Hello Mother, Hello Daughter

SEASON ONE, Episode 4: Family Secrets: Why we tell them and what that means.

November 05, 2022 Michelle Miller-Day and Allison Alford Season 1 Episode 4
Hello Mother, Hello Daughter
SEASON ONE, Episode 4: Family Secrets: Why we tell them and what that means.
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Podcast: Hello Mother, Hello Daughter
Hosts: Drs. Allison Alford and Michelle Miller-Day
Date: 11/06/22
Title: Family secrets: Why we tell them and what that means 

Hosts, Drs. Michelle-Miller Day and Allison Alford discuss disclosure, family secrets, and the impact on the family. Allison shares a story about a daughter dealing with the fallout of her father’s financial secret. Michelle shares a personal story about a big family secret that she discovered a few years back. First, we learn about disclosure. Self-disclosure occurs when you share something private. This could bring us closer and be beneficial or it could create disconnect.

Some things to know about secrets: 

  1. Secrets are information that eventually gets disclosed in some way. 
  2. Secrets can be perceived as necessary to protect oneself or others in the family, especially to avoid judgment.
  3. Vangelisti says “intrafamily secrets,” information disclosed to some but not all family members, are the most destructive king. 
  4. Secrets that build up and fester can become a very big problem in families. 
  5. Pennebaker says negative secrets can lead to feelings of betrayal and anxiety. 
  6. Greater levels of secrecy within a family are associated with overall increased dissatisfaction. 

Michelle and her sister Susan get very real and vulnerable by telling their personal stories of secrets within their family. We learn about Michelle’s DNA test revelations revealing a surprising paternity and how that has impacted her identity within the greater family. Susan shares about her experience with a hidden pregnancy during the 70s. Susan broke the cycle of intergenerational family secrets by raising her children to always tell the truth and talk everything out. She encourages mothers and daughters to keep the lines of communication open to avoid toxic secrets that undermine cohesion and connection within families. Remember, it’s never too late to change and start talking about secrets within your family! 

In this portion of the podcast, we hear a question from a listener and provide some tips for connection. Hello Mother, Hello Daughters! 5 things you can do if your family has secrets

  1. If you discover a family secret, let yourself feel how you feel! 
  2. Process in healthy ways. 
  3. Remember, time is a factor when thinking about family secrets. 
  4. Realize you are not defined by others’ secrets. 
  5. After learning a secret, decide where you want to go from here.

Thanks for joining us on today’s podcast. If you got something out of it, share it with a friend and leave us a review! 

Citations: 

Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Opening up: The healing power of expressing emotions: Guilford Press. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Opening-Up-Healing-Confiding-Others/dp/0688088708/ 


Vangelisti, A. (2009) Feeling hurt in close relationships.Cambridge University Press. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Feeling-Close-Relationships-Advances-Personal/dp/0521866901/ 

Credits: 

Produced by Michelle Miller-Day
Graphic Design by Malia Niell 
Question from Alexis (thanks!)
Social Media management by Ella Kodjababian
Music by Happy Summer by RomanSenykMusic

Find us on Instagram: instagram.com/hellomother_hellodaughter/
and Facebook:
facebook.com/hellomotherhellodaughter


Michelle:

Hello, mother.

Allison:

Hello, daughter.

Michelle:

Just like any relationship, the adult mother-daughter relationship takes work. I'm your host, Dr. Michelle Miller Day,

Allison:

and I'm your host, Dr. Allison. In

Michelle:

this podcast, we'll discuss the experience of mothering and daughtering In adulthood, we'll explore the topics that matter most to women using both a scientific perspective and an everyday relational

Allison:

lens. Be sure to listen to the end of the podcast to hear our pro tips for both mothers and daughters. Our goal for this podcast is to help women have better relationships and better lives.

Michelle:

And of course, don't forget to like and follow us on social media.

Allison:

Hey everybody. Welcome back to Hello Mother. Hello daughter. We've got another great episode for you today. What are we talking about,

Michelle:

Michelle? We are talking about family secrets.

Allison:

Ooh, you said that in such an A S M R way, Family secrets. Ooh,

Michelle:

I'll have them.

