NOTE: This archive only contains Carolyn Hax columns through March 2011. Her more recent columns are located here.

Tell Me About It

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By Carolyn Hax
Sunday, October 7, 2007

Dear Carolyn:

I was wondering how to deal with my teenage daughter, who wants to know about my past history. I want to be honest with her but don't want to share all. When I told her I felt her questions were too personal, she said she doesn't have anyone else she can talk to and just wants some advice.

Her questions are: When did you first have sex? Younger than you are now. Did you ever smoke pot? Every day in high school under the big tree in front of the school. Have you ever had a one-night stand? More than I care to remember.

I know she has discussed having sex with her boyfriend, so this is a very important time to be as helpful as I can, but unfortunately my discomfort with my past doesn't allow me to be as open as I want to be. HELP.

Anonymous

It does, however, allow you to be as open as you need to be. There's nothing that says your daughter has to dig up every butt under every tree for you to be able to guide her. Don't lie. Just say, "I think it's more important that I listen."

In fact, I would argue that being in possession of a parent's entire social history is distracting. The parent who followed every rule to the letter becomes an intimidating -- or worse, seemingly unsympathetic -- act to follow. The parent who availed herself of a chemical assist just to get through homeroom becomes the " . . . and s/he turned out fine!" example that clearly you fear becoming -- you and everyone else who paid a visit to the tree.

It's a good example not to become. Lost in the blithe tale of surviving one's youthful idiocy are all the subtleties of that process (as well as the one unsubtlety of it, that not everyone survives). When people manage to self-correct after youthfully veering off course, they can credit: dumb luck, intervention, addiction-resistant genes, a stable upbringing, the presence of upstanding peers -- or the absence of toxic ones -- limited access to controlled substances, effective contraceptives, street-smart educators, lower-potency drugs, good reflexes, geography, luck, luck and more luck.

Also lost in the retelling is your control over how your information glut is received. The most prominent thing in your mind may be your pain in recalling certain mistakes. But if your storytelling skills fall short or if your daughter's maturity level isn't unusually high, the most prominent thing

she'll hear is, "Mommy got baked

every day!" It's just the way things work, that shocking facts travel much better from person to person than nuanced emotions do.

Someday, you and your daughter might, and probably will, have a great conversation about those subtleties, and how you became who you are, and what that can mean for her.

But apparently not now. Not until your hesitation gives way to a desire to be more forthcoming. That will be your best

indication that the time has come to say more.

Assuming it ever does; there's nothing wrong with keeping at least some of your life private. Right now your daughter is a work in progress, and what she needs most is a parent -- one person she can really trust to hear what she has to say.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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