchest 14yr old around telling his mates how stupid it was and not worth it, how he would never smoke, or do drugs etc etc, and this past year he is the one amidst drugs. We talk about it sure, but he has this picture of himself as bulletproof, that he is in control and he will be ok, that he understands the risks, and doesn’t push it too far, that he is not addicted, that he can stop whenever he likes… And I don’t know what to do next… He has his final two school exams in the next 10 days… and then reckons he is off on his own… I have the range from other people from ‘Don’t worry, lots do it he’ll be ok’ through to ‘He’s not staying with me (or living here) if he is smoking’ and I’m confused as heck about the best approach to help and support him without condoning the behaviour…

    • Joy says:

      I know there are lots of support and help groups available for you to contact and they can give you the tools or advise to guide you in the right direction……… If you contact your local GP or health clinic they can refer you to people to get help… It may just be a phase he is going through and many many years ago it would not have been a problem but these days the drugs available are so advanced and mixed badly and have instantly addictive qualities about them that as you say it is a huge risk…. A quick trip to the hospital with a friend to see all the other bullet proof 18 plus year olds in there is also a wake up sometimes and if you get in touch with the police they  may be able to refer you to a program where he gets to meet other people who were just as bullet proof………. I so feel for you and have seen this a lot of times in our town…… xxx

  6. jill says:

    This is so brave. I worry about telling my sons about me, my stories and all that. I was rarely told anything ugly about growing up by my mother. My dad told us all about himself but … not the ugly stuff. I worry it will give them justification. Mom did so it must be ok…..

  7. Vanessa says:

    Maybe I am reading more into this than I should, but what about the parent who never has been tempted. Who during their teen years stood head fast, hand up saying “No, not me.” That doesn’t mean I wasn’t around it, cause the Good Lord knows I was, but I never did it. If my kids partake does this make our playing ground uneven? Does this make it so much harder for me to reprimand them, as I never had. I have drank and consumed to much, but the other nope no dope for me.

    • I don’t think you are reading more into it…I was actually wondering the same thing and didn’t know how to address it, so I didn’t! hahaha My mom has never seen, smelled or thought about smoking, pot. She was never much of a drinker and her ‘party days’ of highschool probably included sneaking into the horse field and night with her friends and then sneaking back in the house. haha . And yes…it did have an effect on her parenting in that she was very naive. It likely never occurred to her to check my bed at night to make sure I was in it…do you know what I mean.
      SO, I would say…if you didn’t have these experiences, perhaps you’ll get lucky and your kids won’t either. But you don’t want to be caught unaware either…
      Huh…I’m rambling…and still don’t know how to address this. hahahaha…maybe I’ll have to think about it!

      • Joy says:

        I have never been drunk, done drugs or any of the other stuff either but I did see it done and I have been around it, I have friends who’s kids have done it and local kids in our area have done illegal stuff and been caught or got hurt. 
        I use all of these things as cause for discussion and ask the kids what they think about what happened, what do they think their choices would be in the situation, do they think it is something they are interested in, if so What appeals to them, how do they think it would impact on their life, would it cause a problem in the future, if they were in that situation how would they handle it and how would they get out of it, at what point would they ring me to help, what would be their reason for trying it or doing it…………. the biggest question I think is “how do you think the person in that situation feels and how would you feel if it was you……. 
        I have talked about all the stuff with my kids (10,14 boys, 18girl)…. my 14 yr old had a female friend at school letting boys do things to her on a school excursion at the back of the bus……… and I talked about how she would be feeling, what do you think makes her make those decisions, how much do you think she values herself, her reason for letting it happen, how would you feel in her position, what do you think about the boy who was involved and what do you think it says about him………
        As I said before I didn’t do anything when young, I even went to school every day, but it doesn’t mean I am not knowledgable of the world, I make a point to find out what is happening and I am open and have lots of discussions with the kids. 
        My theory is that the world is what it is, and I may not like it, but I need to give my children the tools to survive and thrive in it……. so that is what I do. If I don’t know the answer, I say I don’t know and we look it up together. 
        I have had funny conversations in the supermarket where the then 12 yr old says… “So Mum, I know where the pad goes but where actually do you put the tampoon”….. Hubby doesn’t answer any of these questions, he just blushes and walks away…… poor hubby. 
        I just use any opportunity to have a conversation with them and am 100 % confident if they had an issue they would talk to me as they have in the past………. 

  8. J A Nordberg says:

    I was open and honest with my kids.  I smoked pot in H.S., drank a lot in H.S. and after, and became a drug addict (narcotics) in my 30s (because of headaches).  I stole demerol and morphine from the clinic I worked at, sabotaging my career in the health field.  I lost my short-term memory because of it.  
    Fortunately, I am married to a man who is devoted to family and takes his vows seriously.  He forgave me and we’re still together.  We have two kids, 17 and 20 and I have told them all about my past.  As a result, they’re great kids who don’t drink or do drugs, my daughter has had sex but told me about it.  She trusts me to keep things between us, and if I share it with her dad, I tell her.
    It takes a profoundly deep relationship to be as honest as we are.  It also takes trust.  Lots and lots of trust.

