Right at the onset I need to confess I am not a parent. However, I do have parents. A problem I've come across every once in a while in ministry and counseling is that some families (parents) don't think you can possibly help them if you've never been a parent yourself. This is a fallacy. One of my favorite professors, while pursuing my under graduate degree, was a very successful marriage and family therapist who specialized in children and did not have any of her own. She was a great teacher and great therapist. I know we can't learn parenting through books alone, but relationships are relationships and it's not as if though we are sent out to counsel and pastor without proper training, at least ideally.
With that “confession” out of the way I'd like to simply touch on an observation I have made over the years. I have no official research to back this up, I did not do thorough study of this issue before writing this piece, it's just an observation I have made. If you prefer, call it an opinion. Either way, I think it's valid and can be helpful as you parent your children and as you relate with others as well.
I have noticed a common trait among healthy families. That trait is this: children who have parents that are open and honest, transparent as I state in my title, about their faults and failures appear to do better in life. I know that seems like a vague generalization, and in a way it is, but I believe it to be true. Now, I'm fully aware that there may be times where children need to be protected from something and in doing so some caution is required. But as a whole, transparent parents produce children more equipped to live better lives.
Let me explain a bit further. Parents who are not trying to be perfect, or paint a picture that they're perfect, have kids who end up trusting and respecting them more. It's like “vulnerability and openness act as the soil that fosters security.”* And if I were forced to choose what quality or trait I most often pick up on regarding children of open, honest, genuine parents I'd have to agree with Donald Miller, author of Scary Close, and say it's that they have a healthy sense of security.**
Unfortunately, if we go the other way with this, the opposite of the above seems to be true as well. Parents who, for whatever reason, don't admit their faults and shortcomings, who don't apologize or ever admit they were or are wrong, produce children who are not secure and are emotionally troubled in some way. For some it creates a sort of fracture within causing them to want to “escape” from their families so they can be free to be themselves.
Obviously there are no specific predictors of whether or not children will do well in life. There are far too many variables for any such speculation. But I do believe that being an open, honest, even vulnerable parent improves the chances a child will grow up to be productive, content, and healthy.
If you really stop and think about it for a moment, parents who are open and honest with their children create an environment that allows them to feel free to be themselves. It allows them to be what they are, human beings. Human beings that make mistakes. And then the other side of the coin, parents who cover up the mistakes and flaws, often in attempt to “protect the children,” unwittingly create an environment where children feel the need to lie, or a need to hide within themselves. This feeling of “hiding within ourselves” almost never leads to any sort of healthy outcome.
Some of the most damaged people I've known were raised in strict, fundamentalist environments with parents who tried to appear more righteous than they actually were. The parents of these children were always putting on a front. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever met anyone from such a legalistic, “plastic” family who didn't have more struggles than most. This type of environment where we are encouraged, be it consciously or not, to hide our faults and look good on the outside is extremely poisonous when trying to prepare someone for life on their own.
So, what do you do as a parent? You stop worrying so much about how your family appears to those outside of it. You communicate openly and honestly with your children about life. You be yourself in public as well in behind closed doors. If you have something inside that needs fixing, start fixing it. The picture you paint on the outside is nothing but that, a picture. Stick with reality, flaws and all, and both you and your children will find an intimacy you have never known before.
-Inspired by, and adapted from, Scary Close by Donald Miller