Do You Share Your Past With Your Children?

Do you share your past with your children?

At what age?

What types of information?

If yes, why do you think it’s a good idea?

If no, why do you think it’s a bad idea?

55 comments on “Do You Share Your Past With Your Children?

  1. Ross, I think your conclusion is correct, talk it out with your Rav.
    Unfortunately many people do not have a Rav to whom they can (or want to) discuss these types of questions.

  2. Judy wondered, “So what does this woman do?”

    She’ll ask a gadol.

    And when we want to know if it’s proper to reaveal certain aspects of our past, we’ll ask, too.

    This thread had veered a little off of the original question. Maybe it should be reworded into a more theoretical question: If your Rav told you there were no issues of loshon hara, then would you share your past, and which information?

    If you already have a psak that it’s not halachically permissible, then the thread sort of ends for you here. For others, either ask your rav, or make it a theoretical discussion until you do.

  3. Mark- Chas Ve Shalom-Absolutely not-such information was meant to serve as inspiration, and a Musar Haskel to all of us that we can reach great spiritual heights, even via different spiritual paths within the Mesorah- regardless of our spiritual place of origin-just like the Avos, Imahos, Moshe Rabbeinu, R Akiva and Resh Lakish, and as set forth by the very different messages set forth in the Neviim. Next week’s Parsha minces no words in describing the spiritual ups and downs of the 40 year trek through the desert as a means of underscoring the fact that life and spiritual growth has its inevitable ups and downs. Would not all of the above cases constitute Toeles,even if we see no evidence of Toeles being utilized in the sense defined by the CC?

  4. Steve, are you proposing that Chazal just wanted to reveal negative information about the Avos for no particular reason?

  5. Mark-notwithstanding my last few posts on this thread, you wrote:

    “I think the criteria of Toeles was applied by Hashem when He determined which aveiros or lessor mistakes to reveal. Chazal in revealing additional issues also applied the Toeles of what to reveal and how to reveal it.

    Our task is to understand what the Torah or Chazal are saying and to try to understand what the lesson is for us which often involves thinking about why it was revealed”

    Just curious-obviously, there are specific hashkafic lessons, a Musar Hashkel and inspiration as to how the Tanach and Chazal describe the moral growth of the Avos, Imahos, Moshe Rabbeinu, R Akiva and Resh Lakish. One can argue as RAK maintained in a famous essay that was probably addressed in response to Maskilim, that we mere mortals can never compare ourselves to the same, but such an argument, as RAL has pointed out, cannot be viewed as the dominant view in either Chazal or the classical Mfarshim ( i.e. the Rishonim such as Rashi, Ramban, Sforno, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam and such later Mfarshim such as Netziv and Meshech Chachmah)as opposed to the Maharal’s POV, which was and remains a Chiddush, that one must accept all Aggados and Mfarshim with the same seriousness as Halachic and Hashkafic statements of Chazal.

    How about some Mareh Mkomos in Chazal and the classical Mfarshim, as opposed to either the Ramchal or the Cfatez Chaim, where Toeles is either directly cited or can be reasonably inferred as the basis or factor for Chazal’s discussions and the limits thereof?

    FWIW, I think that Menachem’s view is based on the following -RYBS mentioned that in Slichos we invoke the Nviim because of the many different paths to Teshuvah mentioned by the Neviim and that the evolution of and comments by Resh Lakish at the end of Masecta Yuma is mentioned in the Talmud as evidencing that there are multiple paths of Teshuvah-either using one’s past as a vehicle for Teshuvah or eradicating the same.

  6. An interesting scenario came to mind.

    What if a Jewish woman who had dated non-Jews later became a Baalas-Teshuva and married a Kohain? We will assume that in this case, the dates were innocent (in the old-fashioned sense of dates simply being going out together to a movie or dinner and nothing more), that the Kohain she married was a BT himself, and that their own Rav after hearing all of the facts had paskened that the woman was still Kohain-eligible and that their marriage was completely permissible with no problem.

    Fast forward twenty-five years. The BT couple has a bunch of kids in various age ranges. All the boys are proud Kohanim who go up to duchen and who are looking for their own Kohain-eligible shidduchim. The oldest girl is married to a non-Kohein. The first grandchild was a B’chor who did not have a Pidyon haBen because his mother was a Bas Kohein. The second oldest girl is “in the parsha” and seeing a Kohain seriously.

