There are many conversations I want to have with my daughter… one day. She's only five years old now, and, as bright and wonderful and sweet as she is, these are conversations that are at least a decade away. In some parents' minds, parental confessions of our own mishaps are unnecessary and even detrimental… But I'm actually looking forward to the day when I can sit down with my daughter and say, "I know you're not perfect, and neither am I, but let's work together so we can both be imperfect in the best ways." Here are five things that I, one day, want my daughter to know about me.
1. "I didn't plan you, and honestly, I was afraid to have you."
Why would I tell my daughter such a horrible thing? Not to make her feel like she was unwanted, of course, but just the opposite. I want her to know that the choice to have her wasn't something I took lightly. I want her to understand how much I was willing to sacrifice for her. And, if she's among the 70 percent of women who at some point end up facing an unplanned pregnancy, I want her to know that I understand how terrifying, unnerving, and, in the end, rewarding it can be, and that I have her back no matter what she chooses to do.
2. "I used to abuse drugs, and I want you to make better choices than I did."
Most parents have abused illegal drugs at some point in life, and for me, that unfortunate series of bad decisions came in my late teens. But most of us, if it comes down to it, would lie to our children about those mistakes. We'd prefer that our kids think of us as perfect role models than confess to our shortcomings. But who would you listen to if you were an angsty teenager: a prudish-seeming mom who "never" used drugs but says they're bad, or a mom who's willing to say that she's been there before and that she can tell you firsthand why drug abuse is a bad idea? I want my daughter to be able to learn from my mistakes, instead of having to learn it all on her own.
3. "I had a very unhappy childhood."
My daughter is not my therapist, and she shouldn't have to be, but I want her to have a picture of what my childhood was like so some things about me might make more sense to her. I was nearly an adult before my mother told me that she was a child abuse survivor, and I'm glad she told me--but I wish it had somehow happened sooner. Knowing what your parents' childhood was really like can give you a clearer picture of why they made decisions otherwise seem to make no sense, and when you're facing really tough times as a kid, the reassurance that your parents were once in the same position can help you cope.
4. "I'm not the Virgin Mary."
Like drug abuse and unplanned pregnancy, this is one thing that many parents don't ever want to fess up about to their kids. When our kids hit those hormone-crazy teen years, every one of them thinks that they're alone in the feelings they're having, and that their parents couldn't possibly understand. I hope that my daughter will choose to have few sexual partners. It would be awesome if she had only one. But I don't want her to think that she needs a white wedding for me to think she's a good person. While I certainly have no intent to share my sexual resume with my daughter (ick!), I do want her to know that I'm human, and that she can talk to me about things like birth control and sexual health, and that I won't judge her for the choices she makes with her own body.
5. "I'm mentally ill, and if you are, too, I understand what it feels like."
I have dealt with mental illness (clinical depression and panic disorder) for my entire life. Literally every single person in my daughter's known biological family has some form of mental illness. Although mental illness is extremely common, it is highly stigmatized, so people suffering from depression, anxiety-- and especially the more highly stigmatized conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia-- often feel like they're alone. If the day comes when my daughter is so depressed she can't get out of bed, or is having panic attacks and thinks I can't possibly understand what it's like, I want her to know that she's not alone, that it gets better, and that I'm sorry she inherited some of my less-than-desirable genes.
What are some things that you want to one day discuss with your kids?Juniper Russo is a freelance writer living in Chattanooga, Tenn. When doesn't have her hands full with her bright, wacky kindergartener or her hyperactive dog, she writes about a diverse range of topics including health, pets, parenting, science, and activism.