How much should I share about my personal problems?

Every parent has problems. There are the relatively minor ones of daily life – hectic schedules, errands, stressful commutes. There are chronic problems – job dissatisfaction, financial worries, and conflicts in the extended family. And there are crises – impending divorce, job loss, serious illness, substance abuse. A difficult issue for all parents is deciding how much to tell their children about these problems.

Many parents want to shelter their child, thinking she has enough pressures of her own from school, peers, sports, and chores. They don’t want to further burden her with parental problems she can’t solve or fully understand. Besides, parents are often embarrassed by their own problems or worried that their child will spread personal information outside the family.

However parents may remember their own early feelings about family problems and secrets. One woman recalls having little information about her parents’ arguments, but feeling worried mid responsible: “They would yell and I would hide my head under the pillow, hoping the noise would go away.” Some adults remember sneaking to overhear conversation and wishing their parents would reassure them: “I was scared when my father got so sick. I thought it was my fault.”

It’s difficult to keep serious problems from kids. When something is wrong, they sense their parents’ uneasy moods. They hear snatches of private phone calls and discussions. One ten-year-old whispered to a family friend who called, “My Mom can’t talk now. Her mother is very sick, but she doesn’t think I know.” Some kids hear angry outbursts: “I wish he’d stop drinking!” Her whole family is crazy!”

During stressful times, they also experience differences in their parents’ behavior, since a parent may be distracted or less patient about common annoyances: “Go do your homework in the other room!” “Turn your music down!” In the face of difficulties, some parents have a hard time controlling their emotions and actions. One mother, dealing with her husband’s job loss, took her frustrations out on her nine- and eleven-year-olds. She found fault with them and sometimes hit them, only to feel guilty about her lack of control: “My problems were so big, I couldn’t even handle a question like, and ‘Who’s taking me to baseball practice?’

The most common and upsetting problem children witness is marital stress. When a child overhears arguments between her parents, she feels frightened, powerless, and worried. If she’s not supposed to know about their conflict because they haven’t told her, she can’t ask questions or talk about her feelings. The problem may seem worse because she doesn’t have information. Like most kids, she may be quick to draw dreadful conclusions, blame herself, and fantasize about solutions. What she wants most is reassurance, but she can’t get it if her parents are secretive.

When deciding how much to tell your child, you have to consider many factors, including your need for privacy, your level of comfort, her emotional makeup, and her desire – or lack of desire – for information. If you’re an open person, you may not want to keep problems to yourself. If you’re private, you may be too uncomfortable to share. If your child is mature and empathetic, it may be fine to talk about some of your difficulties. A mother decided to tell her thirteen-year-old son about her nephew’s drug use. The boy was worried about his cousin but also relieved to know what had been bothering his mother.

However, if your child is not able to handle family problems, respect her wishes. One child, hearing of her parents’ conflicts with relatives, said, “Don’t tell me any more bad stories about Uncle Alex. They keep me from having fun when we go there.” She wanted to believe her family was happy and secure, and she felt overwhelmed by their conflicts.

It can take considerable energy to keep kids from knowing about your personal problems. You will have to hold on to your thoughts and hide your feelings. Yet, at times, the effort may help you put your difficulties in perspective: “I only stopped worrying about our finances when I concentrated on my son and his activities.”

Inevitably, there will be issues you want to or have to share with your child: “I may lose my job.” “I’m worried about Grandma’s health.” Tell her as much as she needs to know – not all the details, but enough to open communication and give her a chance to ask questions. If you are having marital conflicts, let her know about the general problem and make an effort to keep actual arguments private, behind closed doors.

When you tell her about your difficulties, apologize when appropriate for losing your temper or not being available. She may understand, but don’t expect her to feel as you do about your concerns or to offer solutions.

If communication is open without being overwhelming, she will feel included. Just knowing she can talk will lessen her anxiety, keep her from blaming herself for your problems, and make it easier for her to concentrate on school and her other activities. As you go through difficult times, she’ll see you handling hardships. She’ll understand that problems don’t have to be hidden and that it’s all right to ask for help. Even though there are few easy answers, you want her to learn that talking about hard times is helpful and healing. Later, when she needs your advice about her own difficulties, she won’t keep them to herself or worry that you can’t handle them emotionally. She’ll have learned from your example that problems don’t have to be secret.

Picture Credit : Google