    The third oldest girl is a “wild child” off the derech. She is running around the streets, coming home extremely late or not at all, and suspected of doing drugs and dating non-Jews. The mother still has some communication with this daughter, as the bond between mother and daughter is not entirely severed. This girl actually listens when her mother tells narratives about her nonreligious past, and is known to respect warnings based on actual past experience (as opposed to being preached to).

    Does the mother at this time reveal that she before marriage dated non-Jews? She might by doing so save her wild daughter from tragedy. However, if it gets out to the wider public, her Kohain-eligibility might be questioned, imperiling the status of her children.
    The second daughter’s shidduch might get broken off, as the daughter of a marriage between a Kohein and a woman prohibited to him is also prohibited to a Kohein. There might be doubt as to whether her grandson actually does need a Pidyon haBen. The Kohein status of her husband and sons might be in question.

    So what does this woman do?

  7. It gives them a world view which they need since someone close to them was there and partly made up of that world.

  8. Toeles or a specific reason *does not* mean that just because we personally think there’s a reason to say something,we can.

    Regarding Loshon Hora, the toeles often requires a psak and those who are careful in these matters will often ask a Rav whether and how they can reveal certain information.

    In this particular case you would be overriding a halacha (probably D’Rabbonim) in the Rambam which does not seem to be in dispute by the major Rishonim or Achronim, so it has to be a toeles that is strong enough to allow you to violate this halacha. It still is not clear to me how sharing details of past aveiros is so helpful to the spiritual growth of our children that it would provide that toeles.

    On the issue of openness, Rabbi Welcher is a strong believer in openness and he believes that you should try to create an environment where your children feel they can talk about any issue with you. And you should talk about the issues that you know are important to them.

  9. Just to present an alternative halachic side, I mentioned this issue to my Rav along with Rabbi Welcher’s psak. He felt that the potential for chizuk and just the general idea of being open and honest with one’s children outweighs those concerns. Actually, if you read carefully how Mark conveyed Rabbi Welcher’s psak, even he leaves room for subjectivity on the issue by adding the caveat “unless there’s a specific reason”.

    Further, ross and others make a good point. Most of what we’re talking about are not “sins” per se, but rather activities in a way of life we are no longer a part of.

    I’ll give you a personal example. My kids know how much I love musicals. Every summer when I was a kid, my mom was in the chorus of amateur productions of all the great musicals; Music Man, Fiddler, Oklahoma, etc. I knew them all cold. In my early years as a BT I still went to see musicals on Broadway occasionally and then I finally gave it up. (Yes, I know, according the “psak” I shouldn’t be writing this, but there is a “toeles”. :) I know that my adult children see it as something admirable that I gave up something I really loved for my religious growth. (More so, actually, because I was already “frum” at the time.)

  10. Oh. I was just responding to the halachic aspect of it, because violating Shabbos and eating treif are also each an issur min haTorah. Drugs aren’t, (besides guarding one’s health), and either is attending rock concerts. So we’re talking different issues, not halachic issues. See why I was confused?

  11. Ross:

    I don’t think the debate is centering around issues of “did you keep Shabbos” or “did you ever eat traif?” These are self evident. I think the thornier issues relate to activities we did that were par for the society we grew up in but clearly not what we would expect from a frum kid in yeshiva or bais yaakov. Such as: boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, attending rock concerts, experimenting with drugs, etc. How much should the children know of this past? Are we being “honest” if we hide the dirty laundry? I think that’s the crux of the debate.

  12. I’m not clear on what’s going on here.
    If I’m on a fishing trip with my son, I’m not suddenly going to put my arm around his shoulder and proclaim, “My boy, nothin’ we catch could ever compare to a nice fresh lobster!” (“‘Scuse me, totty?”)

    But if my kids are starting to pick up on things and begin asking about my former gilgul, then what toeles does there need to be? We’re not talking about vivid descriptions, just honest answers to questions like ‘Did you drive on Shabbos?’ and ‘Did you eat kosher?’ etc.

    Do the proper preparation, like explaining how it’s possible that so many Jews know NOTHING about Torah, and discussing great grandpa who got off the boat and held only weekly jobs until he just couldn’t take it, not to mention the lack of education…even under-teenage kids can understand stories. With the groundwork, why not answer them?

