How do I talk to my kids about my past?

Written by Amy Lively
Published on October 06, 2023

The first time I ever spoke into a microphone was at a ladies tea at my church, and I felt like a contestant on American Idol. This was what I was born to do! Public speaking doesn’t make my knees knock or my palms sweat; my stomach doesn’t churn, and my throat doesn’t go dry. But put me in front of my very own child and I’m a wreck. It’s one thing to share a Bible story, but how do I share my big mistakes with this little person looking to me for wisdom, advice, and direction? My faith in Christ is rooted in his forgiveness and grace, but frankly, I’d rather be the superhero than the sinning mama. 

Sharing your story with your child might feel as nerve-racking as public speaking before a large crowd—naked. God may ask you to do that someday (with clothes on, of course), but mostly our stories are shared on park benches, around kitchen tables, or at bedtime over the umpteenth glass of water. The apostle Peter reminds us that people—even little people—are watching and waiting to hear about the cup of hope they see you sipping from:

… but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect… (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

The Greek word for defense is “apologia” (ap-ol-og-ee-ah), and it means “a reasoned statement or argument.” It’s where the term apologetics comes from, which means defending one’s faith. But our kids don’t care about an argument or debate (unless it’s about having ice cream for dinner), and they aren’t won over to Christ with cold, hard facts. They love stories told in vivid color! “First through imagination and then through faith,” Eugene Petersen says in Eat This Book. Stories are the primary way God reveals himself to us in Scripture still today.

Reminiscing over photo albums and social media memories is a wonderful way to sear stories into children’s minds. They can see the now outdated outfit and old-fashioned car you brought them home from the hospital in, but they’ll never know the backstory unless we’re brave enough to share. 

What to leave in

Emotions are the difference between a story and a lecture. It may be harder to tell a story that evokes a lot of feeling, but it’s easier for little listeners to remember. Jesus in Gethsemane was anguished and distraught to the point of sweating blood. On the cross, he cried out that he felt abandoned, rejected, and alone. Peter wept bitterly when he denied Jesus. Emotion makes the story stick. The lower we go in the middle of our stories, the higher the praise goes at the end as God becomes up-close and personal, the leading character in the narrative of our lives. Children begin to see us as individuals with our own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, challenges, and victories through storytelling. Empathy is learned in our laps. 

Leave in the embarrassing blunders and bloopers, the smack-your-head, “what was I thinking?” moments. Leave in the painful consequences of bad decisions. The ugly parts are where people make a connection, and where they identify, because we’re all just a little messed up, aren’t we? The awkward parts make our stories relatable. You cannot read an uglier book than our own Bible, which is full of murderers, liars, adulterers, and thieves—and those are the good guys! When we leave in God’s undeserved and unearned grace, his kindness that leads to repentance, and his mercy in the middle of our mess-ups, our children see the opportunity for redemption in their own lives. 

What to leave out

Children have no filter, combined with a special knack for discussing private details in public settings. It’s a safe assumption our words will find their way back to other characters in our stories, so I like to imagine them sitting in the chair beside me as I share. While personal or embarrassing details about ourselves are fair game, we can omit them about other people in our stories. 

It’s a fine line between oversharing that gives an instruction manual on how to sin, and under sharing that seems to condone it. Sometimes I’m tempted to make light of my sin, even make it funny, to minimize my grave mistakes. This only minimizes God’s grace. I’m learning to lean into the harsh reality of my sin so his redemption can have the starring role. 

The people in the Bible didn’t know they were in the Bible; they were just living their lives, doing their jobs, and raising their kids. They had no idea someone was going to write down their story so people would read about their mistakes or victories for the next few thousand years. Similar spiritual story lines are being written each day as we respond and react to situations, and our kids are watching—maybe with popcorn! As we carefully consider what to leave in and what to leave out, we can shed the shame of past mistakes and share God’s glory in our stories.

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Amy Lively

Amy Lively is a writer and speaker with a degree in Christian Ministry. Her previous work includes How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird. She has been featured on Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, and many other programs. Amy’s passion is teaching God’s Word as a “how-to” manual for loving him and loving others. She splits her time between her homes in Colorado and Florida. Visit her online at For a speaking clip, click here.

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