There was an article in the Globe and Mail today that made me think that Anthony E. Wolf is bugging my house. A parenting advice columnist and author and psychologist, Wolf wrote this week about where to draw the line when it comes to unloading your stresses onto your children.
“To what extent is it okay– either when you are mad at them or, as often happens especially with single parents or if there is marital discord – to use them as a sounding board for your adult concerns?
I believe there should be a line between the real world of adult concerns and the cleaned-up, for-child-consumption version. Children have a right to have parents who will protect them from the full force of adult suffering. Too much simply overwhelms them. It can make them anxious, stressed or depressed. And it serves no useful purpose.”
At the end of last summer, my friends and I stepped out of our childhood homes to try wandering free for a little while. As is often immortalized in pop culture, the first year away from home was a fun, exciting, mostly carefree period of new experiences and self-discovery (here’s the thing with clichés like the ones I enumerated: they’re clichés for a reason). It was also a tiring period; with all the papers and reading, we were mostly ready for a break by the time summer break rolled around. We decided the further clichés of Euro trips and tree-planting could wait another year while we returned to the cozy homes we’d left behind.
Unfortunately, things had changed. When we grew up and asked to be treated like grown-ups, our parents *gasp* acquiesced to our request. But does this mean that along with financial contributions to our tuition via a summer job, we are expected to be Grown-Ups in the family? Do we need to take on the burden of the contents of Grown-Up Discussions? From family grievances to financial woes, is it time for us to shoulder part of that burden?
This summer I have heard friends groan about their parents’ financial comments or relationship problems. It strikes me as a little too much too soon. Hearing about regretted mistakes can scare more than teach. Especially crucial during the transitory years between child and self-supporting adult is a solid foundation, so that we can go out and try things, learn and experience and grow, always knowing we have a sturdy support to lean on. The last thing we want to see is cracks, now, when we’re just starting to Make Big Choices for ourselves. Think of this period as a Co-op placement: we’re giving Life a try, but we still need the occasional lesson.
I have happily enjoyed a most functional Gilmore Girls-esque mother-daughter relationship. I confide in my mother (to an extent) and she confides in me (to an extent). When I call home, we talk about my life, we talk about home life. Over the years I’ve felt our relationship shift and now I’ve stepped into my new, more mature role. But my mother (thank you, mom) does not unload on me. She never has. We discuss my problems, and lord knows, I unload onto her enough. When we talk about money, it’s to celebrate the gains we are making together toward zero on my student line of credit.
Is this unfair? Yes. But lots of things are unfair about the parent-child relationship. Before even thinking about thinking about kids, parents should forget about being best friends with their children. Friendship needs to come from peers, where there is an equal share of power. Parents, you can only hope that we pay it forward someday by giving as selflessly to your grandchildren as you did to us. Relax; concentrate on being a good parent for now. The friends part might come later, when (try not to think about it) your children don’t rely on you as a parent. In time. For now, we still need your shelter until we can build our own.