  13. After some discussion over Shabbos, I think Mark Frankel is right, first and foremost because of the Psak that he mentioned. Moreover, if one looks at the Vidui HaAruch ( “Al Chet”) or even the Vidui HaKatzer ( “Ashamnu”), there is far too much therein that is simply meant to be between a Jew and HaShem, whether in private or communal prayer, as opposed to be the subject of a reality show like version of “true confessions”.

  14. i am product of a family where shemiras shabbos evolved as i grew up. my brothers and i were sent to PS and hebrew school but when i, the youngest in the family, was only in 2nd grade racial slurs were hurled at me on the school bus and my parents panicked. they sent me to day school, and i loved it. even after we later moved to a much better neighborhood and had access to better PS, i chose to continue in day school, and later went on to Bais Yaakov and Seminary. my husband is an ffb and he and my children learned/learn in kollel. my brothers are on different points of the jewish compass.

    although it was my choice that picked up the thread set out for me early on and this is far from typical in the very “greasy” yeshivish world in which i move today, i realize that as far as wild pasts go, mine is a non-event. as such i cannot comment on the challenge inherent in the question posed here. it gives me great joy to tell my children about my choices. it’s like the greatest gift i could ever give them – the gift of a judaism that is not by rote, that is not on cruise, that is (i hope) not stagnant. not sharing this with them – the wonder of me being given such choices, and knowing how to act on them, which is so precious to me – is something i would not want to miss out on, for their sake as well as mine. locking my children out of that feels wrong. but i know that when i do the telling, i have no baggage that gets unpacked in the process.

    one of our sons married a wonderful girl whose parents are BT’s with pedigrees from Ohr Someyach and Neve. we have only true admiration and respect for them and are truly honored that we were able to have our son marry into such an incredibly accomplished, fine, frum family. in addition to producing great, well-balanced kids, our mechutanim have been able to maintain great relatiuonships with both sides of their (non0frum) families and involve their children in the inter-generational exchange. the grandparents are very much a part of their lives, although they are not local, and it all looks story book gorgeous.

    imagine my surprise when i was told that this couple, whose children certainly know they are bt’s (they are each the only frum ones in their family, and said families are often in attendance in the flesh as proof of what had been before), they have never discussed what made the metamorphosis happen for them with any one of their numerous children KA”H, all now mostly grown. they have also maintained strong ties with a real mentor who has stayed with them for over thirty years and i am sure they did so with his guidance.

    with all due respect to the individuals like my mechutanim, who have to navigate those often troubled waters i never crossed in order to share this very central part of themselves with their children, i can only reflect on their particular choice to be so closed-mouthed as an outsider. i’ll admit that at first i thought it was a shame. but after a while i started to think that maybe some of the things i love so dearly about their family were davka acheived through this very choice. here is what i think may have been won through their choice:

    1) they checked their bags at the door. really. their children will never hear accounts of wrenching philosophical issues resolved but badly retold, with an ache, so that the angst is passed down through the generations…only to perhaps cast this burden upon younger shoulders, who have a different birthright.

    2) since their souvenirs were not proudly displayed and always within view, they could spend their energy on working towards conformity. they blended completely into the society around them and as a result their kids did not carry the burden of having to explain or deal with the fact that their parents/home/knapsacks looked different than everyone else’s. they let go of the past and it set their kids free.

    3)they chose to send their children to mainstream schools and set goals for their kids that were pretty much the same as all the other kids in those schools. they did not disable their kids by discounting what they thought they could achieve “in light of where they came from”. they did not subtly encourage the kids to associate primarily with children of other BT’s, with whom they might feel more comfy themselves, while also discouraging friendships with the children of FFBs. They dropped the tag and it didn’t come to haunt them.

    in short, they really closed that door, well and truly closed it so that no one felt the need to look back and in doing so i believe built solid footing for the path just beyond that door. more than anything else, their message to their kids has been so single-mindedly positive about where they all are now that nothing else really seems to matter. when i think about it like this, even i can consider the possibility that what i thought they’d be missing out on by not sharing the whole blow-by-blow is mor ethan offset by the gains.

    i know that this may not be the right choice for many people. i’m not sure i would have wanted to do this, had i been in their shoes. and i’m sure it wasn’t easy. but their goal seems to have been to truly become the most torah-dig jews that they could, and it worked.

