Should Parents Be Totally Honest With Their Children?

For John and Abigail Adams, it was primarily the ability to understand books. For Vincent Van Gogh Sr., it was the ability to sell. For Joseph and Mary, it was the skill of working with wood. For my own father and mother, it was the ability to be flexible, to be optimistic, and to work hard. Parents mold their children according to their values, employing the best tools that they have available to them to raise their children according to their wishes. And these wishes most certainly vary. For some parents, the process of child-rearing is conscious and purposeful, while for others, there is little to no realization of causation, and only when the child reaches adulthood do some parents finally see their hand in it all. Even still, some do not see. In short, I will argue that parents should be honest with their children to the extent to which that honesty effectively helps to transform their children into the kinds of young adults that they have envisioned.

Is it possible to have trust without honesty? Are relationships meant to be built on trust? Is there even intent behind relationships themselves? In taking the viewpoint that I am espousing, I am no doubt defining honesty as more of a tool than an immutable virtue. From generation to generation, from continent to continent, from country to country, even from door to door, there exist differences in the goals of child-rearing. Should a child be raised to be wealthy? Erudite? Strong? Shrewd? Loving and selfless? Powerful? Even experts disagree with the end. The best parenting, like the best anything, is one pursuit, or journey, that humankind takes. For Chinese parents, largely as a result of Confuscionist teachings, an honorable young adult is of paramount importance. Western Canadian parents, generally-speaking, have in mind to raise law-abiding, tax paying, and pluralistic citizens, while eastern Canadian parents want hard working conservatives. Simply put, parents have different goals for their children.

And because parents have different goals, they will use whatever methods that they deem worthy to achieve these goals. According to David McCullough, John Adams, as mentioned above, employed languages and books to arrive at an intelligent, “renaissance man” kind of upbringing. My own father, along with his sister, was raised to entertain well-to-do guests at social gatherings in Atlanta, Georgia.

Personally, I will be completely honest with my children, because I believe not just that trust is the foundation of a relationship, but particularly that trust can only be achieved with complete honesty. Only I will add one qualification: honesty “in time.” Indeed, I do believe that ultimately, my children should know “the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” but I can foresee instances where withholding part of the truth will help me to achieve other goals that I have. Safety, for example. If I must withhold truth, or even lie, to keep them alive in certain extreme situation, I will most likely do that. But, generally speaking, by being completely honest about my failures and my accomplishments, I believe that I will teach them to learn from our mistakes, thus enabling my own children to think independently and, hopefully, to navigate wisely the many decisions they will face in life.

Of course, I think my viewpoint is most right and most efficacious, but not all will agree. For that reason, I have suggested that honesty is a tool that can be wielded by parents in the delicate process of raising their children to become the kinds of individuals that they hope for them to be. Finally, the reader will note that there has been little to no mention regarding the extent to which nature plays a role in a child’s development. This has been intentional since the focus is uniquely on the efforts of the parents, most of whom love and cherish their children deeply.

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