Allison:

Yes. And you know, these family secrets, they can be on a range of, of topics and they can be something from way in the past, generations past, or they can be really recent. Uh, I was talking to a daughter recently as part of one of my research project. And she told me a story about how her dad was taken in by a scammer and he lost tens of thousands of dollars to this scammer. But he was really far into it and he was keeping it a secret, and he was keeping it a secret from both of his daughters and his recent ex-wife. Uh, and so this, um, this participant, this daughter, as I talked to her, she told me all about how the secret came out and it really changed the way that she felt about her dad. Um, but as a result, she had to take over his finances and help him budget just so that he'll have enough to live on for the rest of his life because he was not able to. Show that he won't fall into this trap in the future. It, it's blown up the whole family because the other sibling, she won't help. And the ex-wife, she's like, No thanks. And so this daughter is really feeling alone. And it wasn't just the exposure of the secret, it's the fallout in the whole family.

Michelle:

Right, Right. Well, as long as there have been families, there have been family secret. Secrets can be perceived as as necessary to protect family members. Again, I'm not, I have no idea about this person's family, but I'm assuming that this person was trying to protect his family by not sharing that information. Yeah, and you

Allison:

know, when we share or don't share information, that's what we call in relationship research dis. And disclosure is where we decide what to reveal, but also how to reveal it. And those things have implications for trust, solidarity, relationships, and so much more.

Michelle:

Self disclosure is sharing something private about yourself, something that's not obvious, and that can bring us closer to people, right? When I share something personal with you, something that's not obvious, something you didn't know about me, it brings you closer to me and vice versa. You know, when I don't share or I share something that's surprising, sometimes it can create chaos as well. So there is a certain level of risk with what you share and how you.

Allison:

Yeah, so when we think about family secrets, we are talking about things that eventually get disclosed, right? If we dis, if we know there's a secret, then that means we know that there is either something there or we, where we learned what the secret was. Evangelistics research showcases that intra family secrets, which is information withheld from some, but not all family. That's the most destructive form of secrets. And we know that secrets can be destructive or they can be beneficial.

Michelle:

You have a sister, I have sisters. We would often say don't tell mom. Right? That was always the preface. don't but still

Allison:

say that. Um, Oh mom, if you're listening, it's only good things that we keep from.

Michelle:

And those things happen all the time and may not be as destructive. Part of what the research shows is intra family secrets. Even those small ones can build up and fester and become problematic.

Allison:

Yeah. You know, Pena Baker and others have said that some secrets that have negative emotional consequences for family members, the emotions are related to betrayal and anxiety. And you know, even though we can, we should stop and say we recognize that secrets sometimes are perceived as necessary by the person who is keeping the secret because they're trying to avoid the judgment of family members, or they're trying to avoid the judgment of people outside of the family. Greater levels of secrecy in a family are also associated with overall family dissatisfaction. What does that make you think about Michelle? Oh

Michelle:

my gosh. Um, I have lots of stories. I have one recent story that I need to share. You know, what I need to bring my sister on to share this story with you.

Allison:

All right, Let's hear from Michelle and her sister Susan.

Michelle:

We're talking about family secrets, so why not invite family to this conversation? Welcome, Susan. I'm so glad to have you.

Susan:

Thank you. I love being here. Thanks.

Michelle:

So family secrets. You know, we're, we've been talking here a little bit about how family secrets can be destructive. There's reasons for keeping family secrets. We don't want to hurt other people, or we're protecting ourselves or protecting our families, or perceiving that we're protecting people. But one thing I've learned in my life is our family growing up was really good at keeping secrets, especially a few years ago. When you had your DNA tested, you found out something about a family secret that none of us knew about. You wanna tell me that story? Well, one

Susan:

of our daughters has a physical problem, so she needed to get her DNA tested and find out some history there. So I had gotten the test and I said, I'll, I'll go ahead and take mine. So I took the 23. And when I took it, I looked at it and went, um, wait. We have the same mother, but we don't have the same father And I was like, That is weird. So I called our other sister and she told me that she had an ancestry test. And so she goes, I got that for Christmas for my kids. I'm gonna take it and see. Cause I told her, I said, I don't think Shelly has the same father as we. And so, um, she took it and it turned out the same. Then I told my brother, our brother, and he said, Oh, that's gotta be crazy. No way. That's crazy. There's no way that, that, It's wrong. It's totally wrong. I don't care what the tests say. I'm gonna prove it to you guys. I'm gonna take it. He took it. Yep. Found out that you have a different father, which makes no difference to us. It doesn't even matter at. But it opened up for me a can of worms. I

Michelle:

remember when you called me, you're like, Sit down. I'm like, Why? Just sit down, turn on the computer. I'm like, Okay, open up your 23andme. Like I had taken it years ago for Christmas. I had gotten it for my kids. We had done the 23 in me. Well, you said turn it on. Look here now. All my siblings of course, saying that we are half siblings and. What I'm, you know, in my sixties and I knew nothing about this, so my mom has passed away. My dad has passed away. We can't ask anybody about this, but you were with mom near the end of her life and there was some behavior that she did near the end of her life that made us a little suspicious. Um,