  15. My take on sharing our not-so-kosher aspects of our past lives with our children is and has always been the following: even when it is age-appropriate, you run the risk of “kosherizing” an activity, if the kids know that mom or dad did it. Simply knowing that their parent did something bad, makes it more acceptable.

    Example: if Junior knows that dad smoked pot back in the day, then how bad can smoking pot really be? Even with all the testimony to the contrary, dad is paving the way for Junior to try it himself. And dad will have no ammunition to condemn Junior for doing it, for the answer will of course be “But you did it, Dad, why can’t I?” Plus, the child is being put in the position of receiving contradictory messages — on the one hand, you are saying “stay away from drugs” and on the other you are revealing that you did not listen to this message.

    I see it as different to reveal a basic fact within a larger message, such as “I did not keep Shabbos, and boy am I happy that I now have a Shabbos. Now I have meaning in my week and in my life.”

    So I guess I agree more with Mark, and would only reveal actions if there is a toeles.

  16. After further reflection, I think Mark is right, primrily because of the Psak he received, and also simply because I think that discretion is required here in a very strong sense of the word-just look at the Vidui for YK-I am not sure that we are obligated to tell anyone or engage in “true confessions”, except with HaShem. For a secular POV that is very compelling, see this link.

  17. Even non-Jewish parents generally are reluctant to share every last detail of their wilder younger selves with their children. Mothers might share certain narratives with married adult daughters that would not be appropriate to discuss with younger children.

    It is funny to relate how I used to be asked in a low voice, furtively, “What does traif taste like?” as if it had to be something extraordinary just because it happens to be forbidden. Sort of like when in junior high school I asked another girl, “What is it like to smoke pot?” because I had never done so but wondered what it was all about. The Gemara says, “Stolen waters are sweet.” We can help prevent our kids from having a taavah for something just because it happens to be asur. In this case, I explained to the child asking about traif that it was no big deal, traifa food isn’t anything special. The child was disappointed that it wasn’t any more than that, but as far as I know never went any further along that line of inquiry.

  18. Ragarding being allowed to reveal that someone is a BT only if the listener has a positive view of BTs…..when the listener is your child, depending on the age, the parents give over both the information and an outlook on the information by the way they present it. If the information is given over matter of factly, with gratitude to Hashem for having brought us to observance, with gratitude for being zoche to send the children to yeshiva, etc….then the children have learned a positive view, and even admiration, for the BT.

  19. Tesyaa, good question.

    Originally I saw this as a “What works for you” type of question, but as the discussion progressed it became clear that there were halachic aspects and Neil specifically asked if we could get one of the advisers to chime in on the matter. So we did.

    It should also be pointed out that Rabbi Welcher’s psak applied to revealing Torah violations, however there are many other experiences which are not outright Torah violations where individual digression applies.

    Finally, if a person has their own posek, they should ask him, although poskim are often interested in how and why other poskim came to their halachic conclusion.

  20. I spoke to Rabbi Welcher, our Rabbinic Advisor, and he said that one should not reveal any violations of the Torah to your children (or anybody else) unless there’s a specific reason, i.e.-they are struggling with similar issues and revealing it will help them.

    If this is the psak followed by Beyond BT, why was this post put up in the first place? You are basically asking people if they do things that your posek says is forbidden. How odd.

  21. I think the criteria of Toeles was applied by Hashem when He determined which aveiros or lessor mistakes to reveal. Chazal in revealing additional issues also applied the Toeles of what to reveal and how to reveal it.

    Our task is to understand what the Torah or Chazal are saying and to try to understand what the lesson is for us which often involves thinking about why it was revealed.

    I think the general rule is we don’t speak negatively about people unless there is a very good reason and it is often instructive to try and discern the Torah and Chazal’s reasons.

  22. Mark Frankel wrote:

    “As far as the Torah and Gemora revealing negative things about the Avos and Torah giants of the past, it’s clearly for a toeles in each case and it would seem that the same clear toeles needs to apply to our situations.”

    I would agree that even if one were to discuss elements of one’s life prior to becoming a Shomer Torah UMitzvos, it should be done with discretion,subject to appropriate Rabbinical guidance. However, with respect to the Avos, Moshe Rabbeinu, R Akiva and Rseh Lakish, WADR, where is the criteria of Toeles applied? One can easily find comments in Chazal and Midrashim that illustrate the backgrounds and spiritual growhn of all of the above spiritual giants.

