Here’s a parenting dilemma for you: How much do your kids really need to know?
Growing up, I had no idea of the stresses and concerns my parents faced. They kept a lot of things to themselves. As a parent who now has three grown children, I often think back to how my parents kept things from us six kids. Was this healthy or harmful for me as I grew to adulthood?
My husband and I certainly were more open with our children as they grew up than my parents were with us. But we still chose not to reveal everything to our kids. If you are struggling with when to share and when to keep silent, these guidelines should help you discern.
Sharing About Your Past
No parent wants their child to repeat the mistakes that mom or dad made. However, knowing when and how much to share about your past requires wisdom and a lot of thought about how much to share and when to share. You must always keep in mind the age and maturity of your child.
Ask yourself a few key questions: Will this information help my child or am I simply getting things off my conscience? Will my child benefit from knowing this information or will it backfire and give them permission to follow in my footsteps? What is the purpose of the conversation and what do I want the result to be when we are done talking?
This is another part of parenting that must be very intentional. Just blurting out something you did in your past without forethought will probably not bring the result you wanted.
Sharing about Financial Stresses
My parents actually handled this pretty well. I grew up knowing that we couldn’t afford everything we wanted and had to make do with less, but because of the way they handled it, I rarely felt that I was lacking.
Obviously, you don’t want to burden your child with adult-size problems. However, kids are smart and will sense that something is wrong. Lying and pretending that everything is awesome when it’s not is not the answer. It’s okay to give kids just enough information so that they understand, but do not give them more information than they can handle at their age. For more guidelines, here’s a great article I found: Should You Talk to Your Kids About Money Probems?
Sharing About Family Dysfunction
There will be some family behaviors that you simply cannot hide, but when you are given a choice of what to let your kids know, age-appropriateness is key.
When my kids were little, they did NOT know that their grandfather was verbally abusive to their dad or to their uncles or to their grandmother. He was their Pop-pop and he treated them well, so we did not talk about his negative side.
We moved away from their grandparents when they were still young, so their exposure was minimal, but when we moved back closer to them, our kids were young adults in college and they became more and more aware of their grandfather’s actions. They witnessed some of it firsthand and saw how he treated their dad up close. We decided it was time to be open with them about it and talk it through with them. The realization of how their Pop-pop treated their dad and grandma helped them have a whole new understanding and respect for them both. It actually helped strengthen our immediate family bonds.
Every family situation is different, but unless the dysfunction is something that simply cannot be hidden, tread cautiously with how much you share. Because my kids did not grow up hating Pop-pop for his behavior, they were able to forgive and love him unconditionally in his old age when they were older, never letting on what they knew or thought about how he treated his wife and sons. They actually handled it better than I did!
At his funeral, they were able to be truly sad and not angry and we are so grateful for that.
Sharing About Your Own Struggles
This is one area where my parents were really close-mouthed. I never knew their worries. I’m not convinced that was a good thing because when I face some of those same fears as a parent, I was not as well-equipped as I could have been. And both my parents died when my kids were little, so it was too late to ask them point blank about things I wished I’d known.
My husband and I were more open with our children, without over-sharing. For instance, they knew when we were upset about a family member who had an affair. They were old enough to know, but did not need to know all the seedy details.
They knew when we felt fear about certain things, whether it was financial, physical or emotional. We were not stoic, refusing to show our feelings, but we also knew that they didn’t need to hear all the details. We wanted them to know we were concerned, but that we were trusting God, we had a plan and we were not going to let our concerns hold us back or darken our daily life.
Knowing how much and what to share about your own personal struggles is a fine line to walk. If you are struggling with this, I’m a parenting coach and can help. Schedule a free consultation here.
Sharing About the News
Unfortunately, it’s hard to shield your kids from all the negative news these days. The internet does a good job of blabbing everything. Do your best to limit the news input into your home. And when issues arise that cannot be ignored, take the time to talk to your kids, asking them if they have any questions about what happened.
You do not need to keep your kids up to date on every negative piece of news to scare them into wise choices. They will hear enough on their own without you adding to it. Your job is to be willing to listen and to ask questions that encourage them to process.
Yes, you want to train your kids to be street-smart, but that does not mean that they need to know about all the harmful possibilities that could happen to them. Let them grow up unburdened by adult fears. Unfortunately, they will learn how to worry on their own as they grow up.
Perhaps the biggest question to ask yourself when it comes to sharing with your children is: Does my child need to know this to be safe or to grow and develop into a positive and independent adult? Perhaps if you take the time to filter your sharing through that lens, it will help you use sharing as a guiding tool, not as a manipulation or a scaring tactic.