On our way to the shops today, the kids and I got to talking about family. We have a big family reunion coming up and they wanted to hear some funny stories from my past and hear all about their uncles and aunties.
Somehow, the conversation turned in an unexpected direction. We got onto the subject of old age and dying (don’t ask me how) and my youngest said something that jolted me:
“Mum, if you die, I’m gonna kill myself because I don’t want to live without you!”
I was shocked and a little bewildered. It was said in this sweet, baby voice and I just couldn’t fathom why a seven-year-old would say something like that.
But then the conversation went in yet another unexpected direction.
I said, “Don’t even joke about suicide. I once tried to kill myself you know. It’s a very serious thing. Why would you say such a thing?”
Right now, thinking back on the conversation, that mightn’t have been the brightest thing to say to a seven-year-old.
I really don’t know what came over me, but I’ve always prided myself on being honest with my kids.
My dad managed to keep the “perfect” façade going for so long but when I was 12 and realised he wasn’t perfect and didn’t apologise for his mistakes, the scales fell off my eyes. I vowed never to pretend to be something I’m not with my own kids and I’ve stuck to my word. (By the way, I get along with my dad great now).
I had tried to commit suicide when I was in my early 20s. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is a part of my story. I was deeply depressed at the time. Somehow, I was dragged from whatever dark place I was in and life became better. I’ve had dark moments since then, especially when I had postnatal depression after my first pregnancy, but since my third baby’s birth, thoughts of ending it all have been far from my mind.
In fact, it was a near death experience in my fourth pregnancy, which sadly ended early due to being ectopic, that made me see how precious little time I would have with my beautiful kids. No way would I ever deprive them of their mum for one minute, if I could help it.
Maybe it was the shock of hearing me say this, but my youngest curled up and turned away from me. He didn’t want to speak to me. He was devastated and hurt.
I hadn’t expected this and was at a loss as to what to do. It took awhile, but with his brothers’ help, he finally turned to talk to me and I reassured him that I would never do anything like that again.
I felt like crying. How could I be so stupid. I hadn’t seen what a statement like that would do to him. It totally unsettled and disturbed him.
And that leads me back to the topic: Should we be honest with our kids about our mistakes, our history, our faux pas and our blind spots.
Perhaps it’s not a matter of being honest or not. Perhaps it’s a matter of timing. My eldest was flying the flag for me in that conversation. He said, “Mum did one bad thing. Think of all the good things she’s done.”
Then I thought back to when I was taken off in an ambulance, that dreadful day I lost my wee bubba. Son no. 3 was scared and clung to me for weeks afterwards.
Why didn’t I just think!
I apologised for burdening him with something so huge and we had a nice long hug. It’s definitely shaken me but I think back to those days when I was young, when my parents pretended to be perfect, and I stand by my choice to be real with my kids about my imperfections.
I felt betrayed by my parents. I never want my kids to feel like that. Only time will tell if I’ve made the right choice.
What would you do? Would you have been honest about your less-than-perfect choices?