Susan:

we had mom move in with us and we took care of her until, until she passed and she kept struggling with forgiveness and, um, she was always calling, having us call the priest and say, I need to confess to the priest. So this happened like 3, 4, 5 times, and the priest kept reassuring her, It's like, You're forgiven, you're forgiven, you're forgiven. But we never really knew what the problem was. Mm-hmm. what she needed forgiveness for. We were trying to speculate, you know, of course we weren't sitting on, in on her confessions, you know? But never ever set a word about you not having the same dad as we did. Never. And I think for me, the fact that my mom always said to us, There's one thing I hate more than anything in this world, and it's a liar. Mm-hmm. that like blew up in my face and go, What? What do you mean? And so it's like some of the stuff that happened to me then in my childhood then came to the surface. In fact, you even said to me one. I think you're having a harder time with this than I am. Susan Yeah. Yeah, because I was just, it just, it just rocked my world because of my past. And it's like when you share things with me, all of us, and I'm, I mean, I'm the family historian, as you've always said. Mm-hmm. I remember everything You do. And so you went into some research and found out who your birth father was. And then I had the recollection of the fact that I went to school across the street from their home and mom was pregnant with you, and I always had to go over to their house. And then we found out that that was your birth

Michelle:

father, the place where you were staying. The, the place where I was staying. Yeah. And you know, just, you know, for, for listeners here trying to find my birth father was during the covid lockdown time, so that I had a mystery to. That priest? Yes. I'm not ashamed to say I called him and I'm like, Okay, this is the situation. We found this out. I know you can't tell me. You know what she said in her confession, but am I warm? And he's like, You're hot. I'm like, Oh, okay. And I'm like, I'm trying to find this person. And, and then he went out to his story of he, he was adopted and trying to find his birth parents. Yeah. But I did identify who my birth father was and he had passed. And it turns out that I do have half siblings who I have chosen not to reach out. But the, you know, in terms of that as a family secret, I think Susan and I, You both agree, it made us think of my mom. Yes. Her mom very differently. I mean, you know, some of us speculate. Did she even know, Right? Yeah. Did she even know? I think I, in my heart of hearts, I think she did. I mean, if indeed the priest, and I don't know why he would say I was hot, you know? Mm-hmm. I, I was close to the truth. Yeah. Um, if that's what she was confessing, that I think she did know, and this was a secret that she, she shared with God and with no one else. This was an individual secret. Was it an intra family secret? Right. Had she ever shared it with my dad? I really don't believe my dad.

Susan:

Oh, I don't think he knew. He, he adored you. He, I, I mean, you were kind of like this little doll that we all shared in the family. we all loved you so much. We played with you were like our little doll. We dressed you up. We played with you and Dad just thought you were the best thing ever. So I, I don't think he knew. I

Michelle:

don't think, Well, dad was the kind of guy that even if he knew he wasn't my father, he would be my father. He would be my. It made us think about mom in a different way. And, and it didn't make me think about Dad any differently, but it made me think about my mom. Mm-hmm. and her, her proclivity to keep secrets, right? Mm-hmm. she was very big into keeping secrets. Yeah. So she's really good at secret keeping and luckily we are not. Right? Yeah. Because we learned our lesson. What are some other ways that keeping secrets in our family has been destructive? Yeah.

Susan:

Yes. Um, well, in high. I ended up getting pregnant and I was actually It was actually on my way to become a summer replacement Rockette. And um, mom was taking a picture of me and that she had to send off to New York, and she looked at me and because she was an OB nurse, she noticed there was a thickening of my waist in different things. Asked me if I was pregnant. I said, I didn't know. And so when she found. She took me to, and it started right then, like it was gonna be a big secret. I had to go see a doctor on a Sunday afternoon and brought in to the clinic in a side door that only the doctors go through so nobody could see me. Found out I was pregnant and right away they were going to send me away because as we've talked about, the identity of our family was, we were. Somebody in our hometown. Mm-hmm. our hope, like our grandparents, our parents, you know, And I was going to bring great shame upon the family if I had this child and wanted to keep it. I never wanted to have an abortion. Never, because I believe in life and life at conception. So they looked for a home to send me to. They found a home in Akron.

Michelle:

Florence and this when the, This was in the 1970s?