  23. I spoke to Rabbi Welcher, our Rabbinic Advisor, and he said that one should not reveal any violations of the Torah to your children (or anybody else) unless there’s a specific reason, i.e.-they are struggling with similar issues and revealing it will help them.

    Here are some of things we discussed:
    1) The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (Chapt 2, Halacha 5) says that one who reveals his transgressions that are in the man and G-d category is an Azos Panim (which is translated as “arrogant”).
    In that same section the Rambam says it is to his benefit not to reveal his sins as it states in Tehillim 32: “Happy is he whose trangression is forgiven, whose sin is covered”.

    2) Publicly revealing a transgression is a negative mark against Hashem.

    3) Hearing about a transgression, even once, desensitizes the person to that transgression. See Rashi on the relationship between Sotah and Nazir.

    4) Hearing about a transgression reduces a persons general fear of Heaven and avoidance of transgression

    5) It is not prohibited to talk Loshon Hara about yourself

    6) Whether you can reveal that somebody is a BT depends on whether the person your speaking to views being a BT positively or negatively

    7) If it is known that someone is a BT, it can be spoken about

    8) There is a difference in knowledge attained explicitly and through inference. Inference leaves room for doubt where explicitly telling someone does not.

  24. Mark, there is no one “psak” that fits this issue. Check out the introduction to “Making of a Gadol”. There, Rav Kaminetsky investigates both sides of the related issue of how accurately to present biographical information. Obviously, he comes down on the more “truthful” side, but does present both opinions.

    Again it’s all about drawing the line. You’re comfortable letting your kids know that your a BT, that information, in and of itself, violates you loshon hora prohibition, and some communities even that would be below the “line”.

    I’ll modify my original statement slightly and say that I think people should be as open as possible…given their hashkafic and societal framework.

  25. Despite one’s personal feelings on the subject, the Torah defines what is Sheker through the halacha. Not revealing your past is clearly not halachically Sheker unless there is a specific situation in which you would be halachically required to reveal something. If it’s allowed by Torah law it’s not Sheker.

    I don’t see this as issue based on fear or any other emotion, the question is what is the right thing to say in a given situation and that is guided by the halacha which has a lot to say on what you can and can not say about yourself and others.

    As to your point of your kids putting together a negative picture of your past life based on conjecture, I still don’t see that as normative based on my experience. If that is a concern, perhaps strengthening the halachos of judging people favorably might help. If our children have a positive view of people which is strengthened through judging people favorably, they are much more likely to put together positive pictures of people and their parents.

    I’m hoping to contact my Rav, who is one of the Rabbinic Advisors of BBT and ask him what the halacha says about this issue.

  26. “I’m still confused why people here feel a strong desire to share their Torah violations as a matter of course with their children and actually think it will benefit them, their children and their relationship.”

    Mark, maybe the problem is the way you’re paraphrasing it, which is not what I am saying. The “strong desire” is not to “share Torah violations”. The strong desire is to be open and honest. No matter how positively you try to couch it, hiding your past involves some element of Sheker. I know you’re seeking a “Torah Source” for this side or that, but the truth, like so much else we deal with, I’m sure you can find sources for whatever you feel is right. “Midvar Sheker Tirchak” comes to mind for me, and for you it’s the loshon hora angle.

    Again, I go back to the “kids aren’t stupid” premise. There are so many cues for them to use to put together a picture of what their parent was like; pictures, friends, family, etc.

    Beyond that, if you’ve given your kids a positive religious experience there’s no reason to fear your past. In most cases it should just strengthen their image of you and Judaism to know that you gave up, sometimes enjoyable, things out of a commitment to God and Torah.

    One final point. If you tell them about your past then you control the narrative. If they find out in other ways, then all bets are off.

    Like I said in the beginning, there are limits, just as non-religious parents would have limits on the very private things they would tell there children. What we’re really talking about here is where to draw the line.

  27. Steve, I try to teach my family that some things are best kept private.

    Although it is obvious to a BT child that his parents were not always observant, sharing details of non-observance is not necessary and could perhaps be prohibited by the laws of Loshon Hara, unless there is a toeles that satisfies all 7 conditions of speaking Loshon Hara.

