Families and honesty

As if I really have to tell you…

The basis of any close loving relationship is honesty. Family members should know that they can count on each other to tell the truth. Children must be able to trust their parents in order for them to feel secure. One way that parents can teach this is to let the children know that even if it means getting into trouble with mom and dad, it is always better to tell the truth. Sometimes we would explain it to our children like this: Suppose I told you that if you act nicely now I will give you ice cream after dinner and then after dinner I say I didn’t really mean it, how would you act the next time I promised a reward? How would it feel if you couldn’t trust me?

My own children were, by and large, pretty honest growing up. I am certain there were some lies and deceptions, but if so, they were not of consequence. I knew I could count on them to tell me the truth and they knew they could count on me to take them seriously.

In fact, once we had a babysitter that one of my children didn’t like. The child asked me not to have that babysitter again, but wouldn’t tell me why– and I did not call that babysitter again. Only months later did I learn the reason, and it was good that the sitter did not return. Similarly, when there was a problem at school, I always asked the child first to tell me what had happened. I always got a straight story and I always advocated for my children when appropriate.

When our oldest son left for college in Israel, we all still were living in the US. Before he left, he asked me to promise to let him know if anything happened to anyone in the family– illness or other important things he should know. I told him that I would because I knew that if I didn’t assure him that he would know, he could be in a constant state of tension- wondering if everything is OK at home. After all, back then, before mobile telephones and before the university dorms even had hall telephones in them, communications consisted of letters that took between 5 and 10 days to arrive from the US. But it was only because he knew that he could trust me that my answer was reassuring.

Some families are not honest about things like illnesses and other unpleasant information because they want to protect either themselves or others. That can create big problems.

Once we knew a family where a somewhat distant family member died suddenly at 92 years of age. Members of the family decided not to tell one of the older people to spare her feelings. However, a few weeks later there was a wedding to which both would have been invited. How to explain the absence of the deceased family member? Their solution : a trip to Europe. In our family, from then on, “going to Europe” took on a sinister connotation.

In my own family, my mother hid information about my father’s illness that was essential to my sister’s and my health. My mother hid her own illness from her friends, many of whom were like sisters to her. It robbed them of their ability to support her and it robbed her of the support they could have provided.

Bad news is hard to share, but secrets and lies separate people and doing that at a time when love and support are needed is simply a very bad choice.

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Comments

  1. Excellent point.
    I could never understand but I dont judge those that hide serious illness from family members and close friends.

    I remember the crazy anxiety I suffered a little after I moved to Israel and couldnt speak to my mother for a week or ten days. “she is in the shower, not home etc”

    Till I cornered a sibling on the phone and found out that she was hit by a car. Very traumatic.

  2. Having come from a (biological) family where this happened all the time, I can say this post is spot on. It’s incredibly alienating when you aren’t given the opportunity to provide support.

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