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Should I tell kids about my past?

September 21st, 2009

A reader asks, “I’ve made mistakes in my life and am not too proud of what I’ve done in my younger years. When my daughter asks if I was a virgin when I got married, how should I answer?”

I think our kids pretty much know that we don’t live perfect lives, *cough, cough*.

When I teach my children not to tell a lie, I think they know that I’ve probably told a lie or two. So first of all, in answer to your question, do not think that your credibility is based on your own success or failure.

However, I do think that if I teach my kids not to tell lies, they are expecting that I don’t habitually lie. I may slip once in a while, but I should not be characterized as a liar. If I continually lie while I teach them not to, then I am rightly called a hypocrite.  So I think my current behavior is more telling of what I stand for then my past.

Continuing with this analogy with lying, suppose the kids catch me telling a lie. Should I make excuses, justify my behavior, and say, “well, no one’s perfect…”? A decent person would own up to his mistake and apologize, right?

Here are three principles we can use when deciding what and how much to tell our kids about our past:

1. The past is in the past. It is not an indicator of who you are now. You don’t need to talk about details of your past.

2. Don’t make excuses for your failures. It’s not your parents, it’s not your friends, it’s not the school. Admit you were weak and made bad choices.

3. What you tell the kids depends on their age and how much they can understand. Telling your 5 year-old that you had a DUI is not information that would help them. Telling that to your teenager as something you greatly regret may be a good lesson for them to learn.

So in answer to your question, here is what I would say:

Daughter, I want you to know that what I teach you to be and to do is not based on my successes and my failures.  I want you to learn to do what is right, in spite of the bad example I’ve set. I think you are already further ahead than I was. I was pretty dumb and immature when I was your age. I am proud of the kind of person you are becoming.

This is a sensitive subject and rather personal, so I won’t go into all the gory details. I can tell you, now that I am married to your wonderful father, I wish I was more serious about modesty and sexual purity. That doesn’t just mean remaining a virgin. Sexual purity means keeping your heart, mind and body pure for the one that you will marry one day. I’ve never heard anyone regret being pure for their spouse. I’ve only heard people say they wish they did not have ghosts from the past that haunts them after they are married. That’s what I hope for you in keeping your sexual purity.

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  1. The three principles you mentioned are absolutely right. I also believe that if you children as you about your past, then divulge, but only in words that they can understand while still getting your point across.


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