Susan:

Yes. Okay. Mm-hmm. And so they sent me to the Florence Criton home for unwed mothers, which is what it was called. Now the rules was that I was going to, they were going to tell the people in our hometown that I had gone away to dancing school over the summer. So because of that, uh, we knew someone in New York, Poughkeepsie new. That was in dancing school. So mom would tell everybody that I was at this dancing school and if they wanted to write to me they could. But mom gave the address of this person in Pikes in New York that there was, send the letters to, the letters would go to her. Then she would send them to me in Akron. Then I would write back, have to send the letters back to her in Poughkeepsie. So they would have a postmark of PKIs New York that were sent back to the people that I, you know, that wrote. You never knew about it cuz you were so young. And what happened was they were afraid that somebody might say something to you in school and say, Your sister's not at dancing school, she's having a baby. And so they finally decided that I was gonna, now this'll make me cry, Cause I was getting to see you. Mm-hmm. Cause it had been months and you. You were just the best baby in the world, the best child, you know. So they brought me home, but I had to, There I am eight months pregnant and maybe nine, I can't remember. And so I had to lay down on the floor of the car when I came into the city limits of our town, and I had to lay down there in the back on the floor until we got into the garage and they could put the garage door down and then I could. And I don't know if you remember, I can remember coming upstairs and you seeing me and um, I don't know if they prepared you for it or what, but we just hugged

Michelle:

each other and I 100% remember. I remember being amazed by the whole ruse once I found out. Right? Yeah. Because I did think that you were at dancing school. Mm. I wanted to see you really badly. I know you wanted to come home really badly. Yes. When I found out that they made you hide on the bottom of the car floor and put coats on top of, was it coats or pillows? Something on top of you? A blanket. A blanket, and then you had to. Wait till the, you got in the garage before you could come out. My heart broke for you. I re and I was, was I 10 at the time? And I, I really, truly, at that time did not understand what all the secrecy was about. Yeah.

Susan:

Yep. And it was, it was to keep the family's name, it was to keep it, nothing about me. And, um, you know, and so I, I placed my daughter for adoption. And then I had to come home after that. I had, oh, there's a lot of things that happened after that. But you know, I had infections and all kinds of stuff, and I couldn't even go back to school until December after Christmas, even though she was born in November. No counseling, nothing. Just go back to school and act like nothing happened. And we've talked about it. It's like great shame was put upon me. What a horrible, shameful person. Not yet. And then even after that, mom treated me horribly. Called me horrible names. I mean, nobody knows mom, right? So I can say what she called me. Sure. She called me a gutter rat. I'm so

Michelle:

sorry. It's okay. No, it's not okay. Shame. That's,

Susan:

that's why when I heard about you, I'm like, Are you kidding me? Yeah.

Michelle:

Mom, Are you kidding me? It comes full circle.

Susan:

Yeah. So anyways, that's why it was so, so hard for me. And you know, I, um, like you learn from your family's mistakes mm-hmm. and so, Like one of the things that I determined is there were certain things that in our family wasn't going to happen. And I have four daughters. We have four daughters. That wasn't gonna happen and that was, we weren't gonna keep secrets. Mm-hmm. you know, no matter what it was, we're gonna talk about it, we're gonna work it out and you're still gonna be loved.

Michelle:

Absolutely. Same in mine, Doesn't matter what

Susan:

it is. I mean, yeah, they're your kids, but mm-hmm. in, in our family, it was always more about the parents and the grandparents, you know? Mm-hmm. because of their stand in the community. Right. And that's just so wrong.

Michelle:

The secret keeping was a family practice. It really was. Yeah. It was this intergenerational secret keeping right, That there was this shame and silence that was associated with certain. Secrets and to be a member of this family, an accepted member of this family, and love was conditional on this. You had to maintain these secrets. Yes,

Susan:

absolutely. Absolutely. I was never allowed to talk about it.

Michelle:

Yeah. You know? And so, right now with you and your children, how has that worked out? I mean, in terms of secrets and not keeping secrets? Has that, have you been able to maintain that? Have you fought against Just the natural inclination that we learned to keep secrets to, to protect.

Susan:

Mm-hmm. Well, I mean, I will have to say, when it comes to big things like the things that we're talking about today, we've always talked about them in that. Now, I will have to admit that as the girls have gotten older and as I'm older, they have told me about things I never knew about Okay.

Michelle:

I hate that's the case in all families, but yes,

Susan:

it's like, Well, Mom, we did sneak out one time and I was just, What, but we laugh about it now, you know? I mean, it was just the usual kid stuff, you know? Right. High school, junior high, whatever, you know? Right, right. Kinda things. But it, it, you know, it didn't change anything. I mean, I, I know my imperfections and I know I didn't do everything right and they make fun of me about it, and, and that's ok. It doesn't bother me. It doesn't bother me that I'm not perfect. And that's what, what our family needed to be was perfect.

