Q: How much do my children need to know about my past? Is there any reason to be completely open with them about the moral failings of my youth?
Jim: This is a common, but important, question. Our counselors generally believe that “less is more” in these cases. But the most important consideration should always be, “What’s in the best interest of your child”?
Truthfulness and transparency are critical, but the detail of any confession should be guided by several factors. Age and maturity are important considerations, as is your child’s motivation. Is he requesting that you reveal personal information — as in, “Did you do drugs or have sex when you were in high school?” If not, you need to question whether there’s any good reason to volunteer this. If he’s trying to elicit facts about your past history, how is your narrative likely to be used? If it’s a case of a rebellious teen stockpiling ammunition to be used against the authority figures in his life, you should proceed with caution.
On the other hand, if he’s sincerely reaching out for empathy and guidance in the midst of a personal battle with temptation, it might help to reveal some of your own human weaknesses. This can be an unparalleled teaching opportunity to share valuable wisdom drawn from real-life experience. This is the time to say — with humility — “I fell into that trap when I was young, and here’s why I don’t want to see you make the same mistake.”
In bringing your personal failings out into the open, you can show a struggling teen exactly what it means to correct course and, through faith, redeem the errors of the past. This can add credibility to your warnings and positively impact your child’s future in ways you can’t possibly predict.
Question: My wife is naturally beautiful. But when we go out, she wears too much makeup and hides her innate beauty. I’ve tried to drop subtle hints that she’s prettier with less, but she’s not getting it. Do you think I should keep my mouth shut or be more direct?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: You’d be wise to tread lightly here. Matters of appearance are highly personal decisions for both men and women and are closely tied to our sense of identity. And while honesty is essential in a marriage, so is respecting boundaries, and the feelings and preferences of your mate.
When dealing with delicate issues, it’s important to first determine what the real issue is. In your case, it means you need to carefully examine your motives. Is the energy here about your own preferences or how your wife’s appearance makes you feel? Are you truly seeking her best interest and trying to encourage her in how she feels about herself, or helping her understand how others may be misperceiving her?
If you conclude that this is just about you, then I’d strongly recommend you keep your opinions to yourself unless your wife asks for or invites them. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make your preferences known. But that should be limited to expressing appreciation for those things about her appearance that you delight in.
On the other hand, if she’s shared with you some doubts or insecurity about her clothes or makeup, you might gently offer some suggestions along with affirming the things she already does that you find attractive. You may even want to offer to fund a session with a beauty consultant as your gift to her if you think she’d be receptive. Bottom line: value and guard the beauty of her heart above all else.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.