Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"We Don't Keep Secrets in Our Family"

I was driving to the post office while listening to Def Leopard, as one does.

In my rear-view mirror, I saw the all-too-familiar blinking of flashing lights, and realized that I was going to get my annual speeding ticket from my friendly deputy.

A year ago, almost to the day, I received a ticket for going 40 in a 30 MPH zone. And yes, it was in the exact same location. I'm nothing if not consistent.

I spent the subsequent Saint Patrick's Day in traffic court. Dressed in my festive green, I waited next to a man wearing dirty overalls and no shirt. I also reconnected with at least four former students. Good times.

I did not want to repeat those good times. I sat and answered the deputy's questions softly, attempting to summon a tone of great remorse and utter shame. I think my hands trembled a bit when I handed him my license and registration, and he went to his car to check my record.

As I whispered expletives to myself, my older son had a series of helpful comments:

Mommy, why are you such a bad driver? 

Mommy, why do we always get pulled over? 

Mommy, why aren't we going to the post office? 

Mommy, are you going to jail?

Because I was presently in the presence of a lawman, Owen got lucky and was allowed to live. The deputy returned with a warning, so I genuflected before his benevolent presence, and crept off to the post office.

I'll have you know, 30 mph feels very slow.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I cleared my throat and said,  "Owen, can you please not tell your father about this?"

His voice sliced the air, sharp like steel. "Mommy. We don't keep secrets in our family."

Right. Ugh. Busted.

I recently read a book called Off Limits by Wurtele and Berkower, which discusses ways to prevent childhood sexual abuse. It's an awesome book, and I highly recommend it.
One of the tactics abusers use is secrecy. Therefore, a phrase that we now use in our home is "We don't keep secrets in our family."

We can have surprises, because a surprise means that we will tell somebody something soon that will make him or her very happy. For example, presents are surprises. Folding Daddy's clothing is a surprise. But we don't keep secrets.

This phrase has worked beautifully, and it has stuck. While Owen was preparing for his Christmas pageant, his teacher often told the kids that there were secrets---harmless things, like the songs for the little play, or the ornaments they made. Each time, Owen's voice boomed from his carpet square, "We don't keep secrets in our family."

He badgered his teacher so much that she eventually changed her language to the proper word---surprise.

I didn't have to say a word, because my son was empowered with words of his own.

Because warnings from the deputy don't really qualify as "surprises," I took my medicine and told my husband. He was concerned, mildly annoyed, and it was over. 

Not keeping secrets means that there is another layer of honesty and mutual dependence in our family. Yes, sometimes it's a pain. Sometimes it's harder. But I promise you---we would have it no other way.


Erin said...

we are working on similar things at our house, but after MLK Day yesterday and having to answer questions about death, jail, skin color, bigotry, etc., this mama is seriously stressing.

tough questions. things that are hard to talk about with little ones.

things i don't like to think about.

but you've brought it all down to my level here. beautifully.

Michele R said...

Excellent post. Each of your paragraphs had me reflecting on my childhood and on my children. Loved how Owen taught his teacher something important.
My kids are getting older so these days we talk about making choices and consequences. Having dinner together just about every night an d talking and sharing -- and letting our kids know that when out they are to call us no matter what and we will get them if they need help getting home.

michelle said...

I'm fine talking with my kids about sex and drugs and mental illness, but when it comes to child abuse, especially sexual child abuse, I get a knot in my stomach. Maybe it's my own fear that god forbid it could happen to one of them. Maybe it's that, in my mind, teaching them about it inherently instills fear in them. And I don't want my babies to be afraid. Because the reality is they are children, therefore they are vulnerable.

It sucks.

Great post


adrienzgirl said...

My children take great pleasure in "telling on me". Mine are a little older so we have already covered most of the rough subjects.

My personal opinion is that educated children are empowered children. As much as I find it difficult to approach the subject of sex, or sexual abuse, I think to myself, I'd rather have this conversation. This conversation HAS TO BE more comfortable than the conversation I would have to have if my children were not empowered. If my child found out about sex, or abuse from another source. Yes, THAT conversation would kill me.

Shell said...

That is an extremely smart way to word it.

Joann Mannix said...

Not to make light of this, because truly all children should be empowered with the truth, as tough as that truth can be, sometimes, but I have a story.

My oldest was three. I filled my girls up with facts from the time they were born. They knew everything because I knew nothing growing up. All talk of body parts, changing bodies, sex, predators, all of it was off limits in my house. I walked around for most of my childhood and some of my teens, confused but knowing I could not ask my mother anything. So, of course, I was the exact opposite with my girls.

I had just finished talking to my girl about stranger danger and secrets and how her body parts were hers and no one else should touch them. I then added that everyone should keep their private parts to themselves. This led to a lively q&a, where she listed just about everyone we knew, asking if they should keep their body parts to themselves. And since she knew the essential body parts for both sexes, she would clarify the body parts when she asked me about each person.

Right after our talk, we went to the grocery store. A lovely, little old man bagged our groceries and talked to my girl at the same time. As I was paying, my sweet girl blurted out to this old man, "You are a man and you have a penis. You need to keep your penis to yourself."

I think that poor man was never the same. Then we had a talk about discretion.

Sorry about the almost ticket, from one lead foot to another.

Debbie said...

You are doing a great job! If he can stand up to his teacher like that, you are really instilling the correct things in him. Congrats.

The Empress said...

You speak, but they watch.

Actions will always speak louder than words.


Mel said...

