Trusting Our Kids With Our Selves

Mark - Dallas, Texas
Entered on March 12, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: parenthood
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“My father’s reputation is very important to him.”

My son Jon wrote those words for a school assignment when he was eight. He thought he was bragging about his dad, who thought his secret was safe.

I believe that for a parent, a rich life includes children who know us at our weakest. The sooner we’re honest with them about such things, the earlier they’ll accept and value themselves.

When he was very young, keeping things from Jon was seductively easy. Problems at work, ethical dilemmas, finances; all could be compartmentalized for adult conversation, or communicated in code. But regardless of its evolving complexity, it was just a matter of time. Kids are smart, and our most powerful examples are usually unspoken.

Once grown, most children stick close. They are there for us, potentially our greatest assets at a time when what has long sufficed begins to fail us. They have a relative maturity and yet their idealism is largely intact. They’ve learned (if you showed it to them earlier) forgiveness.

Our children want us to do well. Any fool could see how badly we need them. It’s a brief window we’re given to secure such a perfect confidante and counselor. Most will have their own children soon enough, and if we taught it to them, that cycle of privacy will begin again. A silly end, too: the kids keep things private from the folks, in the name of what is best for all.

Around two thirds of the way through the cycle, some of these folks ended up coming to see me as their pastor. They were in a lonely place, cut off from both their parents and their children. They told me things they wished they had said to mom or dad. That might be too late, I’d say, but it’s not too late to talk to your own kids about something else besides the old standbys. Surprise them. Ask them: what’s the best day I ever gave you? Will you go see a movie with me? Do you know what I wish I’d done differently?

Most responded by telling me I just didn’t understand. But I saw some brave attempts to break the cycle passed down for so many generations. In doing so some were drawn to include their children as valued adult friends a bit early, and expected too much too soon. I was one of those. But it was a benign failure, and only a temporary one.

If anyone knows my fundamental weaknesses, it’s my two children. They love me anyway. Any fool could see how badly I need them. I waited too long because of something an eight-year-old could see: my reputation was very important to me. But I decided: I’m not going to wait until I’m old and infirm to trust myself into their hands.

It might be the best example I’ll ever set.