Monday Mom challenge: Dance with your skeletons

Jul 6, 2010 at 1:44 a.m. ET

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, was once quoted as saying, "If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance." We all have a skeleton or two in our closets; no one, after all, is perfect. Perhaps you were a little more, uh, "free" in your early years than you are now, or you made a few mistakes that you aren't exactly proud of, or something happened to you that makes you feel embarrassed -- but are you expending more effort in hiding that skeleton than the skeleton is worth?

Woman thinking

What does "dancing" with your skeletons mean anyway? It means acceptance and understanding of how those skeletons helped shape who we are today. It doesn't mean announcing your skeletons to everyone you meet and in every circumstance, but it doesn't mean hiding it away in shame, either. Our secrets -- our skeletons -- have lessons. And like another famous quote, if we do not learn the lessons of history, we are condemned to repeat them.

quotation mark open What makes you who you are today is the sum of your experiences, both the stellar achievements and boneheaded mistakes.quotation mark close

Part of who you are

What makes you who you are today is the sum of your experiences, both the stellar achievements and boneheaded mistakes. As adults we may want to put some of those mistakes of the past aside and forget about them, but they are part of who we are. Similarly, things that happened to us, both the wonderful and the sometimes awful, make us who we are. Denying one part actually denies part of our whole. Sure, it's much nicer to look at all the good stuff, but you can accept the not so good while still celebrating the great.

Being honest with ourselves, with our family and friends, and often with our kids about the whole picture can lead to greater understanding and better choices in the future. You may respond to certain issues a certain way because of one of your skeletons, but no one except you knows that or understands that unless you tell them. Family may be able to avoid certain situations, and your kids may not make similar mistakes in adolescence, but only if you come clean.

Dump the shame

If there's something in your past that isn't exactly pleasant, think about why you are hiding it -- and think about regret versus shame. While regret is a part of life, and indicates we are learning from the not so good bits and moving forward, shame can be more damaging emotionally. Releasing the skeleton and releasing the shame can be so intensely freeing, and can free you to move forward in your (and your parenting). It may be hard to figure out when and how to release the skeleton, but give it a chance. The acceptance you receive may surprise you. And guess what? Everyone and every family has skeletons. Really, they do. Your best friend, the elderly lady down the street, the business owner in the cute shop downtown -- all of them.

Keep looking forward

It can be hard to dance with our skeletons, but so often the burden of hiding them is greater than the weight of the skeleton itself. Figuring out ways to free ourselves from secrets puts our focus on the future instead of in the past - which we can't change anyway. Accepting ourselves - all of ourselves - is what it's all about.

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