    I think sharing your past that didn’t involve violation of the Torah is fine and for most of us that’s probably most of our past. I’m still confused why people here feel a strong desire to share their Torah violations as a matter of course with their children and actually think it will benefit them, their children and their relationship.

    As far as the Torah and Gemora revealing negative things about the Avos and Torah giants of the past, it’s clearly for a toeles in each case and it would seem that the same clear toeles needs to apply to our situations.

  28. I agree with Menachem Lipkin’s comments. If your children know that you are a BT, they obviously can deduce that you were not always a Shomer Torah Umitzvos. That strikes me as eminently logical, and a fact that IMO can only be evaded by creating a psychological Chinese wall of sorts that bars such discussion, and which can create the impression in a child’s mind that his or her parents are not being 100% truthful-a message that can be translated into terrible long term consequences.

    Once that is a given fact-denying the reality or being unwilling to discuss one’s life prior to becoming a BT, challenges that you faced in becoming a BT, etc, strike me as sending a message IMO that a BT is so insecure about his or her life that they view whole portions of their life, as beyond the realm of open discussion and dialogue between parents and children.

    Once agaim, the Torah and Chazal re replete with BTs whose lives are hardly a closed book. Why not emulate the Avos, Imahos, Moshe Rabbeinu, R Akiva amd Resh Lakish instead of cordoning off our lives from our children?

  29. Mark Frankel wrote:

    “Although I believe in openness in some/many situations, I would be interested in Torah sources for openness as a fundamental Torah principle if you know of any.”

    Previously, I wrote on this thread:

    ” FWIW, if one were to view hiding the past as desirable, how would we view such personae as the Avos, Imahos, Moshe Rabbeinu , R Akiva and Resh Lakish-all of whom did not exactly grow up in a FFB milieu? How would we view Parshas Masei which clearly sets forth the ups and downs of the 40 travail in the desert?”

  30. As someone who straddles the fence between being a BT themselves and being the child of a BT…. I’ve seen problems when the “old days” are talked about nostalgically, or romanticized. This can feed a frum child’s sense of resentment at Torah strictures, or fan temptation/rebellion.

    I don’t think you can give rules for what’s in and what’s out – the question is what’s appropriate for each kid at any time. With little kids it’s part of the “not everyone is frum” conversation. With older kids you may even wind up discussing the negative fallout from earlier experience with romance or alcohol/smoking, if that’s what the child is working through.

  31. Many in our sheltered younger generation may actually over-romanticize the secular world they’re supposed to stay clear of. There are times that BT parents can enlighten them a bit about the less enticing reality, based on experience.

  32. to put some perspective on this, when i grew up as a reform jew (i.e. mostly as a secular american), my father never told me about any details of his dating life as a young man. This isn’t because he became frum and wanted to cover something up –it’s just not something parents discuss with children. So there is a difference between telling children you didn’t used to know about the mitzvot and telling them every gory detail of your past that has nothing to do with the changes made as a result of being BT.

  33. Menachem, I don’t think innuendo is the right term here and the explicit or implicit distinction is a function of the mind, not of the times. (BTW – It was Ramchal’s logic book that I was reading).

    I agree that what works for one might not work for others. I was reading the second paragraph in your original comment (#7) as blanket advice and not as what worked for you.

    Although I believe in openness in some/many situations, I would be interested in Torah sources for openness as a fundamental Torah principle if you know of any.

  34. Sorry Mark, don’t think that Ramchal applies today. We live in a world where inuendo is often far more powerful than reality.

    Also, I wasn’t really talking about me or you specifically. I’ve been open with my kids and that’s worked very well and you haven’t and that’s worked for you. I think part of it has to do with the hashgafic milieu you place yourself in. In mine, openness is a fundamental part. And of course Judy’s point is well taken, common sense must play a roll in everything we do as parents.

  35. Obviously we’re talking about using a very large dollop of common sense here.

    We’re in the Internet era of TMI. Parents really do not have to share every last sordid detail of their former lives. Trust me, kids can be warned about the dangers of alcohol abuse without mentioning hours spent kneeling next to a toilet throwing up. You need not pretend to have been a saint, but neither do you have to bring up all of the unspeakable nitty gritty. Strike a balance, tell the truth to the kids, but do yourself a very big favor and stop somewhere well short of “the whole truth.”

