What do children know about their parents? I mean, really know about them.
The thought was sparked recently when I mentioned to my 24-year-old daughter that I couldn’t wait for the weekend so I could begin to read the stack of books on my desk.
“Really? You’re into it?” she asked.
“I saw a Post-it on top of the books. I thought you were miserable about it.”
This is what she saw…
I had written myself a note, a reminder, to buy Stephen King’s book, Misery.
How often do misunderstandings like this happen? How often do parents transmit a message that is not true?
Years ago, I wrote about my 8-year-old son asking, “Mommy, when did you turn Jewish?” in an essay with that same name. Throughout his life, he heard my husband and I debate how religion should be expressed and explored in our home, and as a result, my child did not understand where I stood. He did not understand based on what he’d heard that I’d always been Jewish, and that I had a strong sense of Judaism. And so on Purim, when we baked homemade hamentash, he was confused, and asked me that question.
Just as easily, he could’ve wondered to himself, not asked the question at all, and not given me the opportunity to explain.
Over and over again, parents are assured (or warned) that if we are ourselves, our children will know who we are, whether we want them to or not.
But what if they get conflicting messages?
What if they only know part of a story?
I spent a lot of time researching this topic because now that I have adult children, I want them to know me, the real me, not some fake version, a projected, fantasized view that keeps me stuck in a specific role. I want them to know me with all my flaws and strengths and everything else that makes me human.
But there was nothing. I mean nothing. I could not find one article about this topic. No matter what sequence of words I strung together, every article I found focused on parents knowing their children, and not the other way around.
I found articles titled:
What All Children Want Their Parents to Know, Relating to Adult Children and The Bill of Rights for Parents of Adults.
Of course, it’s important for parents to know their children or, at least, attempt to, especially if you are interested in an intimate relationship; but why is it so difficult, or undervalued or maybe even taboo for children to know their parents?
My kids think they know me — and to a large degree they do. But I think they, along with children around the globe, fill in the spaces with their own ideas, create their own narrative, project and assume.
I’d like to change that.
I think this blog post is my first step.
I’m still laughing about your post it !!I don’t think children get to know their parents until the are adults. Think about it you don’t really see their flaws and strength untill you are an adult and can see things much more clearly.
I still laugh from the Post-it too!
Great topic. I can say I think it took me till I was 40-45 to say I understood and really knew my parents well. I think for us to really know anyone we need to see them in challenging times. That’s when we learn who we are or more so who they are.
Do you think you know yours?
Great question. That’s part of what made me write this.
Do we really want to know everything?… Or is it enough to know and understand the core of who they are?
I’m with Susan! I’m happy knowing what my parents wanted me to know about them and vice versa; I think my kids get what i give off…(or i hope they do) …maybe it’s a bit procured … but i still want to purvey a good example ….not what i always truly am …am i a phony? maybe! (i guess I’m just not that transparent especially with those little ones I want to guide). But it’s very brave of you to say otherwise!
I don’t think children need to know every detail about their parents. And as kids grow into adults they will probably understand their parents more fully. But sometimes in an effort to protect children, we hide parts of ourseves. So for example, let’s say a family is having financial issues, is it better to tell the child that truth, or to hide it, and have the child assume his mother (or father) is the type of person who gets easily stressed out and agitated?
I loved your post this week on parenting. I think the best way to let kids know who you really are is to be seriously involved in a daily relationship with them in their lives and issues , and for them to hear about yours as well. This way they will know your values and understand your point of view . Life is complicated and we should not try and appear perfect all the time.
Thanks Celeste. I really appreciate your comment.
I feel like I know you better than I know my own mother! Your blog is so honest. It would be great to know what my mother thinks, still can’t figure her out!
I absolutely love this comment!