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

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.

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