The secrets parents keep

Wait until your father gets home!

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?

Lawnmower tractor pull

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.

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11 responses to The secrets parents keep

  1. UP

    Mother never said, “Wait til your father gets home.” She took care of things instantly, and brought him UP to date when he got there. That was always the end of it.

    Now, if he was was the one to ‘catch’ you in the act of misbehavior, he took care of it, and informed her as well.

    It was the re-telling that was the worst, not the punishment.

    UP

  2. My mom was hard core never really waited til dad got home. Course, my dad was military it was also just assumed that by the time dad got home we were gonna be in some deep shit. No one really had to say it, I guess.

    I don’t think keeping secrets between parents is a good idea and I wouldn’t ever have expected my mom or dad to agree to such a thing. they were always on the same side. I think giving kids the opp to tell themselves (as you’ve suggested) is the best solution. Having to admit to your parents that you’ve done something wrong is a great lesson in taking responsibility and manning (or woman-ing) up.

  3. Key thing in this post – to me, Kyle – is that we parents must strive to be the best parent we can be rather than be their best friend! As far as secrets from spouses, it gets more complicated – trust me as I’m living it – when you have a step-mom in the picture!

  4. I wish I’d made more messes when I was young. If I had, I probably wouldn’t think my life is such a mess now.

  5. Papa – Author

    UP, the retelling did bring pain. Usually it was embellished more that it needed to be for the dramatic effect.

  6. Amanda

    I recently discovered that a paper I had sent to have the teacher sign was returned with everything but the last comment whited out. I had sent the paper to make sure that the “missing” work was actually turned in. For fear that her dad would find out his daughter whited out the comments that it was too late to turn in the missing work and that she was going to have to take the zero grades she took action since she was going to be in trouble for getting bad grades. I asked her more than once why the paper had white out….the response was that the teacher did it and that she had been looking at her grade book wrong. After standing at the kitchen sink holding the paper to the sun and figuring out how to read the teachers comment backwards I knew what had happened. I confronted her and she burst out that she had done it…..She was scared that she would be in trouble for getting bad grades…..I tried to reason with her that whiting out was bad to begin with but I wasn’t sure at what point her 7th grade brain thought that lying about it would make it any better. I told her that she needed to be the one to tell both her mother and her father about not only the bad grades on the missing work, but that she had whited them out and lied about it when asked. Due to severe strep throat when she came back to our house I asked her if she had told her parents…..I then advised her that she should write her dad a letter….I mentiond that she needed to take responsiblity for her actions, acknowledge what she did, and that she should say what she will do in the future to keep from repeating the same mistake…..she also came up with her own punishment. I hope it registered….her dad read the letter and was speechless…..there was nothing for him to lecture about…..she had already told her mom whose response was….well I wasn’t that good in school either…..kids don’t need excuses…..they need examples. It is not too hard to show kids that it is just as easy to do the right thing than lie and make their situation worse.

  7. Emily

    Just so you know, it was I who commenced to stabbing you with the butcher knife. I still remember my punishment VIVIDLY!! 😉
    But if my kids don’t hate me at least once a week, I don’t feel I am doing my job!

  8. Papa – Author

    Amanda,

    “kids don’t need excuses…..they need examples”

    Great insight, unfortunately the ‘do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work anymore.

  9. Papa – Author

    “hate me at least once a week, I don’t feel I am doing my job’

    I wrote a post a few months ago by almost the exact same title.

  10. My son always asks me to not tell his dad things, which I really don’t understand. His dad doesn’t punish him and is the “softie” of the 2 of us. I suppose he doesn’t want to disappoint him. However, I always make him tell his dad because like you said, he needs to understand there are consequences for his actions. Not only that, but I don’t want his dad keeping secrets from me!

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