Michelle:

Right. Oh, well thank you Susan, for being so honest and authentic and sharing and talking about it, because I really do think that families, we just need to be forthright about this and talk about how toxic secrets can be in families and how secrets can undermine the cohesiveness and connection in families, especially in mother-daughter relationships. Yeah. Um, so thank you so much for joining us today. Any, any advice or tips for mothers and daughter. Please

Susan:

keep the communications open and, and, and not judging. I still deal with shame at times. Mm-hmm. it affected me my entire life and still it still is affecting me. Never do that. You will harm them. And

Michelle:

we see ourselves in our daughters, um, and they, we see them as reflections of ourselves. So sometimes it's really. To do that. But what I hear from you is, you know, we have to harness that instinct because they are who they are. Yes. And even if you don't like the direction that they're going, you have to sit back and with, with joy, watch their journey. Mm-hmm. as opposed to always directing that journey.

Susan:

You know, I mom always tried to live her life through. Um, she felt I could accomplish what she never accomplished in her life. Yes. And I have a set of twins and they are so alike, but so different. Mm-hmm. and pass. And you would think after raising four daughters all together that you would think that they would have, you know, go one, go go the same way in some ways, but they're all different. Yeah. And it's so, Okay. It's so.

Michelle:

It's amazing to me, well, as an aunt, to watch these young women, just the directions in their lives that they've taken and what just incredible women they, they've become. Right. Oh. And incredible mothers in their own rights. Yes. And I think this intergenerational tradition, if you will, of secret keeping has been broken at least. Mm-hmm. I think in your family. Hopefully. In mine. I think so. And, and I take joy in that and I take comfort in that personally. You know, I guess

Susan:

the last thing I would say is if you are keeping family secrets, change it now. Mm-hmm. never too late to change. Change

Michelle:

it now. Really good point. Very good point. Well, thank you, Susan for joining us. I love you.

Susan:

I love you too, and I loved being with you, You can see I still love her to death.

Allison:

Thank you, Michelle. Thank you Susan for sharing your stories that is very brave of you and generous to share those with the world. So now we're going to go to the last portion of our show, and that's our tips. If you have family secrets in your life and you're thinking, What the heck do I do now? So, hello mother. Hello daughter. It's time for some tips. We're gonna talk about five things that you might do if family secrets are an issue in your family, uh, so that we can guide you where to go from. So the first tip that we have for you is if you discover a family secret, let yourself feel whatever the heck you feel when that secret comes up. You don't have to feel what anybody else is feeling, the person who disclosed the secret or the people involved. If you found out the secret, you deserve to let yourself feel whatever comes to you. The second tip is

Michelle:

process these feelings in emotionally healthy ways. I cannot stress enough that sometimes it's just important to get a neutral third party, whether it's a counselor, whether it's a best friend, whether it's a pastor, whether it's your dog, Somebody to help process some of these feelings in an emotionally healthy way. I know it was my story and some of my experiences, I processed it in ways that were different than my sister. People process things in very different ways. Find out the way that you can process things, but making sure that it's in ways that are healthy for you. And

Allison:

that can include talking to a trusted individual or a mental health provider, uh, which we always are, find to be a positive experience around here. Let's move on to tip number three. Tip number three is to recognize that time is a factor in dealing with family secret. Family secrets may have been held for decades or generations of individuals in your family, and that means that it may, they may not be resolved very quickly. And so recognize that giving yourself time, whether that's weeks, months, years, or decades to process, is really reasonable and you can allow yourself that time. The next

Michelle:

tip is realize that you are not defined by other people's secrets. That doesn't need a whole lot of discussion, but just be aware of that you are not defined by other people's secrets. Our

Allison:

last tip for you today, listener. When you have a family secret that comes out when you learn a family, uh, secret that impacts you is decide where you want to go from here. You are in charge of your life course and you can make a goal or a plan for where to go next. And instead of riding the wave of the secret and where it might take you, you can set a course ahead that feels right for you. Thank you so much everyone for listening today to this episode about family secrets. We're grateful you're here. Please be sure to like and subscribe to this podcast. Share it with others on social media. Uh, talk about it and go talk to your people. We hope you'll come back next time. See you

Michelle:

soon. Improving mother daughter communication by starting with you.

Introduction
Some Research on Family Secrets
Susan and Michelle's Family Secrets
Tips
Outro