Secret versus Private

Travel and tell no one, live a true love story and tell no one, live happily and tell no one, people ruin beautiful things.” – Kahlil Gibran

My daughter’s elementary school just had their annual book fair. One of the things Miss O selected was a fuzzy journal with a lock. She took it directly to my mom and had her sew the keys on to the journal so she wouldn’t lose them.

Miss O and I have been talking about secrets lately. Her second grade class is doing a section on identity and she’s learning the distinction between what is secret and what is private. One of the large parts of Miss O’s identity is that she doesn’t have a dad. Is that secret or is that private?

When she first asked me if she had a dad, she was three-years-old. It went like this: “Did I have a dad when I was born?” I answered “no” and waited for the follow-on question. And then she asked, “Did I have a dog when I was born?” I said “yes” and then she moved on to, “Did I have a cat?”

Following her cues, I’ve told her more and more as she’s asked. Mostly that I wanted kids so much that I went to a doctor to help me have them. It’s not a secret in any way and I want them to feel complete openness from me about how we came to be a family, even if they choose to keep it private.

The other day, Mr. D asked for the first time if we had a dad and when I said “no,” Miss O jumped in to say, “We’re special because Mama had us without one.” Okay, so I have to work on the messaging but not having a dad definitely isn’t a secret.

I suppose we all go through the figuring out the difference between what is secret and what is private. For me, what is private doesn’t take any energy to keep boxed up. It’s like inviting people over to my home. I don’t invite everyone I know into my house. And, for those that do come over, most people just visit in the kitchen. There aren’t many people that I invite up to the tiny space on the third floor. It’s messy up there but I don’t keep it locked.

When we were talking about secrets, Miss O wanted an example. I dug deep into my memory from high school to find an appropriate scenario understandable by a seven-year-old. I came up with the story about my best friend who was dating a boy named Craig. A new girl had recently been hanging out with my best friend and me, and one day when my best friend wasn’t present, the new girl told me she’d been making out with Craig behind my best friend’s back. But of course, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, especially my best friend. Ugh, I can still feel the weight of that secret.

I landed on the distinction that secrets are something you’d be ashamed if anyone found out. Things that are private aren’t anyone else’s business.

Maybe the keys sewed to the journal are a great metaphor. The lock reminds others to stay out but the barrier isn’t so high that you have to hide the keys away.

I wrote a related post about my learning not to keep secrets on the Wise & Shine blog: Can I Tell You a Secret?

65 thoughts on “Secret versus Private

  1. Your definitions of ‘secret’ and ‘private’ are perfect. I am laughing here at the questions posed by the young ones, and your answers. I have to work on the messaging but not having a dad definitely isn’t a secret. Oh I love that line.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. The job of a parent in such situations is like trying to do a pirouette followed by a somersault on a tightrope. Did we need gymnastics training for this? More than that, plus some good luck! And we are performing without a net.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks Wynne. So often children have greater wisdom and make more sense than adults… I think with lessons about secrets – for children and adults – come lessons about trust… who you can trust with your ‘secrets’… My experience is that when problems come it’s not through the secret itself but trust that’s been betrayed.

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  4. Great distinction. A few years ago I chose to out a dark family secret I’d been keeping (part of healing). But that doesn’t mean I don’t still keep things private and share with discretion. I love how you handled your kids’ questions!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, those dark family secrets are so hard though – it makes so much sense that you’d need to air that out in order to heal. And I love you overall point – that doesn’t impact your overall discernment about sharing. Thanks for the great comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. “Did I have a dad when I was born?”… “Did I have a dog when I was born?” Oh my goodness, how precious! Little minds are just fascinating, aren’t they?

    The distinction being secret and private are great, and something I hadn’t really considered, but that feels right. Secrets carry shame, whereas privacy is a choice.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I applaud you on keeping the communication open and honest, as needed for their ages, about the origin of your family. I think it’s important to know the truth and not live under a false premise. I have a cousin that was kept in the dark about her birth but the rest of the family knew and it was hell as a child to understand why we had secrets. I love their questions about dad, dogs, and cats. Precious. You rock Wynne! Much love and hugs, C

    Liked by 3 people

    1. What a great example of things that are so hard on kids! Some of the ideas are complicated but through a hundred little conversations maybe we get clarity? Thank you for your beautiful love and encouragement! XOXO!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Your answers to your children are so perfect. You answer honestly, but don’t give them more information than they are ready for. They’ll continue to ask questions, believe me I know! When my son asked about how babies are made, he was filled with questions that I struggled to answer, but I tried to keep it simple and at his level of understanding.

