I am not very good at keeping a secret or telling a lie.
Between wearing my heart on my sleeve and being- lets just say- a somewhat emotional type of person, you could call me transparent. I say things. My eyes get a “look.” My parents would tell you that my voice changes.
So when I was on the phone with my parents- me in Switzerland, them in the United States, the summer after I graduated from high school, it did not take my mom long to realize that I had been drinking. I think that I attempted to deny the fact that we had spent an evening in an Irish pub drinking Guinness with cute little four leaf clovers etched into the foam- but she knew.
Truth be told, I was a pretty “good” kid- not really getting into trouble in high school (other than riding my moped with a friend on board when I was only supposed to ride solo) and I was not a drinker. Well, ok, since we are being honest- there was the time during our senior camping trip in Northern Michigan where I “may” have overly partaken in a bottle of Vodka that I had gotten during a trip to Russia…where we quickly discovered that me having too much alcohol leads to over sharing and saying emotional things about boys and love and whatever else.
But in the big scheme of things- I was honest, I was dependable- and I was responsible. All good things right? And if we are taking credit for all these “good” qualities- the credit goes to my parents who helped me build a foundation of responsibility and accountability.
I think the thing that my mom was most upset about was not so much that I had been drinking- but that I tried to hide it. Because if nothing else, we were a family of talkers (sometime shouters- we are Italian and emotional after all) and the expectation in our house was that there was a good chance we would get in less trouble for something if we were honest upfront. (Of course, since I was in Switzerland at the time, there was not much in the way of consequences, other than the fact that in part because of my summer of beer- I gained crazy amounts of weight….which was probably worse than any consequence that my parents could have given me).
As part of the #TalkEarly parenting blogger team, I had the opportunity to hear Lisa Graham Keegan, one of the Century Council Advisory Board members speak about the importance of honesty and conversations. As she related her experiences and our role as parents to foster responsibility in our children as they grow up and make their own choices about issues like underage drinking- bells went off in my head.
Create a culture of conversation to #TalkEarly
Lisa Graham Keegan, in addition to being on the Century Council’s Advisory Board and a leader in educational reform circles, is also a mom, who raised her children with the philosophy and expectation of honesty, responsibility and independence. Creating a culture of honest and authentic conversations where we empower our children and foster the expectations that they demonstrate leadership, being honest and are role models to others is a foundational element for parenting.
As a mom and former teacher I could not agree more with the idea that we can give children tools to be successful, but we cannot dictate how they will use those tools. Instead, we can only hope that our conversations, role modeling and behavior will help them make the best and healthiest choices they can make for themselves.
The reality is that sometimes they will, and sometimes they won’t. And that has to be ok.
We- as parents- have to be ok with the fact that our children will make mistakes. They will make bad choices. They will probably even get hurt- both physically and emotionally over the course of their lives. Instead of shielding them from all potential hurt, we have to create a family expectation and culture that encourages honesty and conversation- so that no matter what they have done, our children know that they can talk to us.
As parents, we often have agendas for our children. We want them to be successful in school and life- but Keegan points out that when talking to our children we have to put our motivations aside, and lead with information instead of an agenda.
Perhaps my favorite nugget of wisdom from Lisa Graham Keegan was:
“You can lie to me- but don’t lie to yourself. Don’t put yourself into a situation that is dishonest to yourself and who you are.”
Because if you think about it- the situations that can arise from underage drinking (like me walking through the Northern Michigan woods talking about the great loves of my life while nursing a bottle of Russian vodka) are not reflections that most of us would like to be remembered by.
Is honesty the best policy?
Of course if we expect honesty from our children, we are telling them that they can expect honesty from us.
Being comfortable with our pasts- however “sordid” they may or may not be, and how much we want to share- is something that as parents we have to think about. Realistically, our children do not need us to chronicle every single misstep with “hyper honesty”, but sharing the times that we made less than spectacular choices can show that not only can we take responsibility for our actions, but that we can from learn them as well. It does not mean that talking early is always an easy conversation– but if we cannot talk about having learned from our experiences, howe can we expect our children to feel empowered to talk to us about theirs?
I want my daughter to grow up knowing that whereas during that silly camping weekend or later that summer where I drank “just because”- alcohol and wine are now part of my life as a way to celebrate with friends or bring out flavor in a meal. That I learned quickly what the effects of too much alcohol were on my personality, and learned to identify how far was too far.
Which is not to say that I have not had too much wine ever again- but that those early experiences taught me about myself- my strengths and my weaknesses and that I never want to be walking around a campground in the forest under the effects of vodka again. Just like we cannot protect or shield our children from getting hurt, sharing our downs can be as powerful as sharing our ups in life.
What about you? Do you have a culture of conversation in your home? How do you answer the tough questions?
As a member of the #TalkEarly parent blogger team, this post is part of a campaign sponsored by The Century Council. All opinions are my own.