    Maybe with adult children trying to get past their own struggles with divorce or bad relationships it makes sense to finally talk about bad relationships or intimacy issues in one’s past life, again always realizing there is a difference between talking to longtime friends and talking to one’s adult children. For example, adult children may be more judgmental than buddies, and less likely to forgive or forget a parent’s mistakes.

  36. Menachem, my experience and reality is different than yours and my kids assumptions seem to be different than yours – it happens. And fortunately we don’t have incriminating old photos.

    I’ll leave you with a teaching from a Ramchal that I was learning earlier today: information which is learned implicitly does not carry the same weight as that which is learned explicitly. I’m sticking with that idea and maintaining that you should be circumspect in what you explicitly share.

  37. Mark, you can hope all you want, but that’s the reality. Let’s say one was a teenager in the 60’s, most teens and/or young adults know that the 60’s ushered in the era of “free love”. Now why shouldn’t said child assume that their parent was part of this culture if ALL he knows is that the parent is a BT?

    What does Google have to do with it? Are you going to destroy all those old photos of you and your family at the beech or mom wearing pants at 15?

  38. Prior to Google, it hasn’t been my experience that people or children find out details of your past and I would hope a child would not assume the “worst” about their parents.

  39. Again Mark, because they will figure it out. Do you seriously believe you can tell a kid that you’re a BT and just stop there? First of all, like others have said, there are the pictures, the 8mm movies, the old friends, etc. So unless you’re going to hermetically seal your kids in some sort of bubble they WILL find out the details. Further, if they don’t, it could actually be worse as when they get older and have a better understanding of worldly matters they may very well assume the “worst”. Is that really what you’d prefer?

  40. I think we should give our kids more credit.

    In a good family dynamic, family members are caring and supportive of each other. Whether it was Gramps who managed to escape out of the former Soviet Union or Totty who was a Gair Tzedek, I believe that with love and respect kids will be proud, not ashamed, of you.

    My youngest daughter many years ago wrote an essay for high school about how she admired me for becoming frum. I was so happy. Imagine that, she wasn’t ashamed of me for being a BT: she was proud of me.

    I had a lot of fears that my kids would never make shidduchim because I was a BT. Guess what, there are other kids of BTs out there looking to get married! Six of my seven children are now married, and I am not worried about the youngest who is 21 (I will G-d willing dance the mezhinka dance at his chasunah at the right time).

    Children enjoy hearing about when their parents and grandparents were kids. If you can describe how you were in summer camp on the day of the first moon landing in July 1969, it makes history come alive for your kids (although then they also realize you are a zillion years old).

  41. I have told my children very simply from an early age (more about explaining things my parents did than trying to tell them about my past, but it has the same effect) that when I was their age (and when my parents were their age) we weren’t fortunate enough to go to the kind of school they go to that teaches Torah, and although we knew about HaKadosh Baruch Hu, we didn’t know much about His Mitzvot or how to serve Him. All this is true and doesn’t involve any particular behavior they might find shocking. I assume that I’ll get questions as they get older about specific behaviors (did you ever…?). But I prefer this approach to explaining my background as it sets all Jews up as potential mevakshei hashem, with some having more knowledge or more of an awareness of how important avodat hashem is, rather than as frum, frummer, not so frum and frei.

  42. Menachem, I think everybody agrees that we can’t hide from our children that we weren’t always observant. That doesn’t mean we necessarily need to share anything else with them besides that fact.

    This is not deceit, but is based on the fact that there are things that a person keeps to himself and doesn’t share. How to apply what a person keeps to himself depends on the thing and the person you’re thinking of sharing it with. I’m not sure why you think a policy to share almost everything makes sense here?

  43. Neil, I think the standard laws of Loshon Hora would apply here:
    1) Will the experience that I’m sharing be viewed as negative by the child
    2) Even if it is viewed as negative, is it something that will be accomplished by sharing that could not be accomplished through other means

  44. Re: Comment #6
    The question I think one has to ask is, “What will be gained by sharing my past?”

    True that there’s a halachic problem reminding a BT or a Ger about their past, but if the BT or Ger make the choice to share, especially l’shem Chizuk then there is something to be gained.

    My son knows that when we learn there are words that I need to look up, because I didn’t have the education advantage that he’s had.

    I’m aware there’s the elephant in the comment sections called “if my kids finds out I eat treif and went to movies on Friday night then they’ll do the same thing and go off the derech”.

