a special feature from Kay Ziplow & Leslie Zinberg, founders
Remember what happened to Pinocchio? Well, he didn’t get a long nose from telling the truth, did he? Lying and keeping secrets in a family can be a nuclear disaster waiting to happen. Now, before you get angry with that statement, consider this. Relationships maintain our connections in life such as trust, truth, and a commitment to partnering. When secrets enter the picture, they often undermine the connections that are ever so cherished between family members. A simple benign family secret, however, can increase closeness in things like your grandchildren sharing a special secret language with their grandparents, or jokes and traditions. These benign secrets are rooted in joy and intimate exchange.
Secrets that are painful and secrets that are harmful are often in a family regarded as objective and necessary. They can range from someone’s extramarital affair, a relationship, someone’s financial problems, or drug or alcohol abuse. These types of secrets are not ones that can easily be shared and often times, they do tend to carry forth from generation to generation, thus making it more painful to be discussed as more time goes by. Often, these are like a sore festering for a long time.
As a grandparent, you are entitled to have your privacy; no, you don’t need to reveal every single fact about everything or everyone unless that person has agreed to the conversation. Using a little discretion is not a secret; discretion is not a lie. Sometimes, it’s not necessary to take the wheel of the ship and navigate everyone as you decide what should and shouldn’t be told or shared in a family.
One thing that is important to remember is that kids are always watching, listening, and taking in what’s going on around them. So, do you make a specific effort to censor yourself when kids are around? This could be a good time to think about what you say, when you say it, and how you need to have full support of the appropriate parties. You want to make sure it’s not hurtful talk that has the possibility of creating a family schism.
It’s really hard to model appropriate behavior for your family all the time, and no one is expecting you to be perfect. Strive to model the rules and behaviors you want your family to follow. For example, if you tell white lies rather than being truthful, your kids will learn that lying is acceptable. Show your family and grandkids how to follow your household rules by modeling them every chance you get. Likewise, use discipline that teaches life skills, and explain how these rules will help them later in life. If you show kids that you honor the rules, it will increase the effectiveness of your discipline strategies.
There may be instances where you need to explain any decisions that might be confusing.
For instance, if your friend bakes you a cake, and you think it tastes horrible, you still might tell them it was delicious to spare their feelings. When something like that happens, you’ll want to explain to the children that you didn’t want to hurt your friend’s feelings.
We all have opportunities every day to live a life worth emulating. Think about what you want your grandkids to learn from you and try to model that in your life. Naturally, there will be times when you make mistakes or don’t do things exactly as you had planned. That is okay. When that happens, take the opportunity to talk to the kids about where you slipped up and how you hope to be different next time. You too will learn important lessons when you make mistakes – after all, we are only human.