Question:

I'm 16 and a member of a nuclear family with several siblings. Trust has always been stressed as very important: My parents have drilled it into our brains that once trust is lost, it is hard to gain back.

This weekend I was looking through the filing cabinet for my birth certificate (which I needed for school) when I came across my father's divorce decree. It seems he was married before, a fact that he and my mother have concealed.

I feel hurt and angry that they did not tell us such an important part of my father's life. It's not as if the subject has never come up; I have asked my father about previous sweethearts. My trust is also shaken: How do I know they haven't concealed other things from me?

I haven't brought it up with him as it was obviously his wish that I not know.

Answer: I'm not sure that's so obvious. They may have intended all along for you to know at some point, and that "point" just never seemed to arrive.

Maybe, too, they started to tell you a hundred different times, and tripped over silly logistical questions: Do we hold a family meeting? Tell each kid separately? What if the one we tell first gets to the others before we do?

You have a real and legitimate complaint here, and I am not making excuses for your parents. A truth like this is strange, because it is at the same time significant (to a person's history) and inconsequential (to the day-to-day business of your family).

Even if you're not convinced there's any valid reason for their withholding this information, please tell your parents of your discovery, and hear them out anyway. Trust is indeed hard to gain back once it's lost - however, it can be rebuilt.

And the first step in that rebuilding is for each party to lay out its facts, motives, and feelings to allow the other to draw its conclusions. It's a profound act of trust and good faith for each of you to take down your walls.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.