As the daughter of a narcissistic mother, I agree with this statement. When I was growing up, my mother was basically friendless. I don’t ever remember her going out with the girls. At one point, she joined a non-denominational Bible study group with neighbor women, but aside from that, I don’t remember her having friends. As I became a teen, my mother eventually became closer to her youngest sister who was 11 years her junior and in a dysfunctional marriage just as my mother was. However, having that one sister to bond with didn’t really fill the needs my mother had for attention from friends. Instead, she used me as her emotional outlet. When she felt the need to talk to someone, occasionally about topics that really belonged in a therapy session with a professional, she instead made me the one who had to listen to her issues.
Sebastian is correct in saying that we want our parents to be parents, not people. We want our parents to take care of us when we are young. We don’t want to have to take care of them, especially as young children or teens. That includes not wanting to be our parents’ confidantes. It’s just not appropriate or healthy for parents to use their young children as friends or therapists. Our children need to be children, not our support systems.
So does that mean we should not let our children know how we are feeling? Absolutely not. Children do need to know that their parents have emotions and feelings. Parents are not stoic statues who can handle anything without it affecting them. Children need to know that all people, including parents, have feelings, and that it is ok to experience emotion. The fine line that parents need to be careful not to cross is making sure that they don’t share inappropriate information. It’s ok for children to know parents are upset about a break up; children don’t need to know the explicit details of the sexual affair that led to the end of the relationship. This is especially true in cases of divorce. It is very difficult and damaging for children to hear their parents speak negatively of their other parents, no matter how true the statements are.
The opposite extreme of this narcissistic point of view where a parent tells a child too much is in the parent who tells a child nothing. This is almost if not equally as dysfunctional. Children are people, albeit less mature ones. They are able to sense when something is amiss in their home. They can tell when parents are upset or happy or under stress. Many children, not understanding the reasons for their parents’ emotional states, will blame themselves for the negative vibes they pick up. This is easily prevented by simply telling children the simple truth such as “I had a bad day at work.” The children don’t need all of the gory details of the parent’s day, but they do deserve a basic understanding of why their parents are acting and feeling as they do.
The fine line for parents between telling their kids too much or too little is a difficult one to navigate. Despite children possibly wanting them to be “parents, not people,” parents are people, too. Parents experience emotions and stress. However, children are not therapists, and parents need to remember to maintain appropriate boundaries when talking with their children.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC