I dug out my childhood journal this week to read for research. I showed my 10yo and 7yo entries from when I was their age. And then I left it out while I went to put my younger kids to bed.
When I came back, my older kids had read on and found a post from when I was 14, depressed, and talking about killing myself. My initial reaction was shame and regret. I didn't want my kids to see in me that weakness. I was afraid of the mere topic of suicide. But I took a breath and said a prayer and we sat down to talk.
It turned out to be an amazing conversation. They wanted to know why I'd felt that way. THey were concerned about me. My first job was to assure them I was fine. We talked about my younger years, why I felt that way, and why sometimes there's no reason other than just plain sadness. We talked about how at the time for various reasons I didn't feel like I had anyone to talk to about it, and how my job as their mom was to always be someone they could talk to. And about suicide in general--what it is, and how if anyone ever tells them they want to hurt or kill themselves, they should tell me. That is a secret we never keep.
I think sometimes our instinct as parents is to hide our vulnerabilities. But it can be powerful for kids to understand that we went through hard stuff and came out okay. That can be a sturdy hope to cling to when they go through their own stuff. If we try to put up a veneer of perfection out of a misguided attempt to seem trustworthy and stable, we miss the opportunity to show empathy. My kids maybe now are more likely to admit to me their own worries and weaknesses because they know I'll understand.