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Your kid is not your crutch

Children need to be given the opportunity to enjoy their childhood. /123RF
Children need to be given the opportunity to enjoy their childhood. /123RF

"Your father is such a disappointment."

"I feel like killing myself!"

"I don't even have a cent to go to work!"


A mom, who asked not to be named, regrets her son being part of her fights with her ex-boyfriend.

The 37-year-old nurse at a private hospital in Rustenburg, North West, says when her ex was avoiding paying maintenance, she would vent about it to her son, who was only nine years old at the time.

". my son was present during most of my phone arguments with my ex, who is his dad. I would tell my son what a useless excuse of a father he had and that I regretted ever meeting him, let alone having a child with him. Little did I realise. [the effect], until I was called to school after he punched another child in the face."

She realised he resented his father. "It was all my fault for vilifying his dad to him like that."

She has since taken her son for therapy and is working on a healthy co-parenting relationship.

"I would like my son to forge his own relationship with his dad and not be tainted by my negative feelings about him. . I certainly realise the error of my ways and would caution other parents to not let their bitterness impact [on] the child."

Believe it or not, there are children who are privy to such conversations in their homes.

Some parents tend to vent out the frustrations they have about their relationships, their jobs and general problems in life to their children, using them as an emotional crutch in the process.

Counsellor Shirley Masemola says that some parents tend to do this because of pure loneliness. "Some parents may use their children as crutches due to loneliness, where the child assumes a role of a friend, a shoulder to cry on and/or a confidant," says Masemola.

"Being a parent is tough and there is no manual on how to be a perfect parent. People go through challenges in their lives and relationships, which may lead to single parenthood.

"This may be as a result of death [you are a legal guardian of the child and/or parent that is still alive], break ups, addiction, divorce [sharing custody] and unforeseen circumstances. Therefore, a parent may develop a sense of loneliness and this creates a new defined role for the child."

She says examples of using your child as a crutch are: 

●Parent discussing financial
challenges with the child;
●Discussing relationship challenges (if dating again); and
●Discussing family problems.

As a result, Masemola says, the boundaries between parent and child are blurred or erased. "The uneasiness of the child then tends to be dismissed, because the parent finds the arrangement so workable they start becoming comfortable, which makes them even less aware of the damage that can follow," she says.

According to Masemola, the child initially feels needed, important, privileged and special that they are hearing all the adult conversations and that the parent is coming to them for support.

This then results in the child also feeling a sense of closeness with the parent.

This can cause the child's emotional needs to be abandoned due to the role changes; when the parent neglects the child's emotional needs due to the child now having to meet the parent's emotional needs. Masemola warns: 

●This can rob the child of their childhood;
●The child may have difficulties setting boundaries and getting their needs met as adults;
●It can create an unhealthy obligation towards the parent;
●Cause low self-esteem/confidence when not needed as an adult; and
●Relationship challenges.

So, is there ever a time when confiding in your child about problems at home is acceptable? Masemola says that it all depends on the circumstances. "There are times when a child can be informed of challenges that are faced in the family depending on age and the situation, but not on a consistent basis," she says.

Masemola says that a child needs to be afforded the opportunity to grow and enjoy childhood.

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