What Do You Tell Your Kids about Your Wild & Wooly Days?
When you were in high school, you lived the “Miller High Life”. By college, you were using marijuana. You’ve since gone clean: you seldom drink, and you never use drugs. Heck, you even exercise daily, eat right, and do all the things you’re “supposed to do”. You’re a parent now: you’re making the choices that you feel are appropriate for a responsible adult, for the role model for kids. What happens then when your kids ask you one day if you ever got drunk or did drugs? Should you tell the truth about your history and potentially lead your kids to believe that it’s okay to use chemicals or that substance abuse is characteristic of a typical phase of human development? Alternatively, do you lie to your kids to inspire them to stay on the straight and narrow? What is the best course of action?
Lying is not the right answer. There is a good chance that, sooner or later, your kids will discover the truth about your history, and then they will learn that they cannot believe in the things that you say.
Telling the truth . . . with discretion . . . is the right answer. You fondly recall parts of your youthful wild life, but you also recognize that there were parts of it that you’d rather not recall. And even though there are parts of that life that still makes you laugh, you recognize that you don’t want that lifestyle for your present reality. So, as you respond to your kids’ questions about your history, be honest about your substance abuse, but emphasize that that period of your life is characterized by events and circumstances that you’d rather not recall and that you have worked hard to overcome. Do not glorify substance abuse by telling your kids all the funny stories of crazy things you did when you were drunk or high. If your kids ask if you have any positive memories of your wild life, you can answer in the affirmative, but then counterbalance that with a statement that the positive aspects of that life are outweighed by the negative aspects. For example, yes, you laughed a lot during that period of your life and you made some lifelong friends, but you damaged many relationships with adults (and a few of your peers as well), you barely graduated from high school, you struggled through college and sometimes lost your scholarships as a result, you got an MIP (minor in possession of alcohol) and a possession (of marijuana) on your criminal record, many people lost respect for you, and you lost opportunities (personal and professional) as a result. Mention the long-lasting effects that the wild life can have: a criminal record that can haunt you the rest of your life, disqualification from good jobs as a result, some permanently damaged relationships, and a black mark on you as a person that will forever require explanation to and forgiveness from new people that you integrate into your inner circle.
By telling the truth . . . with discretion . . . you can answer your kids’ questions honestly and maintain the trust they’ve placed in you, and give them answers that encourage them to stay on the straight and narrow.