I never really thought about “secrets” or the way I framed surprises in our house. I am sure that at some point I have said:
“Hey guys we have a surprise for dad, let’s keep it a secret!”
Or when one of the kids ultimately (predictably) gave away the surprise we joked about not being able to keep a secret. Then I heard someone say that they intentionally made sure that they did not use the word “secrets” when planning a surprise within their family. This BLEW MY MIND!
The reason that they did this was that they wanted to make sure that their kids knew that they should NEVER be asked to keep a secret from their parents! Even in their own house.
When I heard this I had to take some time to process it and realized they were totally right! I work hard to teach my kids as they are getting older and are now both in school that when they are away from me no one should ever be asking them to keep secrets. And that if anyone ever asks them to keep a secret that they should come to us immediately.
But if I am asking them to keep a secret (even a harmless one) from dad or from each other, isn’t that sending contradictory messages!
My kids are currently 5 and 8, I can not reasonably expect them to be able to decipher a good secret from a harmful secret! So now when we have conversations about secrets they are totally different than a fun surprise.
As an example, recently when my kids returned home from school my son exclaimed “Sister kissed a BOY on the bus!!” Immediately my daughter was upset and yelling at her brother and exclaiming, “You lied you promised you wouldn’t tell.”
First I had to get my shock under control!! Excuse me ma’am have I not taught you that boys have coodies! But I digress!
When I sat my six-year-old down and we finally got the story that she did in fact kiss her little friend on the cheek, and then asked her brother not to say anything to us. We had the perfect opportunity to have a conversation about secrets. We explained that along with keeping our hands AND OUR MOUTHS to ourselves, that we do not ask people to keep secrets. And that no one should be asking her to keep secrets. We explained that while this was a mild situation, there could be situations in the future that secrets could be dangerous.
We talked with them both about how as they grow older situations will arise that they will need help with, or that they may need guidance through. And if they are keeping secrets from mom and dad we won’t be able to help them! We explained that it is literally our JOB to help them through life and that secrets make our job HARDER!
In contrast, when it is someone’s birthday or a gift-giving holiday we frame those things as FUN SURPRISES. We never use the word secret when talking about gifts, or fun things we are trying to do for someone. This takes away the possibility of confusion for my kids, they do not have to try and decipher the difference between a good secret and a bad secret!
We teach our kids that words matter, and that contrary to the belief that “words can never hurt me,” in fact, the words we use are important and can be used to build people up or to tear them down. We teach them that we want to use words carefully and only ever to build people up. So I have had to shift the words I use in parenting my kids, I also need to be careful about the words I use to frame things and explain the world. Obviously, I am not perfect and I still have to be mindful about the way I use the word “secret.” I want to be mindful of being consistent with its use in a way that supports these conversations we have with our children. I also want to model the way I want them to use words with other people, which means watching the things I say when I am frustrated or upset.
As my kids grow older and we have more important conversations with them, like the sex talk, I want them to trust what I say and see that I try my best to put into practice the things that we tell them are important.
How do you feel about the use of words in the context of parenting? Do you think it makes a difference, or it really isn’t that big of a deal? Have you ever thought about it in this way? Tell us! You can also join our community of moms to ask questions or just connect with other Coastal Bend Moms, here, in our Facebook Community group.