Parenting: Does Honesty Really Matter?
Being a parent is not an easy thing. And being a ‘good’ parent is even harder. ‘Authenticity’ and ‘congruency’ have been buzzwords for a while now. But what about when it comes to how we show up as parents, and who we’re being with our kids?
It gets a little more complicated… Or does it?
I feel as though there’s some implied rule in the parenting ethersphere that says you’re suddenly supposed to be a perfect, completely evolved being when you have kids… Or at least, carry on a charade that you are.
But what good does this do our kids? What happens when they go through challenges? When they’re not as ‘perfect’ as they believe their parents to be? What happens when they don’t win or succeed at something? Do they give up and make the decision that they’re a failure?
It’s tempting to wrap our kids in cotton wool and protect them from the harsh realities of life for as long as possible. I am definitely guilty of this. I want life to be all peaches for my kids, but of course it won’t be will it? It will be a journey with highs and lows, just like it is for us all.
More and more I’m realising how incredibly important it is to be real, vulnerable and flawed with our kids.
To share our hurts, concerns and challenges with them; And to answer their questions as truthfully and openly as possible.
So the best we can do is teach them how to navigate the rollercoaster of life as early as possible. And reveal ourselves as imperfect travellers on the journey and not spectators at destination perfection.
The problem with do as I say not as I do...
For the first few years of my boys’ lives I was completely discouraging of swearing, and would act completely mortified when either of them let one fly. Despite the fact that I personally love a well placed curse – like anything, best in moderation. There’s no denying the fact that ‘fuck’ is an amazing word. It can be used to alleviate pain, frustration and suffering; and equally to emphasise fun and enthusiasm. But it’s not okay for kids is it?
So, in the last couple of years I’ve shifted from ‘though shalt not swear, even though Mummy does’ to something much more real and honest.
Now I tell the kids that swear words are magic words that should only be used every now and then, otherwise they lose their magic. To create some boundaries around this (because otherwise they’ll keep pushing until they find them) I’ve made a rule that we’re all allowed to use the ‘F’ words three times a week. This includes me too. Once the three are used up we have to give up something as payment – pocket money, earlier bedtime etc.
Last weekend we were in a park and the boys were having running races. They both agreed pushing was okay (strange creatures boys!), so invariably there were tears. Che (9) sat on the seat next to me red faced, crying, and amongst his expletives to his his brother said ‘fuck’.
In the past I would have pounced on it and told him not to swear. But instead I was able to smile, ask if he felt a bit better and tell him he had two left for the week. We all had a giggle.
It’s a complex issue, and one unique to all families. I guess if you personally don’t like to swear at all, then authentic for you would be discouraging swearing.
Either way, our kids learn best how to be adults from watching us.
Being emotionally available...
Another aspect of honesty is emotional availability. Pretending to be happy all the time is confusing for kids, and inhibits true connection. It also implies that it is not okay to share your feelings. Something that will impact their relationships for life.
I don’t always realise how much this affects my kids, but they always give me reminders. I was surprised recently when Che commented that he doesn’t always know how I’m feeling because sometimes I look angry when I’m not and that it confuses him.
I didn’t realise he was so keyed into my facial expressions. It was a great revelation. I told him it’s always okay for him to check in with me and ask me how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking, and that I will tell him.
Similarly there are times when I’m feeling upset about something, but trying to hold it together and ‘put on a happy face’ around the kids – Indi (10) in particular will often ask if I’m okay. Sometimes I blow it off and say I’m fine – but I can see the confusion and unease this leaves him with. So as much as possible I try and explain how I’m feeling.
Sure, there is age-appropriate explanation of adult emotions and thoughts, but white lies and denial only create confusion and don't give kids a model of how they can process, express and communicate their own emotions.
Now I'm going to contradict everything I’ve said… And that’s okay because I’m not perfect, and we all get to choose how to parent our children to the best of our abilities…
Even though I am pro honesty, openness and authenticity as a parent, I can’t quite bring myself to completely come clean about Santa, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.
I know they know, but still I’m sticking to the ambivalent: ‘well it’s up to you what you believe about that.’ Yes I know it’s completely inconsistent, but hey that’s being human isn’t it, and maybe fantasy and magic are sometimes just as important for childhood as openness and honesty.