When you encourage your children to share everything with you, fling the door open to unabashed honesty and heart, you might take a risk of going too far.
Parenting today is harder than ever. More distractions and life moving at a dizzying pace means it’s quite the chore finding time to escape. As adults we are savvy and most of us can recognize when we need to set a boundary with a person who makes us feel uncomfortable, with a random guy or gal who asks for inappropriate favors. We can pull the plug and walk away without feeling too many ripples in our stomach, or much regret. Kids, we have to remember, are different, miniature beings. Even our older children who look mature, are not as schooled in the ways of life.
We help our kids to recognize threats, people who make the hair stand up on our necks. We steer them away from potentially harmful influences. I’ve departed an elevator after a suspicious man boarded, pretended I’d forgotten something, anything back in a classroom. I never cared I might have offended him, just tuned in to the vibe this dude is off.
Our kids turn to us as we ask them to do (if we are lucky), and keep on doing it (if we are luckier). We feel successful and good, reassured they can recognize danger and are strong enough to resist the lure of a stranger’s bait. Then the issues get sticky and uncomfortable for both parties: the kids who weather today’s concerns while physically shaking and wondering if they are doing the right thing, the parents who have no clue what fears their kids harbor. The kid, who in a burst of bravery confides they accidentally made out with a friend after school, or that they were trolling teen Internet dating sites because they were lonely.
On the night the latter happened, I was in the grips of physical frailty and after I learned about the texting fiasco what I remember most is immediate and utter panic overtaking me. I had been rendered helpless in a nanosecond.
That’s when I started thinking about boundaries and what I had put my poor mother through, telling her how many sexual partners I’d had one night while obviously out of my mind. Boundaries are a good thing. Helping my children is a good thing. How do I best support my children, I asked myself, without learning things about them, that as a parent, would be deeply and irrevocably upsetting?
I’m here to advise you. I’ve repeated this numerous times to the kids. I’m here to love and root for you, but I am not your therapist when you come of consenting age. I’m not saying you shouldn’t hear difficult things as a parent, but I don’t need the play-by-play. Yes, I’m thrilled you have a new boyfriend! Please refrain from describing your first kiss.
The kiddos and I have agreed this works for us, and thankfully it also works for my poor mother. As a parent, it makes me want to run in the other direction when my kids over-divulge. An example: I have a close contact who suffered an injury shortly after sex. I felt fine being there for this person, but for the love of everything we hold precious, please keep the nitty gritty to yourself! It’s humorous, but any more detail and I will pour this bleach into my ears! Don’t let your bad decisions turn into my experience, please!
Parenting is a work in process, what we think we’ll implement and observe in the advent days when our littles stay snug as burritos changes as they develop and mature into thinking, expressing beings. It is a double-edged sword, when you will question how in the hell you can best support your child when they rush at you with some of the strangest crap you’ve never imagined.
How you manage your relationship with boundaries and your child’s life will vary from parent to parent and family to family. You will likely need to change the rules concerning your boundaries to accommodate different situations, challenges and circumstances. Your teen will appreciate the time you spend as you define what works for both of you. It’s very likely they are feeling uncomfortable with revealing too much as well, but might not have a clue how to say no to sharing intimacies. They see you as a person who must be answered, so it can feel odd when they realize they can begin the process of defining their relationship with you.
Let me stress, this is just my experience. I am not a doctor or a therapist, but I have been in the parenting trenches a long time and have worked to frame the boundaries needed in my own life. I’ve traversed the road from revealing and relying too much on my parent, to adjusting those limits with my own children to ensure the healthiest relationships possible. I wish the same for you.
Photo: Hilary Lauren