    The bottom line is that most kids are smart enough to figure out about our past.

  45. We have been always forthright in sharing the fact that we are BTs with our children. They know that we became Shomrei Torah UMitzvos as teens, that we went to public high schools, etc. They were by our side when we were asked to be honorees by NCSY.Bob Miller’s comment re family photos is 100% on the mark. There are simply no better chronicles of a family evolves, for good or bad, in any way, than photo albums, videos or DVSs. FWIW, if one were to view hiding the past as desirable, how would we view such personae as the Avos, Imahos, Moshe Rabbeinu , R Akiva and Resh Lakish-all of whom did not exactly grow up in a FFB milieu? How would we view Parshas Masei which clearly sets forth the ups and downs of the 40 travail in the desert?

  46. In some cases, the music we listened to (for example) was good and still is. Our former lives were typically not a black nothingness. Thus, many of the details would not be problematic or embarrassing to talk about.

  47. I guess it would be pretty obvious that I would hold one should be as open as possible with one’s kids. Clearly the type of information should be age appropriate and there may be some items that would be truly private in any realm that don’t necessarily have to come out.

    I would go a little further on your last question and say that not sharing is a bad idea. Unless you managed to cover you previous life by something equivalent to a witness protection program then your kids WILL find out about your past. Kids are not stupid. And if they believe that you’re “covering up”, ie lying to them, they you may run into many other, more serious, trust issues.

  48. Ron, in the works of Hilchos Lashon Hara that I’ve read there seems to be disagreement whether revealing someone is a Baal Teshuva is considered “negative” and therefore would be Loshon Hara.

    Generally, I don’t think one should (or can) hide it, but I’m wondering whether in a situation where they probably wouldn’t find out, whether that would be the preferred course of action.

    Even in the situation that most of us find ourselves in which we can’t hide the fact that we are BTs, what should we reveal: the food we ate, the music we listened to, the places we frequented, the varied college experiences we had… It’s not a simple question.

  49. It’s easy enough to tell from family photo albums that we used to dress differently. Our kids know we’re BT’s and know about our family histories but never tried to interrogate us about the negatives of our pre-BT lives. We saw no point in volunteering info about exactly what we did wrong back then.

  50. Ooh, great question.

    Mark, what does “seen as a negative” mean?

    If I am the frum balebos my kids know and, hopefully, look up to today, is it “negative” that I formerly was not a shomer mitzvos? Or is each aveirah that I did then, as in teshuva, really a “positive” for these purposes?

    And as for what was not strictly speaking forbidden, but was still beyond the norms of their present cultural and social expectations, I think my kids benefit from knowing much (not all) about my past life. Of course, I was rather square. But I believe their appreciation of what I left to become what I am today will enhance their appreciation of how they are being raised. Based on feedback from my older boys, who are more self-aware as well as knowing more of the relatively sophisticated stuff (i.e., about life in college, etc.), I think my inclination on this has been vindicated.

    If one’s non-frum parents are still alive, there is not much in terms of the basic stuff that can be hidden without a lot of dishonesty and heightened tension, anyway.

  51. 1. Absolutely
    2. When they ask why grampa isn’t wearing a kipah (and he’s not playing sports ;)
    3.Everything is acc’d to their age, understanding, and whatever satisfies them. The younger kids get more simpler answers, obvously.
    4.Because it’s a part of you. And the longer you wait, the more likely it becomes a “rude awakening”.
    Of course, it needs to be done discreetly, so if I know one of my kids is a blabbermouth, I’ll reveal less to him so I don’t end up in the papers the next day.

  52. Without a clearly defined reason, it might be prohibited to reveal anything that would be seen as negative.

  53. Do you share your past with your children? Some of it that will only strengthen their observance and illustrate Hashem’s hashgacha

    At what age? At the point where my kids refered to those who are non-observant as “not Jewish”, then it was time to explain that some people are like Uncle X or cousin X who were not raised in family or went to a school that understands what Hashem wants in the same way that we do

    What types of information? Driving on Shabbos, not always eating kosher, making brachos (as in not realizing there were other brachos besides HaMozei and HaGefen)

    If yes, why do you think it’s a good idea?

    If no, why do you think it’s a bad idea?

    These two questions really depend on the kid and the lesson to be learned.

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