How Much of Your Past Should You Share with Your Kids?


Karen knew this day would eventually come and she had dreaded it for years. After years of teaching her daughters the importance of sexual purity and that it’s best to wait until marriage, one of them looked at her across the kitchen table and asked, “Did you wait?” Feeling that honesty and integrity were essential to the way she was parenting her kids, Karen told the truth: sadly, she did not wait. She went on to explain how much she regretted it and wished that she could have a do-over on that season of her life as a young adult. Her fourteen-year-old cried she was so disappointed. It was a hard moment for both of them.

I don’t want my children to fall victim to the same mistakes I made in my past life. You probably feel the same way. But being transparent in a way that benefits your child—rather than simply compromising your moral authority—requires some thought and wisdom on your part. To decide what to share and how to share it, you should consider the topic, the age and maturity of your child, and other key factors.

Is it a help or a stumbling block?

Think about your child and how easily distracted he or she typically is by “sidebars” in life, at the expense of understanding the main point. Is finding out that you used recreational drugs as a teen going to be such an information bomb that he hears nothing else you say? If so, it’s information better kept to yourself.

Will it unintentionally give your child license to do the same?

Again, this determination requires knowing your child’s nature. Is she one to say, “You (or my older sibling, or whoever) did it, so no one has a right to say anything to me”? If your kid has a tendency to excuse her own bad behavior based on the behaviors of others—rather than a moral standard—don’t add fuel to that fire.

Is it clear in your mind how this will be helpful?

Before you blurt out any controversial details about your past, make sure you’ve thought through the whole conversation and where you want to go with that information. Is it, “I had sex before marriage and I’ve suffered xyz consequence as a result, and I want you to be spared the same problems”? Map it out in your head. If the conclusions aren’t crystal clear to you, they likely won’t be to your child. Proceed with caution.

Are you helping your child or cleansing your own conscience?

Many of us carry regret or even guilt about the choices of our past. Sometimes those feelings drive us to want to confess to anyone who will listen, just to unload a bit of the burden. Make sure your honesty with your child isn’t driven by feelings like these. Work out your own emotional burdens with your spouse, your pastor, or a trusted friend. When you’ve made peace with your past, you’ll be better able to decide what, if any, of that information can benefit your children as they make their own decisions.

Tell Us! How much of your past are you comfortable sharing?


  • AMB

    Great topic…I’m curious as to what other reader’s experiences are with this. For example, I was very, very briefly married 20+ years ago. No children. At what point do I (if at all) share this with my children? Right now I’m leaning towards not at all or adulthood? Thoughts?

    • Dana Hall McCain

      I guess the question that might drive my thinking most in this case would be, “how will it benefit them to know?” If your child is a young adult, or seriously considering marriage, lessons learned in your earlier failed marriage might be helpful. Any earlier than that, and the potential benefit seems less clear. When in doubt, I think I would hold off until there was a compelling reason air it out.

    • lisacat

      Honesty is the best policy age appropriate.
      They will figure it out by somehow stumping into a conversation etc
      I want to be honest with major things like that with my son and explain the mistake.
      I don’t have to tell him every stupid thing I ever did unless he asks than I will explain my regrets.

  • Cynthia

    I am of the opinion that I am not an open book to be fileted by my children. I was not raised in a Christian home and the values I was raised with are very different than the ones with which we are raising our children. I see zero benefit in telling my kids all the stupid thing I did and now regret. My husband was also briefly married more than 25 years ago and we have not told our kids. We actually ran into her last week with our teenager in tow and it was fine. Just like bumping into an old friend.

  • Kerry

    What if your ex. Feels like it is ” telling the facts / truth ” to our children. When in all reality it is lies and a bitter persons version of adult issues that should remain between the adults. I feel this way for two reasons. The first being a child cognitively is not able to understand adult issues. Heck, young adults to a certain age are not able too. The second reason is because my ex did do some things that go against EVERYTHING that is taught to them about our Christianity, values and morals. I don’t want them to know those things about their father. I want them to love their dad and build a relationship based on father and son.
    I hope this makes sense…. im just not sure how to handle situations when my ex… makes completely opposite decisions about what is ok to tell our boys.

  • Rebecca

    I have been having difficulty with Thai and it relates to this topic but also so much more.
    My son is 10 years old now and he was adopted by my current husband. We have been together since he was 2 and the adoption went through when he was 5. My son knows that we were married after he was born, we have pictures with him in them, but we have never talked about his biological father. When and how should I tell him that information? Or is he better off not knowing until he is an adult?

  • Melissa

    I have often wondered (and worried) about how to handle this situation. Thanks for some great tips. Now instead of worrying about what will happen I can have a plan.