Honesty is important. While I’d like to think that I am a patron saint of truth-telling, the reality is that occasionally, I fib. (Santa Claus is a big scratch on my reputation.) However, there are some subjects that I just can’t lie to my sons about.
I never wanted my children to doubt me, so I made every effort to tell them the truth, even when it was easier to be dishonest. When it comes to the following subjects, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable they may be — I refuse to lie to my sons
I was never allowed to ask about money as a child. I remember wondering how much money I needed to save to buy a car, and being told it was “none of my business” when I asked. Discussions of money are important to have with children, if only to help prepare them to manage their own finances as adults. My kids know when I am broke, they know when I’m not, and they know that we have to budget to stay on track. While it may feel awkward to be transparent with our children about money, it can help them be more financially literate in the future.
2. How do I look?
While this is entirely subjective, my sons know that I will always give my honest opinion about their style choices. I am specific, pointing out the exact reason(s) I don’t love their attire, whether it’s an off-color shirt or ill-fitting jeans. I’ll even tell them if their hairstyle is wonky. I have a rule about this brand of honesty, though. I only speak up if they ask me, and I also make sure to tell them something I like about their look, too. My goal is not to break their confidence but to share my perspective and ultimately allow them to decide how they feel about their appearance.
Some families may choose to hide death from their children in an attempt to lessen the impact of losing someone they love. In my family, we have chosen to always talk about death as honestly as possible, even if it was difficult. Beyond the act of dying comes the wondering about an afterlife, and the need to understand our own purpose. Due to our family being non-religious, we don’t rely on scripture to explain these processes; rather, we use examples in nature and open the door for all possible interpretations, even spiritual ones, as potential answers. When someone dies, we mourn, we remember and we talk about death — even the uncomfortable parts — until everyone feels ready to move on.
4. Is there a God?
Our choice to raise our family without religion means discussions of God are open-ended talks that don’t have one final answer. My sons have asked me if there is such a thing as God, and my answer has always been the same: I don’t know for certain, but I believe so. I’ve also told them that my beliefs don’t have to be their beliefs and that they are free to explore that question throughout their lives to come to their own conclusions. While this may be unsettling to some, I believe it has fostered an independent ideology of acceptance and healthy skepticism within my sons that enables them to question popular ideas while valuing their own judgment.
5. Drugs and alcohol.
I was told as a child that drugs killed people. One hit, one time, and boom — people would drop dead. When as a teenager I tried marijuana and didn’t die, I immediately felt that all the warnings given to me by my elders about drugs and alcohol were lies. When my sons asked me about drugs and alcohol, I decided to take a more honest route. I taught them that drugs are so enticing because they literally make people feel “high” — and that can trigger a dependency problem. I explained the chemical effect drugs and alcohol have on the body, and that it can be dangerous, but I only relied on facts, not fear, to encourage them to stay away from drugs. Now at 16 and 18 years old, neither of my sons has tried drugs nor wants to try them, and I believe it is, in part, because I was honest with them.
I’ll just get this out now: I don’t horny-shame my kids. Part of being human means we have a sexual drive that enables us to procreate and perpetuate our species. This sexual drive begins at a young age, and is generally expressed by masturbation and a desire to explore sex with others. What I have taught my kids is how to manage those feelings while still being socially acceptable. We don’t touch ourselves in public, we don’t touch people who don’t want to be touched, and we recognize the maturity necessary to engage in a sexual relationship with someone else. My sons are not embarrassed by their sexuality, and have (so far) been successful in transitioning from children to young adults who have sexual experiences in safe, healthy ways.
7. What’s in this recipe?
I have always been upfront and honest about what I am cooking and feeding my children. They haven’t always liked or agreed with my recipe choices, but they know that I am not hiding ingredients to make them eat something they don’t want to eat. I never cooked separate meals for my children, and let my sons know that if they didn’t like what I prepared, they were welcome to find something to feed themselves. In the end, my sons have developed an ability to try new foods, even if they are shy about new ingredients.
8. I’ll be there.
I never want my sons to feel the sting of looking for me and expecting me to be there when I’m not. My boys both know, aside from death or dismemberment, I will be where I say I’ll be, and this has taught them that above all else, they can always count on me. Even when it’s something small, like promising to take your child to get an ice cream, or to watch a video with them later — when we go back on our word and don’t deliver on our promises, it teaches kids they can’t depend on us for the bigger things in life, too.