Should I Tell My Children About My Past?

When raising a child, you may find your child experiencing similar struggles that you did at their age. You also may recognize similar temptations, behavioral challenges, or addictive behaviors in their adolescent and teen years that negatively impact their daily functioning. When these situations occur, it is common to evaluate your past in order to empathize and show compassion towards your child. You may feel compelled to share your stories and experiences of your past so that your child does not feel alone in what they are experiencing. If you consider sharing details of your past with your children, here are suggestions of things to keep in mind:

Recognize the Benefits of Sharing Your Story

There is valuable wisdom in lived experience. Whether your child is experiencing mental health issues, addiction, or life adversity in general, there is always value in sharing your own life experiences. Time seems to heal most of our life difficulties, especially as we get older. As a parent, there are many benefits in sharing stories of your past with your child. Not only does it foster a more intimate parent-child bond, but it also normalizes that mistakes are an inevitable part of life. By admitting your past mistakes, you teach your child that they can persevere beyond their own mistakes. When you do something wrong as a child, it may seem like the end of the world. Getting advice and support from a parent who has lived through many difficult experiences enables a child to try again and work to be a better person for themself and others. Other benefits of sharing your story with your child may include understanding genetic vulnerabilities to addiction and mental health issues, as well as learning healthy coping mechanisms from an individual that has experienced similar adversity.

Discuss Your Past With Appropriate Boundaries

While age can play a role in how you tailor conversations with your child, maturity plays an even more important role. There is no sense in keeping your past a secret from your child, especially if you want your child to avoid the same adversity that you might have faced. While it is your decision, set appropriate boundaries if you disclose information about your past with your child. Even if your past mistakes have made you feel incredible amounts of guilt and shame, it may still be valuable to share them with your children.

Boundaries may be difficult to set when sharing your past, especially if you feel incredibly close with your teen. Examples of healthy boundaries might include knowing what is beneficial for your child and what is not. A healthy boundary might also be practicing openness and honesty so that your child will trust you with their own experiences in the future. For example, if you are considering sharing a big mistake you had made in the past but want to spare the event’s details, you can also explain how you worked through your experiences emotionally. You do not have to explain every detail about your past, especially if you are still experiencing emotional distress from your trauma. Instead, you can open up about the mental and emotional adversity you have experienced because of your trauma and how you work to move beyond your trauma. Many parents strive to be a friend or confidant to their children, and by being open and honest about your own experiences, you are allowing yourself to be just that.

Honor Your Child’s Questions

When your child reaches an age where they become curious, they may start to ask you unexpected questions. Try to answer these questions honestly without avoiding or changing the subject. If your child asks you about your past substance use and you avoid or change the subject, your child subconsciously learns that they cannot go to you for questions about drugs or alcohol in the future. If they are too young or immature to have a conversation about substance use, you may want to delay the conversation to a later date. No matter what the case may be, consistently being honest is vital.

If you find yourself avoiding answering questions that your child asks, they may eventually learn to stop asking you questions in general. If you honor your child with respect and try to explain things from a non-judgmental perspective, your child will likely continue to ask questions to help further their development and understanding. You know what is best for your child to know versus what conversations may need to wait a few years. The most important thing to remember when talking with your child is that you can learn just as much from them as you teach them. Your child is a valuable source of support for you, just as you are for them. Practice being open and honest to establish a lifelong connection with your child.

As a parent, it can be difficult to decide what experiences from your past are worth sharing and which ones should be kept private. If your teen is experiencing behavioral issues or symptoms of addiction, you may feel even more compelled to share your own experiences to show compassion and empathy. By sharing stories from your past, you teach your child to be open and honest with you. Your child will learn to come to you to ask valuable questions and to ask you for guidance and support when necessary. Your child needs to understand that making mistakes is an inevitable part of personal growth. By discussing your past honestly and with appropriate boundaries, your child will feel empowered to persevere beyond their own mistakes. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center can help you guide and support your child through their mental and behavioral adversity. Call us today at (303) 443- 3343

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