Secrets isolate your children. Secrets harm your children. I was a year out of college and living in Boston when I got my first “real” job working for an agency that housed teenagers, who were aging out of the foster care system. During my first training session, I listened to a grandmother who told her story of working with children who had suffered sexual and physical abuse. Over time, these children became adults and the adults remained silent; living and breathing in their abuse without ever sharing a word. Afraid if they told their “secret” they or their family members could be harmed or torn apart, at the very least, by their truth.
What she taught me that day has stuck with me for the last 15 years and I heed her advice in my own home. We do not keep secrets. In fact, a secret is a dirty word. Secrets are dangerous and they destroy. Semantics, in this case, do matter. Not only did she teach me about the dangers of keeping secrets, more importantly, she gave me an alternative to practice in my work.
Talk to your children and teens about secrets and the power of such a word. Replace the word secret with surprise. We can keep surprises because they are happy and positive. We can not keep secrets because they are negative and harmful. Tell your children if an adult or child ever asks him/her to keep a secret; you can politely say, “no.” Even if grandma asks; we say, “I can’t keep a secret but I can keep a surprise.” If you are the parent gently remind your family members or friends that you don’t keep secrets in your home. They will surely understand the reasoning and if they don’t, well, that’s on them. One of the biggest responsibilities we have as caretakers is safety. Secrets do not keep your children safe.