Candor Over Comfort: Getting Honest with Your Kids

My kids love to hear stories about times my husband or I got in trouble when we were young. They ask us—and their grandparents, aunts, and uncles—to tell them regularly. As they listen, their faces glow with a combination of delight and relief as they hear that we too made poor choices, had bad attitudes, and suffered the consequences. Since my husband and I have known each other since we were thirteen, the stories they find most hilarious are when we got in trouble together—a special bonus for them.

Those are the lighthearted storytelling sessions. But we tell those stories other times, too. Like when we’re striving to get to the heart of a child’s poor attitude and disobedience or to caution them when we see they’re on a wrong path. We tell one of those stories to show them, “Hey, I did something like this, too, this is why, and here’s what happened when I did.”

Very often, those conversations include a confession that while we knew what was right or expected, we chose to go our own way. We chose what we wanted instead of what our parents, teachers, or God required of us because we just didn’t feel like obeying or we doubted their requirements were best. Depending on the story and the circumstances surrounding our conversation, things can get difficult. Openly confessing sin is rarely comfortable, particularly when you’re confessing to your own child.

Why We Tell

So why do we tell those stories? Why do we chose candor over comfort? Because we’ve learned in our own lives and as parents that honesty is powerful. We know that a sincere story from a person who loves you, knows you, and can relate to you can be a pivotal moment in the midst of all kinds of circumstances. And if, as Christians, our lives are to be an example to our kids of what it means to follow Christ, then we’re going to have to include all parts of that life. Good and bad. Joyous and difficult. Blessings and consequences.

We want to give them both skills and examples so they can value the wisdom of God and His Word, make the hard choices, and walk in obedience. We have to give them skills, because we know we cannot cover every possible circumstance our kids will encounter with a certain answer. Instead, we need to teach them the essentials—the truth of who God is, His love and plan for humanity, who they are as His image-bearers and sinners in need of a Savior—and how to live in response.

We tell those stories because we’d rather our kids have a high view of God than of us. We want to hold Christ high and present ourselves as His humble, yet beloved children. We want them to know that any wisdom or goodness we have is because of the transforming work of Christ in us (Eph. 2:8–10). So we admit our flaws to our kids. They see them no matter what, so we might as well talk about them and use them to display God’s grace in our lives.

We want them to make good decisions, be kind, work hard, and serve willingly, but unless they have a right view of God, those outcomes in their lives will be temporary and shallow at best. So we point them to the wisdom and mercy of God as often as we can. Through realistic descriptions of circumstances we’ve experienced, we want our kids to see times we chose to go against God’s ways, the consequences, and the path we took to seek forgiveness and restoration.

We know that they are going to fail sometimes. They’re going to choose their own way instead of God’s somehow every day. So when they do, we want them to know there is a path to forgiveness and a better way—God’s way—to pursue.

We tell those stories because we want our children to come to us with any kind of question, conversation, or circumstance. So we strive to do the same with them as we tell them stories from our past. We use language and include details that are appropriate for their age at the time. Then we often retell stories with greater depth and frankness when other opportunities come along as they get older.

Conversations with My Daughter

We’ve had a couple of those “retellings” this summer with our oldest daughter. She has reminded my husband and me more than once that we were exactly her age when we started dating: fifteen, the summer before our sophomore year of high school. She brings it up because she can’t imagine having a serious boyfriend right now, and she uses it as an illustration that she has much greater wisdom and maturity than her parents.

While, admittedly, I have given her the oh-yes-you’re-SO-much-smarter-than-me eye-roll once or twice, I’m actually thrilled that she’s talking to us about these things. She’s a logical, no-nonsense sort of girl who rarely talks about feelings and relationships. But because of all the stories we’ve told our kids—both funny and serious—about dating too seriously and exclusively as teenagers, now that she’s in that season herself, she’s comfortable talking to us about it.

And though our talks have started with some lighthearted ribbing from her, we’ve been able to get more specific and go deeper with her about things we dealt with and reasons we made the choices we did back then. We’ve also taken the opportunity to affirm the decisions she’s making right now and encourage her to remain diligent about making God-honoring choices.

Being Truthful Even if It’s Awkward

If we’re going to teach our children that truth, specifically God’s Truth, is both the foundation and goal for our lives, then we need to be truthful even if when it’s awkward. Even when we’d rather just tell the kid what to do or not to do and have that be the last word on the subject. Telling these stories is a way we’re living out Truth with our kids. Above anything else, we want them to be sincere followers of Christ who know Him and put Him on display. We want God’s glory to be displayed in us as individuals and as a family. To do this, we live by the truths and implications of Psalm 15:1–4:

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change.

If your desire, like mine, is for your children to abide in the Lord, then acknowledge His Truth displayed in your life with all sincerity and honesty with your kids. If you want your kids to keep God’s Word whatever the cost, then that cost might include some of your pride or privacy.

Trust the Lord to use your words to describe His faithfulness and Truth displayed in your life so that your children may see Him more clearly and pursue Him. Tell your stories, and trust God to show Himself through them.

About the Author

Heidi Jo Fulk

Heidi Jo Fulk

Heidi Jo Fulk desires to know and live God's Word, then teach and challenge other women to do the same. Heidi and and her husband, Dan, live in Michigan with their four children where she leads women's ministries at her … read more …

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