Isn't it funny when your own teachings come back to haunt you? I like the no secrets rule. We have the tell each other anything policy, and I've tried really hard to be the most honest mom I can be, and to teach them that I can forgive them almost anything except lies. I despise lies, even well intentioned ones, thanks to a childhood full of well intentioned lies that did more harm than good.
I believe what kids make up in their imaginations about what happens in life is worse and scarier and more damaging than the truth. Lies are a lazy way around coping and dealing and I'm on a mission to give them the best coping skills in life I can.
And so are you. I can tell. Your boys are so amazing, and so is your family, and you. Thanks for another great post.

Paul said...

Very helpful and thought provoking - thank you for sharing!

And yes, 30 is unreasonably slow.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, one in which most Mom's and Grandma's would be in total agreement. We had "no secrets" when my boys were growing, and for the very same reasons. Tough to live up to at times, but as Owen consistently demonstrates,well worth the effort! Kudos, AwayWeGo family!

Drew's Mom said...

Love this post! Bummer about the speeding thing, but glad you only got a warning.
And thanks for the book recommendation. I try to be as open with my son as possible and educate him on all the dangers out there. I think this book will help on that topic.

Kim said...

First of all - funny because you just don't know what those darn kids are going to say. Second, THANK YOU for the book suggestion. It's always on my mind. My brother who I lost recently had been abused in that way and I get caught up in moments of sheer panic thinking it could happen to my boys. Hope you are well Nancy!

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to get my hands on that book. My kid(s) need words of their own. And that is a great place to start.

It can also help us work through some big feelings we like to keep secret. Thanks for sharing. Glad you got off with a warning!

Anonymous said...

I love how you are empowering your kids with words. I need to do a better job of that myself.

From Tracie said...

I think this, "I didn't have to say a word, because my son was empowered with words of his own." is one of the most powerful truths you could write.

I love that you demonstrate how important it is not to keep secrets (especially ones that aren't the happy kind...ones that could get you in "trouble") to your son with your own actions. That is huge.

Also the fact that he was encouraged in his choice to respectfully disagree with his teacher when she used language that interfered with what he knew was an important rule. Being empowered with words is an awesome start...knowing that mom and dad will back you up when you use those words is also essential.

I grew up surrounded by a cloak of secrets. My father's family kept everything from the very silly (someone got a haircut...don't tell anyone though, it's a secret) to the very serious (that thing your uncle did to you, if you ever tell your mom what happened you will be in big trouble. It is a secret). I thought that was how everyone lived for a long time. When I got old enough to realize that other families were different it was hard for me to understand.

My husband, daughter and I live in a no secret world. It is a wonderful place to be (although traffic ticket confessions do suck!).

Off Limits is a great book, and I love that you are calling attention to it like this. Way to go!!

Andrea (ace1028) said...

This sounds like a fantastic book, and your post is really powerful. Thanks for sharing. And I will add that Joann's comment re: what her daughter said did make me chuckle, I guess it's a reminder that we can also tell our kids that we don't need to talk about all of this with others, either, it's a discussion for the home, might save the embarrassment. But I wouldn't care about that as long as our little ones are all safe!

Mama Zen said...

"We don't keep secrets in our family."

I'm stealing that.

Veronica said...

Wow, hard topics, but your family has dealt with them beautifully. Owen is a testament to that!

I think I need to read this book. We have those same talks in our house, but I really like the language of surprise vs. secret.

Glad you got out of the speeding ticket. I've only had 1 so far, surprisingly. I too think going 30 is mighty slow ;)

Marj aka Thriver said...

Excellent! Way to go! You are teaching your child by example--there is no "Do as I say and not as I do" going on here. Kudos.

(Florida) Girl said...

Hysterical: "...attempting to summon a tone of great remorse and utter shame."

Minivan Lover said...

Are you going to jail- love it. I'm getting that book.

dek said...

Does it count as speeding in Calvert County if you don't have a chicken in your lap?

Cheryl said...

I really love how your boy stood up for himself. That is all kinds of awesome.

KLZ said...

Our little guy is 16 months and I've been struggling with when and how to start these talks with him. Looks like I have a book to buy...

clearness said...

I want to get that book.. Thank YOU for sharing this story.

Coby said...

You're such a good mom. Maybe not a good driver, but an excellent mom.

Ash said...

Oh, secrets drive me nuts. Oldest had a friend whisper tohim something once that Oldest knew I wouldn't like, right in front of me, the little shit.

Oldest told him, "we don't keep secrets" and told me what he said. For the life of me, I don't remember the secret, but I remember the look of fear on the little shit's face.


Way to not get the ticket! And not kill Owen. Been there, baby.

tulpen said...

30mph does feel awfully slow... but I keep to it on my road as it is filthy with cops.

As for secrets? Have never given much thought to it. Til now.

Anonymous said...

We are the same way in our home. I don't condone secrets, even if I'm the one who will get in trouble. I have told the kids in the past, "Let's not tell Daddy about this" and it isn't right. So, I don't anymore.

Erin said...

This is an awesome post! My son already doesn't keep secrets in our house or out in public! *sigh*

But I guess it's a good thing to teach kids, and I am going to the library looking for that book now!

It's never to early to start right?

Jenny said...

Excellent thought-provoking post.

Wow. Really well written.

shah wharton said...

I'm here from the carnival at
to show support to all contributors. This is a wonderful article, with a brilliant message well told. If only every child were so well prepared, child abuse could be seriously reduced. I wish I'd never kept secrets. Thanks - shah from Oh I'm also your newest follower.

Heart Works said...

It is my belief that there is truly a safe haven in the home that doesn't keep secrets.

Speaking our truth, without fear of ramifications is truly a gift without a price.

I love this!

Marj aka Thriver said...

Thanks for allowing us to use this for THE BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE. Excellent piece!