Question: Mother shares how distressed she is with her 10-year-old about father's loss of his job. Is this a responsible parenting strategy?
Answer: In general, it's not wise to use your kids as sounding boards. But let's face it: When a father loses the job, everyone's going to be stressed out, and kids are acutely aware of this current economic crisis. They see on the news that millions of people are losing their jobs, millions are losing their homes, and they're not isolated from this. If you look at media, if you add up the amount of time that kids are exposed to iPods, computers, television, radio, movies and print media; it takes up more activity in the day than sleeping. So there's no way to avoid this.
Furthermore, they're exquisitely sensitive to stress at home. If the mom is upset, if the dad is upset and other people are stressed out, they're going to feel it as well. So what can a parent do? First, reassure the child that things will be okay. We're all going to stick together; we may need to cut back.
Your 10-year-old may be worried: Are we gonna have Christmas? Are we gonna have birthday parties? Of course we will! We may not go out to dinner; we may not buy a cake from the bakery; we may make it ourselves. So the child needs to feel held and contained.
Now, I don't think it's a great idea to use the child as a sounding board or a confidant because the 10-year-old is going to feel burdened, is going to feel guilty about wanting a new pair of sneakers, is going to be distracted from going on with the normal developmental tasks of a 10-year-old. It's far better for mom to talk with dad, to talk with other adults, maybe even get some counseling to deal with the situation and let the child be a child.