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Should you be honest with your kids?

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?

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9 comments so far -

  1. i believe in being honest with kids rather than letting them bump around blindly obvisiously there is a time place and manner in which some subjects should be approached and explained so far my 2 year old only knows mummy was very sick when she was first born but even that i doubt she understands but there are pics of me and her and other family members that where taken atg the time and she will no doubt ask aboutthem and when she is older ill explain i had cancer while she was growing in me but some topics are hard for us to say to kids like suicide ,miscarriage, death etc but there are books and dvds etc out there now that help expain things we are4 here to guide and teach our kids i know some parents that refuse to tell there kids about the rougher sides of life and when these kids expewrience things themselves there is distance and distrust if the parents say oh i went throught the same thing my mother did that to me when i discovered i had pcos it made me mad that i could of been tested and bee more proactive in that side of my health for years but she kept it secret while pcos is different to attempted suicide the principle i believe is the same ….

  2. Huggles to you Cas. I agree that honesty is important, but that timing is crucial. Having said that though, I can’t imagine there is a parent on the planet that hasn’t goofed at some point in time.
    7 may have been a bit young in terms of being to understand a bit more of the world, but it sounds like you had great support from you other sons. My Miss now 17 was always quizzing me from 5ish about why I left her birth father, but I was not going to tell her about his lies & infidelity at that age. She does know now.
    Sharon xxx

    • Thanks for your comment Sharon. Wow, that would have been hard in so many ways. At what age did you share with her (or would you)? I always wonder how older kids take it when we lay it out for them and show our human-ness. Big hugs from me too.

      • Bits came out gradually, particularly the lies, but the infidelity & the sexual abuse that went with it has only been the last couple of years.
        It has actually helped her in that he has chose not to be a part of her life for almost 10 years & has only recently started being a really small part of it. I can also now admit that I allowed what happened to happen, so she gets to see my responsibility in it as well.
        Thankfully I have a wonderful husband who she feels is Dad & is going to change her name next year. xxx

  3. I applaud your honesty. I think it’s good for kiddies to know that perfection isn’t always what you think it is, and that families are made up of people who have real people issues. Probably the car while you’re driving isn’t the best place for the deep and meaningful conversations, but sometimes you don’t get to pick these things!

    Personally I think that the more we try and make a subject “unthinkable” let alone talk about-able, the more painful it will be for those trying to deal with it. Good on you for being honest enough to talk about it. Now if your kids ever get seriously depressed, they’ll know you’ve been there, and they’ll know you’re there to talk to.

    • We actually have lots of D&M conversations in the car because it’s the one time we all connect. At home everyone gets on with their various projects and interests. We do spend a lot of time driving places for the various activities we do. In any case, that’s an interesting point you make about depression. You are right Pauline. I think the fact they know someone close has been there may be helpful for them if they ever struggle in future. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Heart goes out to you Cas. I agree with being honest with our children. Maybe that slip was better unsaid….but we all say things in the moment. I’m sure I eat my own words on a daily basis! Regardless, our experiences are what make us who we are, and it’s okay for our children to see that. They each have their own journey, and their parents are part of it. Big blessings, Krishna xx

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