How many of us have vivid memories of that declaration levied in our direction after trying to stab our sister with a steak knife or inflicting $500 worth of lawnmower damage after the impromptu backyard tractor-pull.
I was scientifically proven, in my 7th grade science class, to be 94.56% perfect child. I made good grades, washed my hands before dinner, and never prompted a 2 am phone call to from the po-po. I’m not nor have I ever been a rebel; I simply don’t have the constitution or the skill set for causing serious trouble.
It’s no secret that I had a healthy fear of my father – and to a lesser extent my mom. My dad wasn’t a boisterous man or quick to ignite, but when he reached his breaking point everyone in our family stood straighter and walked lighter.
Because my mother was a stay-at-home during the early years of my childhood most days consisted of my mom, younger sister, and myself while dad was off laying waste to primordial forests so people could display family albums at the next Tupperware party.
While I was more apt to walk the straight and narrow, a lack of cable television, a swimming pool, and a neighborhood with kids left me enough idle time to get into the occasional mess. When those instances did occur my mother could usually take the matter into her own hands dishing out the appropriate penitence for the crime committed. However, there were extreme cases where the offense necessitated higher dominion and my mom would vow to escalate the issue once my father got home from work. Whereby I would attempt to sew myself into the carpet in hopes of becoming invisible.
And I can’t recall a time where my mom promised to tell my father about one of my bone-headed moves and then reconsidered. As much as she may have wanted to protect her one and only son from my dad’s potential wrath she made it clear he wouldn’t be lied to.
This idea of parental smoke and mirrors isn’t given much consideration until you receive a letter from the school principal asking for a ‘conference’. It’s an ethical dilemma for the healthiest of marriages but add into the equation a pinch of divorce and the hope of your ex instantly busting into flames and the entire situation becomes even dicier.
It’s the epitome of a double-edged sword.
On the one hand we all aspire to be that parent our kids an always talk to. No matter the issue or how serious the predicament it’s important they see us as someone they can confide in. But should that desire also mean keeping secrets from our spouse, or the other parent, are we doing our kids and relationships more harm that good?
The question I ponder is this. If my kid starts the conversation with “don’t tell dad/mom” or “don’t be mad” am I obligated to keep that vow? Let’s say my 16 year old gets his first speeding ticket. He has to tell someone because he doesn’t have the $125. Do I pay the citation and keep his mom out of the loop hoping beyond hope the insurance company doesn’t find out? If I keep her in the dark I’ve gained my son’s trust and increased the likelihood the’ll come to me with more serious issues. But what if I refuse to keep it ‘between us”, what then?
I’ve given this dynamic some thought and through my mental gymnastics I’ve settled it this way. As a father, if I discovered that my kids’ mother had kept secrets about their behaviors and dubious actions from me for fear of my anger, the response would automatically be “what else do I not know?”
Parenting is hard enough as it is, adding deception to an already arduous endeavor can only make matters worse. Set aside for a moment the impact secrets can have on the marriage itself, if parents begin deceiving each other for the sake of their kids the natural next step is the kids leveraging that imbalance for their own advantage. It’s a slippery slope that has the making of an us versus them parenting dynamic. And the co-parenting relationship makes for the ideal environment since each parent, intentionally or not, is usually trying to one-up the other.
It makes from the perfect parenting opportunity. In the case of my lead-footed son I believe the best approach would be to give him the opportunity to tell his mother on his own, with the understanding that if he doesn’t do so by a certain time I will. I believe this teaches him two lessons (1) that actions do have consequences that can’t be avoided and (2) his parents are on the same team – regardless of their marital situation. And it’s the angle I’ve already began taking with my 8 and 10 year olds today.
I’m not persuaded by the notion that it’s better to accommodate my kids so they’ll be more inclined to tell me everything. My priority is to be their parent – not their friend.