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  8. I love, love, love how you receive the questions from Miss O…and Mr. D….and your honesty. For what it’s worth, I think you’re navigating beautifully and the metaphor with the sweet journal…keys right there…so perfect. xo! 🥰

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I love your diplomacy, Wynne, though at some point your kids may want to know more about that helpful doctor! I applaud your answers. As far as the distinction, I’m thinking about that one. I have secrets that I wouldn’t be ashamed to share with the right person. So, maybe then it’s just private…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Evelyn. What a lovely comment. You make a good point – would we be ashamed to share our secrets with our must trusted people? I think of the time I’ve kept secrets and I think I would. But I think it’s definitely a personal call for everyone. Thank you so much for reading and commenting – so good to see you again!


  10. Nice post, Wynne. Secrets and privacy are tricky concepts to put definitions to and boundaries around for any age, once you start thinking about it, aren’t they?! Yet another of those things we grabble with that don’t have clear cut answers.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Now there’s an amazing example of parenting- answering a question honestly but only the questions asked rather than embellishing the answer. Plus allowing the child to continue until they are done. I know I struggled with that objective for years, which now is why I so enjoy the grands because I’ve finally learned that you answer…and then you stop! They will pursue if they want 🙂

    I think your way of looking at secret vs. private is an apt way to approach the two concepts Wynne. I don’t know that there is always shame involved with secrets but I do know they can be worrisome things, uncomfortable things, unsure things… Private is min and mine alone to share or not so I think private also applies more to the individual holding it themselves, rather than a secret that might involve another person as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the parenting compliment. It’s one of those things that I benefitted from having my friends and family already have gone through parenting because my brother told me that.

      I like what you say about secrets coming with worry and discomfort. Yes! They have their own energy and life. Maybe private has more to do with trust?


    1. Thank you, Michelle! You have such a delightful point about Miss O’s explanation – since she’s the one Mr. D looks up to, it’s good that she has some good explanations. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Aren’t kids so wonderful to help us think about things? 🙂 And you got two of them pawing at you. Haha

    I do love your definition of secret and private. I think it’s a good distinction and it’s wonderful that as we get older, we are less caring about setting boundaries and telling people it’s none of your business.

    Like you, I also eat cookies for breakfast sometimes and I can imagine how painful it is to think about the times you drank boxed wine and tried to keep it secret.

    It’ll be curious to see how Miss O navigates this in the upcoming years. Having a journal certainly is a rite of passage and it’ll be curious to see the secrets she whispers onto those pages!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you sometimes eat cookies for breakfast too, Ab. So far she just carries around the journal but you’re right – it’ll be interesting. I guess that’s something to say about parenting – it’s never boring, right? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I think, for me, privacy is about choice and what you’d like to divulge (or not!), while secrets have that heavier feeling of not necessarily having a choice in the matter because of potential repercussions..a lot of drama attached to the latter 🙂..such an interesting topic, Wynne, thank you for the food for thought..

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What an interesting question of distinguishing between “secret” and “private.” I think most adults haven’t figured this out yet and might benefit from auditing Miss O’s second-grade class. Love the diary-key metaphor. Perfect 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “Secrets are something you’d be ashamed if anyone found out. Things that are private aren’t anyone else’s business.” A perfect delineation between the two. It’s all I can do to NOT pass this along to the condo gossip.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Here’s one that I’m actually contemplating putting in. “Live in such a way that you would not hesitate to tell your worst secret to the town gossip.” What do you think? Dare I?!

        Liked by 2 people

  16. Interesting topic. I have secret journals, and I have private journals. The secret ones are where I really hash out my unfiltered thoughts. Ones that’ll have my loved ones thinking ‘wtf’ if they ever find them, lol.

    But I also love this quote: Live life honestly enough so that you can tell your biggest enemy the same things you tell your best friend.

    I’m butchering it but you get the point.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. You have me pondering Wynne. I’m not sure, but I wonder if something private is something you don’t share/keep to yourself but it becomes a secret when you share it?

    Liked by 1 person

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