The New York Times ran this interesting essay by a mother who had written a memoir pre-children, and now she does not want her pre-teen son to know anything about it.
Everyone has a past, and it’s a very personal decision to reveal — or not reveal — the more unsavory bits to our children. It’s possible for most people to smooth out the rough edges of their histories, to edit out indiscretions or sanitize their mistakes. After all, some things are none of our kids’ business, right? They don’t need to know every single detail about their parents. On the day our son was born, a friend with teenagers gave my husband the following piece of advice: “If he ever asks you if you did drugs . . . lie.“ But for memoirists, the stories we’ve told of our own lives are set in stone. And while certainly some memoirs might whitewash the past, and others might omit unsavory details, the kind of memoir I wanted to write required being hard on myself publicly. I lifted up rocks and peered into the darkness. In my attempt to find the Emersonian thread of the universal in my story, I laid myself bare in the most unflattering light.
I’ve often wondered whether I would have written that memoir — one of seven books to my name, but the only one I would bodily throw myself in front of my son to prevent him from reading — if the timing had been different, if the idea for it had taken root in me only after he had been born. It’s a book I’m proud of, and the artist in me would like to think that I would have written it no matter what. But the mother in me isn’t so sure. I might have stopped myself, for fear of what he might think some day. Certainly, it would have been a very different book, bearing the marks of time, maturity, experience. After all, one can’t write with abandon if one is worrying about the consequences. And to have children is to always, always worry about the consequences.
Granted, my history is nowhere near as exciting as this mom’s so that’s probably why I still write with abandon. But I have always been an open book with my kids because, I figure, any peccadilloes, past or present, are going to come out eventually. Take for instance, certain family members’ addiction with alcohol. Ari has witnessed more than one fight I’ve had with one particular family member, in which f-bombs were dropped and tears were shed.
After the fights, he has asked questions and comforted me. At one point, when he was 4 or 5, he said, “Mami, I am never going to drink because sometimes you can’t stop.” I held him and assured him that I am his rock, that he could always depend on me. But I was also relieved that he saw the consequences of drinking too much, something in his genes that he is going to have to contend with in the future, and will encounter, especially if he goes away to college. In other words, I don’t believe you can behave like the perfect mother and shield your kids for long. If they are anything like you, they will find out what you were and are like and even be prone to the same mistakes.
What do you think? How much is too much to reveal to your kids?