I am a single mom and, gradually, my 14-year- old daughter has become one of my best friends. I can confide all my joys and hopes and fears to her now, give her some perspective on my past, etc. However, my friends suggest I curb this habit because they believe it is not healthy for her. I don’t think I cross the line but, perhaps, I do need to sift and filter out some stuff—though I am not sure what. I feel she is at the right age to know a few truths about life.
As children grow and understand the more complex emotional and social issues of family life, it becomes easier for parents and children to become “friends”. Children can be consulted on many family decisions, minor as well as major. It is indeed wonderful when your young child brings his new, fresh perspective to a discussion—be it about where to vacation, what colour to paint the home, what charity to get involved with, or how to sort out an awkward family situation. However, a word of caution: Do not turn your children into your confidants and problem-solvers. Beyond a point, it strains their young minds and lives.
Family issues/problems usually revolve around relationships, money, illness and the like. While your adolescent or teenaged children should have a realistic picture of life and do deserve sensible discussions on their parents’ financial situation, they do not need to know every detail on relationships, health and such matters. This is because they are not adults and cannot fully handle them on an adult level. And when they are called to do so, it requires them to draw too heavily on their mental and emotional resources, for which they are not yet equipped.
Drawing children into the intimate personal problems and conflicts between parents, or between parents and other adults in the family, should be avoided. Constant references to loans, financial burdens, expenses, inflation, your savings/retirement plans and the like only serve to create anxiety in children. While you can expect your children to know and understand the broader issues, do not burden them with excessive detail.
When it comes to interpersonal issues, you may keep your child informed about important decisions, or points of disagreements in the family on a certain matter. But never ask him to arbitrate or intervene between you and your spouse, or you and your in-laws, etc. This puts a grossly unfair burden on the child, forcing him into the lanes and byways of the adult world. Having to deal with issues at this level only causes confusion, anxiety, and even depression, in children.
Whether you are a single parent or a two-parent family or a joint family, you need other adults to talk to and seek advice from when it comes to your own anxieties or dilemmas, or talking about and figuring out your past. Your children can be taught to be understanding, empathetic and responsible but, for this, they do not need to shoulder the burdens of the adult world.
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