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How Honest About Your Past Will You Be With Your Kids?

By Monica Bielanko |

Dad jams on stage with Bruce Springsteen

I had sex with my husband the night I met him.

I know, I know.  My granny would be appalled.  I probably did more in that night than she ever did in a lifetime with my gramps.

But he was a sexy guy with a guitar, he was only in town for that one night and I couldn’t help myself.

I’ll enjoy telling my children about the night I met their father.  The question is, how much do I tell?  And how much does he – a rock ‘n’ roller with a storied past – tell? Or is the question not how much, but when do we tell?

As Karen Karbo writes for The New York Times it’s “both ironic and touching that in the age of compulsive over-sharing, parents still struggle over owning up to their pre-kid past.”

Of course my children will be able to read the story of how I met their father online. Maybe. I could always unpublish it but if they get tricky with Google cache and whatnot, they may still be able to find the story, but that’s not my point.

Do I admit I smoked a “funny cigarette” (as grandma would call it)  in college? Do I own up to that high school abortion that I still can’t get out of my head?

I don’t know. Karbo isn’t sure either. “We want our children to find us godlike as long as possible. We want to stand before them as solid citizens and blameless role models. If we tell them we were the most successful pot dealer in our middle school, what kind of message is that sending?”

Ultimately though, Karbo believes the issue is not should we tell but when:

A complicated human one, it turns out. The best lesson we can convey to our kids is that we, their parents, are human, that our good, bad and ugly choices were survived, and that life is big and busy and messy. We are always teaching our kids something. When we withhold information about ourselves from them, the message we’re sending is that love is conditional, that we’re afraid they wouldn’t love us if they knew the truth. What this conveys, of course, is that it’s also possible for us not to love them.

I agree.  I will always prefer the awkwardness and embarrassment of coming clean.  I want my daughter to know I am human.  That I made mistakes and learned from them and maybe she can learn from my mistakes, but maybe she has to make her own mistakes to learn as well.

So yes, the issue becomes when.  When should my daughter know about that abortion?  Not when she’s ten, no.  But perhaps, when she’s 16 and contemplating sex with a boyfriend.  I like to think we’ll have the kind of relationship that would inspire her to talk to me about sex.  But, you know, she’s 2 now.  Like many of you, I haven’t yet reached the teen years and so you just may very well be chuckling at my naivete about parenting teens.

Still, I plan to tell her.  I want her to know me.  The real me, warts and all.

Planning to introduce the birds and the bees?Avoid these 3 Common Mistakes!

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About Monica Bielanko


Monica Bielanko

Monica Bielanko was raised on the wild frontier of late 1970's Utah. She is a recovering Mormon who married the guitar player of an unknown band. She's been married to her Babble Voices writing partner, Serge Bielanko, for the past nine years. Her personal blog, The Girl Who was in the top ten of last year's Top 50 list. Read bio and latest posts → Read Monica's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “How Honest About Your Past Will You Be With Your Kids?

  1. Jennifer says:

    So tough. I just had this conversation with a friend who was a huge fan of funny cigarettes in college. She plans to lie about it if her son ever asks…but she can’t do it with a straight face. It’s like when my mom said she & dad only held hands before they got married. Really? I agree about being honest, but don’t know about when.

  2. Brigette says:

    I found my mums honesty about her pre-kid past really helped me. At 13 I asked if she’d ever smoked ‘funny cigarettes’ and she told me she had, and also told me how they made her feel at the time, the idea that my mum had already been there done that made them alot less appealing.

  3. Abbey says:

    Both my kids (4 and 8 mos) have email addresses, and I occasionally write them emails telling then about various things in my past (like how I left my first husband to be with their daddy). I want them to know everything so they know I’m not just mom but a real person who can relate to them and hopefully help them. I write to them about other stuff too so I can sort of chronicle their childhood. I haven’t decided when I’ll tell them about the email addresses…maybe when they graduate high school or college. Also, since your comments are off at your website, I wanted to tell you here that your mom looks just like you…she is freaking hot. I seriously hope I look that good when I’m a Grandma

  4. Jenna says:

    What I struggle with isn’t when/whether to tell my kids about the mistakes I’ve made in my past but when/whether to tell them about the things I’m not sure I want them doing but I don’t actually object to or regret. Double standard much? I know, I’m not denying that at all.

  5. Maggie says:

    Don’t wait until she’s 16 to tell her.
    My mom figured she’d “spare me” the knowledge that she was raped by her much-older teacher because that wouldn’t happen to me. So in very similar circumstances I found myself in an abusive relationship with a “man” just a couple of years older than I. At least partly this happened because my mother had taken such pains to make sure I thought all “love” was a good thing.
    Don’t make a big deal out of “when to tell her.” Tell her about it as part of the background stories of your lives, make it part of who you are. Don’t make it a Big Dark Secret that you’re finally telling her when she’s Old Enough to Know. That will be too late.

  6. Sarah - The other one says:

    You and your mom look so much alike!! Beautiful ladies!! I know your busy with her visit but we have missed you :) It always nice to plan what you would do but you can really never know until the moment arises…

  7. Melanie says:

    I just read the story if how you and Serge met and now I want to know the rest! How did your families find out?!?

  8. Linda, t.o.o. says:

    What you *choose* to tell your children will be a moot point since you’ve shared everything publicly. All they’ll need is a second grade education and access to a computer.

  9. Ora says:

    My husband and I have discussed this quite a bit. We both had a lot of heartache in previous relationships and marriages. He was married to a woman who never really loved him, and I was married to an abusive man (thankfully, there are no children from either marriage). We both learned so much, and we feel that we would be doing our children a great disservice if we hid our struggles and lessons learned from them. We are just not sure how or when we bring it up. My son is only two and my daughter is due in about 10 weeks.

  10. Vickie says:

    I have always been honest with my children about what I did. It was not always easy to tell them but I thought I could keep them from making the same mistakes, My children had a hard time believing some of the things I did, but truth is some of it did sound a little risque after I said it. Oh well,,,,My children are grown but they still refer to a few things. My thought is what is in my past will stay there, but what is present is what I have to deal with now. Too late for the rest.

  11. Taz says:

    i grew up with parents that over-share and have difficulty understanding boundaries. on some level mom’s stories taught me some life lessons or at least made me too scared to try certain drugs! but even though i knew all about the sex, drugs, partying, attempted kidnapping during a hitch hiking misadventure, ect- i did my own fair share of mistake making. most of it not unlike theirs. i’m due in january and i’m sure my daughter will make mistakes too. i don’t think it’s bad to confide when she is old enough to bring things up and have questions- but i think that parenthood is an exercise in restraint.

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