I Never Censor Myself In Front Of My Kid Because Children Deserve Truth

Photo: George Rudy / Shutterstock
mom and daughter talking together on bed

The other day, a new friend of mine (a wonderful lady) made a comment to me about what she thought my life was like. She admired what she believed to be my lifestyle, and told me, "You live life out loud."

Being a snob of words, I thought it was a corny description, but nonetheless nodded my agreement and not without gratitude. And, as it always goes with my interpretations of what people think of me, I tend to analyze what they say in order to find kernels of truth.

"Living life out loud" sounds trendy, like a Twitter hashtag or a new book by a flavor-of-the-month self-help guru. So, what is it that she meant when she said I live my life out loud, and would that mean others lived their lives in ... quiet?

My friend and I continued on with our "loud" conversation, in which we covered sex, lust, men, women, past regrets, and future desires. Our words became stories and each new tale spoke of a life that was discovered in both profanity and purity. Real-life in all its throbbing ugliness; real life in all its heart-stopping beauty.

My daughter entered the room and the conversation didn't veer off-topic. Lust was still at the forefront of the exchange and I continued on with my feelings on the subject. My friend noticed that I didn't censor my conversation to suit what she assumed were my daughter's sensitivities.

I've always shunned the idea that in some irrational societal dream of life, I'm supposed to watch my words around my kids as if she's some sort of fragile bubble that will pop at the moment free-thinking and expressive passion enter her psychic atmosphere.

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I remember having an existential experience when my daughter was born — it was striking and life-changing. I was literally pushing her out of my body and when her head actually popped out and she was just dangling half-in and half-out of me, I looked at that head and knew (not "thought") that this being was its own person.

She had boundaries that were not mine to cross — and that was RULE. By the time the rest of her squeezed out from between my legs, I knew I was looking at a separate being; she was not mine to attribute traits to; she was not mine to project on to.

This was a new female human and I was her mother; my job was to treat her with respect and raise her to be the best she could be.

I value intelligence and I always like to assume people are smart enough to understand me. I also make a very great point of constructing my sentences in such a way that it's nearly impossible to misinterpret what I say.

And while I'm quite easily the first person in my daughter's life to speak to her in loving gibberish, I'm also the one who believes that her own intelligence will be sparked by interesting conversation.

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I've never dumbed down concepts to her. When we talk about well-rounded children, my tendency is to think that balance is half SpongeBob, half real-life stories of real people in their lives.

How do we know our parents if they hide everything they are from us? Why does the standard have it that one day, we "discover" that our mom was a war hero or that our dad was a nuclear physicist? Why do we have to think of our parents as automatons that exist to take care of us and have no lives or stories of their own?

We all have stories, and many of them are worthy of being told. My life is ... interesting and my stories and views have value. Why should I shut the f*** up in front of my daughter as some people in my life have suggested I do? 

I do NOT want to be policed. I hate it when people tell me that I shouldn't tell my kid the truth.

Why should I hide my life in front of my child? I'm not a murderer; I'm a thinker! I have thoughts that I believe when shared, may benefit her. Are we supposed to pretend we are something we are not so we can raise children who believe in our imposter selves, as opposed to who we really are, accompanied by the great and amazing stories we come with?

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I've been told, "Take it into the other room. Let's not have this conversation in front of the kid," or, "We'll talk about it later, but not in front of the kid."

I've acquiesced to this vote for repression so many times that I've watched bits and pieces of my life fall into a disaster because of it. One of the things that happens, especially between couples, is that the idea of "not saying something in front of the kid" becomes an excuse to not talk altogether.

When couples don't talk, they fall apart. One minute you’re not saying what you feel because you can't speak in front of your child and the next minute you're watching time slip by as what has on your mind gets slowly but surely pushed to the side, waiting for the perfect opportunity to arise to voice it. 

The point is that adults use children to deflect open communication between themselves, especially in marriages. 

We all suck up to this invisible code that secretly declares that all we say is awful and that we should never talk about reality in front of our kids. Yes, it's a beautiful life and we are always free to paint beautiful pictures for our young ones to become involved in, but what about the million other things that make us the fascinating people we are?

Why do people’s mouths drop when they hear me having an open conversation with my 17-year-old daughter? What would my repression be saving her from, outside of a life where she might think everyone else is more interesting than her mother?

I cannot live a life of repression. It's not because I'm an artist or a writer; it's because I'm free and no one is going to take away my right to express myself — even to my kid.

Don't misunderstand me. Being free doesn’t automatically translate as a need to dump negatives on a child's head. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Being free and raising a child means I don't have to hide the things I've done in my life; I can share my experiences with her and watch her find the lessons in my mistakes.

As a lover of words, I’ve come to know the one that resonates with me, but not in any kind of personal way. That word is "liar." I don't lie to my child so I can come across as something I'm not.

So, here's to the truth ... and all of its consequences. 

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Dori Hartley is primarily a portrait artist. As an essayist and a journalist, she can be read in The Huffington Post, ParentDish, YourTango, The Daily Beast, Psychology Today, More Magazine, XOJane, MyDaily and The Stir.