Is honesty the best policy?

for The Brooklyn Paper
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It hit me like a punch recently that I have no clue how honest to be with my kids.

I almost used the word “should” then, but that rang false. Who can decide this, after all, but me, and for my own reasons, and because I ostensibly know what my kids can and can’t handle?

It comes up a lot for me, as it does for author Sue Sanders, who I questioned recently at Powerhouse on Eighth about her new book, “Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore: Navigating 25 Inevitable Questions That Come Before You Know It.”

Her honesty inspired me and made me itch. The inevitable questions come often now that my oldest is 12, old enough that his long-time pediatrician began to talk to him about his burgeoning puberty, looking over at me sidelong as he did with the sad sympathetic eyes of a fellow parent.

Sue’s, “Have You Smoked Marijuana” chapter rang particularly true. I have copped to smoking it, and even tried to explain its affects to Eli, who sees characters on shows get high and so has his own impressions. He believes it should be legal and I tell him I agree. I say I believe marijuana is better than alcohol. Better? Of the two vices, I’d choose it. I leave it at that. After all, it is still illegal even if I don’t think it should be.

So then, alcohol. I don’t have to tell my kids what I think, they see it firsthand. The empty wine bottles add up in the recycling bin. We have beers at the bar after baseball. We drink in my house, a fair amount. But have I mentioned the dangers? The fact that I ended up in the emergency room getting my stomach pumped at 13 because I’d “borrowed” from a bunch of different bottles in my parents’ liquor cabinet? The fact that I spent a fair part of high school and college with my head in toilets after too much Everclear Punch or Bartles & James’ wine coolers or bad keg beer? I over-indulged out of social anxiety, and it made for some poor decisions.

Which brings me to sex. I easily admitted and talked about my first fairly chaste kiss at 12. Eddie is a household name. But I have said nothing about hitting the following bases and when and with whom. Is my sexual experience relevant? Would I like to see my kids follow in my footsteps?

This is the question. Honesty with myself is first and foremost. There are demons there, some fairly dark ones, and I need to grab hold of them and forgive myself or I’ll likely lay some serious burden on my kids, just out of fear that they will make the same mistakes I did. It makes sense to want to protect my kids from what we had to learn the hard way, but they almost have to learn the hard way.

Sue says when her daughter turned 13, she felt like a 13-year-old again too, and I so relate. It is hard to watch your children closely and not be thrown into paroxysms of nostalgia for your own youth, for all the scary firsts. And seconds. And thirds.

Sue calls it “developmen­tally appropriate honesty,” and I guess that’s the navigating part of her book title. We each just have to get a grip on our own checkered pasts and offer them up piecemeal as necessary to show we get it. We were there once. We made mistakes. Still are, really.

I can recommend my boys don’t mix many kinds of alcohol to try to keep their experimentation from me; I can say that they don’t have to get drunk to talk to cute girls, that they should run instead of consuming whole pints of Ben & Jerry’s if some girl should stupidly reject them.

But probably what’s most important is that they know I’ll love them no matter what they might over-indulge in along the way to cope, be it food, alcohol, drugs, sex.

I will share my mistakes, but I will not assume that they won’t make the same ones regardless. Families should be safe places to share the million shames that most assuredly come with growing up.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on
Updated 10:12 pm, July 9, 2018
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