Parents have an unconditional love for their children and naturally desire to be close to them. As they grow older, kids become increasingly more aware of the world around them. Parents in return may share more with young people who are becoming more mature and aware every day.
But sometimes an adult crosses an emotional boundary and gets children too involved in the details of their life. This can be very damaging to children as they grow up and is one of the most common problems I’ve seen in my career as a psychotherapist. In an effort to prevent this from happening in your own family, I’ll share some warning signs that you’re too close to your child and may need to take a step back.
One of the first things to be wary of is confiding in your son or daughter about private manners.
It is not their role to be your secret keeper; they shouldn’t know things like the problems you’re having with your spouse or the financial difficulties you’ve run into, and they certainly shouldn’t be put into a position where they are expected to carry a secret for one parent and hide it from the other. This is a huge burden that can hurt a marriage relationship as well. It’s very, very damaging. If you have things that you need to talk over (and we all do!), find a trusted friend, speak with your wife or husband, or even seek out a professional, but don’t place your issues on the shoulders of your child.
Another parenting problem with regard to this topic is using a child as an emotional sounding board.
It’s good to share ideas and be creative together, but when it comes to problem solving, remember that you are the adult, while he/she is the child. Even just venting can be taxing; don’t complain about your troubles, your friendships, or anything that’s bugging you. Children of adults who do this are absorbing all the worry that their parents are giving out. Remember that your child is never, ever your peer. Even when a kid grows up to be an adult, there’s still an important distinction. Don’t treat your children as if they are on the same playing field (emotionally or maturity-wise) as you are.
Additionally, it’s very harmful to the well-being of a young person to be held accountable for the responsibilities of an adult. For example, children should never be a meal provider, a money provider, or a caretaker. They can help you, but the bulk of the responsibility should never be placed on them. I acknowledge that these kinds of roles are usually only placed upon children in a crisis situation or a dysfunctional family (dire poverty, addiction of the parents, etc.) Still, it’s important to not overlook the negative effects of expecting too much of a child.
Having your son or daughter as your best or only friend is a warning sign that you’re too involved.
You, as an adult, need your own support system. Relying on your child to meet all or most of your emotional and social needs is an unfair burden to place on him or her. If you find yourself being overly dependent on your children in this way, I encourage you to reach out, diversify your relationships, and create new relationships. I once worked with a mother who was overly involved with her adult daughter. When we got to the root of the problem, I challenged her to practice making new connections with others. We discovered that she’d been clinging too tightly to her daughter because she was afraid of rejection from others. It was not easy for her, but after identifying the problem, she made progress in finding new friends, which was healthier for both women.
A parent being overly attached to a child can put the child’s development on hold and can stunt emotional and psychological growth. If you find yourself acting out any of these warning signs, please consider ways that you can loosen the reins a bit, differentiate yourself from your child, find a more healthy way to meet your own emotional needs, and let your kid be a kid.