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Originally published Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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Mom hid previous marriages from her sons

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax on revealing secrets to your adult children.


Syndicated columnist

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Stuff like this always reminds me of when I was younger. I grew up loving Cheesecake. One day I saw my mom making... MORE
Exactly WHAT did the brother have to gain from this action? So Carolyn, should she tell her sons about when she lost... MORE
Blech. 1) The woman created the situation in the first place by wrapping her previous marriages with shame and trying... MORE

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Dear Carolyn

Hi, Carolyn:

I raised two boys by myself since I was pregnant with the second. I divorced the boys’ father because of his emotional abuse, drinking and suspected drug use. I raised my kids without ever hinting that I had been married twice briefly before, too young, in marriages that produced no children.

My sons are now 18 and 21 and are healthy, well-adjusted kids. One just finished college and one is on his way.

My older brother decided to inform my 18-year-old of my two previous marriages despite the fact that I had told him on two occasions, one just a month ago, that I wanted to tell my sons myself when the time was right. In my mind, it was when they were getting serious about marriage. They were already living with the stigma of a single parent and I wasn’t wanting to add any additional burdens.

When my younger son told me of the recent revelation by my brother, I told him I was angry with my brother because he broke his promise to me. My son thinks I’m the one in the wrong for not telling them. He says I lied to them by never revealing everything about my life.

Though I never lied, I did hide the truth until I thought it could be used as a teachable moment.

I didn’t know every last detail about my parents and I respected that. I certainly don’t want to know everything about someone else either — even my sons’ secrets.

Was I wrong to shelter my kids from the knowledge of my previous two marriages? Is it wrong to be angry with my brother for going against my will?

— Bewildered

DEAR BEWILDERED: What your brother did was an outrage. He had no business meddling, and caused substantial damage to your relationship with your sons.

Yes, you lied to your boys by omission. That was your decision to make, though, and your plan to tell them when you deemed fit was your plan to carry out.

Was it a good plan? No, obviously, because it didn’t work. You were overly optimistic that you could control the release of a secret that others possessed. You also gambled that your sons would hold privacy in higher regard than they do honesty, as you do.

Still, these could have been topics of further conversation between you and your sons had your brother known his place. That’s what he took from you.

Now, your remaining options are either to take a hard line — “This was my business and mine to share with you or not” -- or grovel, or attempt to regain enough standing with your sons to have the conversations you’d hoped.

I recommend the last, but to get there, you’re still going to have to eat some dirt: “Yes, that was a serious lie of omission. I’m sorry. I had my reasons, but those aren’t important right now.”

And: “I was also wrong to trust your uncle. This isn’t zero-sum, where either he was wrong or I was. I made a mistake, and he did too. This was not his business, it was and is our business.”

And: “I don’t blame you for being angry. When you’re ready, though, I hope we can talk about this like adults.”

Then you trust, and wait.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living



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