We all want to raise happy and healthy kids free of depression and anxiety. I know this to be true because I listen to the trials and tribulations of families up to six days per week. I struggle with families to find out the roots of their kids' problems. And, let me tell you that this is not an easy secret. But, shh, I have got a secret. Keeping family secrets and withholding them from your kids, more often than not, is a contributing factor to a variety of physical and emotional maladies. This is not a new phenomenon. This has been going on for ages.
Kids sense when information is being withheld. Don't kid yourself (no pun intended). They speculate and fantasize and are often not that surprised when the truth comes out. The old saying that "you are only as sick as your secrets" is true. Parents keep a variety of secrets in an effort to protect their teens but it is my strong belief that teens are old enough and mature enough to hear the real family stories. And, perhaps telling family truths is yet another unwrapped gift that you can give your kids for Christmas.
I have been thinking about the most frequent family secrets that parents keep and here they are in no particular order:
1. Issues of family mental health. Issues of depression, suicide and substance abuse are withheld with the erroneous belief that if you talk about these issues they are contagious. Not true. Talking about these issues opens up honest dialogue and may help prevent problems. These issues should NOT be treated like sources of shame.
2. Former marriages and kids from former marriages. Yes; it is ok for your kids to know that you had a life before them. The bigger shock is for them to find out that you hid a huge part of your life from them.
3. Family members who die tragically and/or prematurely. Simply because they are no longer present does not mean that their memory should be erased. Stories and legacies should live on. Deceased family members and their stories should be woven into an authentic and genuine family tapestry.
4.Criminal activity in the family. Yes; people in the best of families may have relatives or may themselves have committed crimes. Discuss this. Use the story as a teaching tool. It is a far greater crime to bury this information.
5. You had a less than ideal childhood. Go ahead and talk about this a bit with your teens. The purpose is not to use your teen as a confidante but rather to have your child see you as a real person with the resiliency to overcome real disappointments and problems.
Sadly, I know about growing up in a family that lived with secrets and lies because that has been my experience. And, let me tell you that this never did me any good. It caused me to have stomachaches and to feel very confused and betrayed. It also caused much family friction and ruptures that can never be repaired. What I did learn is that I must make it my mission to encourage families to talk honestly and share tears and laughter. And, I must say that I have been remarkably successful.