  9. Pjmockit says:

    Good for you! Thanks for sharing your story with your kids, and with us. That’s a tough question we have all had to answer, and hope we did the right thing. I hope your message reaches everyone who has yet to face it, and opens those lines of communication–all the way to gut level. 

  10. Kate Nolan says:

    Agreed!  Both my daughters, now grown and married, have shared with me and my husband that our honesty made us credible.

  11. LRbassistmom says:

    Thank you for this.  My kids are 15 and 12, boys. I’ve wondered how and when to tell them. I mean it’s not something that you just casually bring up at supper.  Oh, btw, Yeah, I smoked pot, a LOT.  And to tell the truth, if I had some now, I’d love to light up but I can’ and won’t because that would make me a ji-normous hypocrite.  And while I’m at it, I drank a LOT. and drove.  Quite frankly, I should be a statistic.

    How do you bring it up?

  12. Eleni Drinks Tea says:

    I hope that if and when I ever become a parent, I will be able to be as brave and as honest as you are 🙂

  13. mac says:

    Absolutely love this blog post! I am the same way with my kids very open and honest hoping it will help them with their choices.  Their friends think it is weird how much they talk to me and tell me because they do not have that with their own parents which makes me feel like I am doing something right.  Now do not get me wrong they have lied and kept things from me (teen years) but overall are very honest and open with me and I am grateful for that.  You sound like a great mom, keep up the good work.

  14. Sue Blakeman says:

    My mama told me that, “I wasn’t born grown, and I haven’t always been a mama.” I didn’t get it. Had she explained to me in more detail I might have learned a little more from her experiences, but I think I had to learn it myself. I wish I had tole my son more! I’m glad the “twenty years” have helped him out! Thanks for writing!!!!!

  15. Kkoschke says:

    I’m thinking it’s what you did then that has made you who you are now.  I had some pretty run down shoes my own self.

  16. Deemrphy says:

    WOW!!!! I have struggled with this one! Thanks so much for sharing and letting me know that I’m not the only one who thinks I should teach by example!!! Bless you!

  17. Nhtrisha says:

    Once again I am impressed and amazed by you.   You had a tough rough but you took it so well and you are amazing.

  18. Rob says:

    I told my kiddos that there isnt anything they can do or have done that I havent already done before them. It levels the playing field. You are an amazing writer and thank you for literally putting your heart on paper. 

  19. Greg says:

    I too had made many wrong choices and have made sure my son knew about them, starting when was 9. As you said, the important message is how choices lead to consequences. Thanks for sharing.

  20. John Steinbeck says:

    “Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.”

    Kind of a catch-22 isn’t it? I’ve come to the conclusion that as a parent, all you can do is throw stuff at your kids (metaphorically) and hope that at least some of it sticks. And that you have to do it before the age of 16, because at that point they have already formed their own opinions of what they can (or will) and can’t (or won’t) do. I have never volunteered any info about what I did when I was a teenager to my daughter. She knows much about me, and the stupid things I’ve done over the years. I did tell her that all she had to do is ask, and I would tell her the truth. Thankfully, she is 28, married and expecting their first child. Obviously living my life as a bad example was not totally wasted on her. We just plod along and do the best we can. I’ve seen kids that come from families that weren’t that great and do well. I’ve seen kids from good families go to hell. And the thing that always makes you wonder is the kids that come from normal families, and some are good as gold, but there will always seem to be at least one that goes sideways. Same nurture, different nature I guess. Proof that no matter what you do, it’s still a crap-shoot, and you can only tilt the odds in yours (and their) favor so much……..

  21. Becky says:

    I tell. My kids know my story. It’s almost identical to yours. We have to. We’re obligated. Good job mama!

  22. Lori says:

    Once again, you touched on a topic that I often struggle with in my own life.  Your children are so lucky to have you as a role model.  Your journey has led you the current adventures of your life.  It’s your honesty and perspective that keep your readers coming back for more.  I love your blog!

  23. Caitlyncollis89 says:

    Not many words can describe how I felt reading this..I have a 6 month old daughter and as I read this I thought of her and of my own tainted past. You’ve put a new perspective on that day, when it comes, when I’m faced with the question, “To tell, or not to tell.” Thank you. 

  24. Lois says:

    I was the same way with my kids. told them the good,  bad and the ugly. one listened and never did any of the things and the other did everything I tried, go figure

  25. Joy says:

    Hmmmmm I read that and had an overwhelming feeling of sadness for how hard you sound on your self and how you feel that you “screwed up your life, time and time again”……. I am thinking that there is no such thing as the right way to live a life and yours has lead you to the spot you are now with the skills and abilities to live the great life you live now and provide such a special skill to the lives of so many others around you ………….. I applaud you for the life you have had and the lessons you have learnt on the way and the brilliant things you are doing now and wish you could be a little softer on yourself…. xxxxxxx

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