On Honesty in Parenting

The following thoughts are from Donald Miller, author of many books including his most recent, Scary Close


Now that I’m married I’ve started to worry about my children. I don’t even have children yet, but I’ve already started worrying about whether or not I’ll be a good dad. One of my greatest fears is that my children won’t do well in life, and by that, I mean won’t be happy and healthy and able to connect with others.


But I’ve got some hope brewing.


I’ve noticed something about the parents of teens and twenty-somethings who are high functioning and healthy. I’m talking about young adults who you sit and talk to and wonder how they got so wise, self-controlled and winsome. I’ve noticed they all have parents who have a distinct, unique, and rare quality about them.


It’s not a quality you’d expect, but I promise it’s the common denominator. And here it is: Healthy and high-functioning people often have parents who do not hide their flaws, especially from their own children.  


What I mean is this:


Healthy people tend to come from families in which parents willing confessed and were okay with their own weaknesses, even if those weaknesses were quite dark. And those kinds of parents are rare, which is perhaps why super healthy people are so rare.


Imagine growing up in a family in which your parents didn’t pretend to be more righteous, strong, or capable than they actually were, but in fact made mistakes and were perfectly willing to confess and apologize for those mistakes.


Imagine having a father who might occasionally say something like, “You know, son, I’ve noticed you’ve developed a temper. I think you might have gotten that from me. I’m so sorry. It’s hard to control I know. It has cost me a lot in life and I fear it might cost you, too. Will you forgive me for passing that along to you?”


A family like that creates a deep bond of intimacy.


And why?


I have a theory that parents who tell the truth about themselves are honored by God. I think God loves the truth, no matter how dark the truth may be. My other theory is that parents who sacrifice impressing their children in order to bond with them on a human-to-human level create a deeper connection. And my third theory is that children who grow up in environments where it’s okay to be human feel less pressure in life and less of a reason to hide from their families and the world around them.


Sadly, I’ve noticed the opposite trend, too. Because I grew up in a hyper-religious environment, I knew more than a few dads who felt the pressure to make people think they were more righteous than they were. I don’t blame them.


They were trying to fit in.


In each of those families, people—especially the children—struggled. They likely learned from the father (and sometimes the mother) that they were supposed to hide their darker nature from the world. Or worse, they learned they had to be perfect to be accepted and loved.


Here’s a truth: When we hide, we don’t connect with others, and when we don’t connect with others, our souls atrophy.


Two of the men I’m talking about had adult children who committed suicide. The knee-jerk reaction of both fathers in those situations was to make sure everybody knew their child’s suicide wasn’t their fault. It was sad and painful to watch.


What gives me hope is that I am very close with a few families doing it right. They are confessing their sins to their own children.


They are living in the open.


There’s nothing easy about living this way, for sure, and yet I firmly believe we have to live in the open to be healthy. We can’t hide and we can’t pretend. We have to teach our children not only how to live well, that is to live within moral boundaries, but also how to fail well.


In the end, the children who learn from their parents that it’s perfectly okay to be perfectly human live more healthy, happy lives. Why? Because people who tell the truth connect and are people who don’t live in public isolation.


Don’s new book, Scary Close, features a fascinating chapter about parents who confess their sins to their children. It is available at the Allen County Library, amazon.com and most everywhere people buy books.

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