Parents and Adult Children

I’m looking for some insight on a situation.

Do you think it’s generally a good or a bad idea for a parent to turn to an adult child (as opposed to a friend) for help, when they are having marital problems? What if the problems are something other than marital?

And specifically, is it a good or a bad idea in your family? Why? (if you don’t mind sharing).

Thanks :slight_smile:

I would say it’s a bad idea for a parent to turn to an adult child for help with a marital problem. My mother has been doing this to me since I was about nine. I wouldn’t say that she’s asking me for help, but she definitely vents to me about her issues with my father (normal marital disagreements - nothing major) and seems to want my feedback. It was worse when I was a child - it made me lose a lot of respect for my father, who didn’t deserve that. As an adult, I know that things work both ways and I can see both sides of the issue better, but as a child, I just thought my dad was a jerk.

My mom still does this to me as an adult, and it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. It’s really none of my business and unfair of my mother to burden me with these things. Kids, even adult ones, should be given the luxury of loving their parents without knowing all the gritty details of their personal lives. I want to know him as a dad, not necessarily as a husband, unless it’s in a positive way. When my mom goes on these tangents, I usually just give a few “uh-huhs” and move on. I really, really hate it.

On other issues besides marital problems, I don’t think it would bother me. I wouldn’t have a problem if my mother asked me how she should solve a conflict in her Bunco group. Or what she should do about a billing problem with a company. I’d be glad to help. I just don’t want to know too much about my dad outside his dad-ness.

Parents, IMHO, should not turn to their adult children for help with marital problems. This puts the child in the untenable position of helping support the parent with a problem, at the cost of becoming unsupportive of the other parent. Certainly not a position I would want to be in. As far as other problems, probably nothing wrong with that. My parents never did this (and they’re both dead now, so it ain’t likely to happen anytime soon), but I would think it might have made me feel good for my mom to talk to me about some of her problems. I would have felt like she finally saw me as an equal. Of course, those feelings are just loaded with emotional baggage, since for most of my life, my mom made me feel like a huge screw-up who would never do anything worthwhile!

I’ll watch with interest as other posters answer this complex question.

I have to agree with those who came before me. It’s bad enough just listening to Mom or Dad complain about the other one on small stuff. Yes Dad, I know Mom tends to go on, and I don’t like it any more than you do, but you don’t need to tell me and I don’t want to say anything because then I’ll feel like I’m taking sides in a non-argument.

I can only imagine how much worse it would be on the child if their parents were actually having marital problems.

Other problems are fine, but as the child, I would not want to get involved in my parents’ marriage. I love them both too much and it would tear me apart to be put in that position. It would be way too awkward and unfair to the child to dump that on them.

The OP didn’t say that the biological parents were still married. It could be a parent confiding in problems with a step-parent. I would say it is usually a bad idea but I know some parent/child relaionships that can do it quite well. My mother and I for example, are extremely close and I didn’t grow up with my now stepfather so I am pretty impartial in their relationship. They don’t have any significant problems so far but I am pretty sure that my mother would tell me if the did. My mother did depend on me way too much when my parents were having severe problems when I was about 14. I ended up feeling the need to do something so I collected enough proof that my father was having an affair and used it to force a divorce when I wanted it to happen. I can’t say that is all that healthy. All other problems are fair game between my mother and I and have been way before I was a legal adult.

I too think that it really is a bad idea. My parents got divorced when I was ten and ever since have burdened me with their problems throughout my childhood and now as an adult, I absolutely believe my childhood would have been happier and more carefree if the could have left me the hell out of it. Basically my mom would freak me out about our financial situations and how we were going to lose the house, and my dad always…ALWAYS bitched about my mom so much so that I didn’t talk to him for a year because I just didn’t want to hear it anymore. It really isn’t fair to give a kid(or an adult kid) a burden like that.

My mom lost her sister a couple years ago. Since then she hasn’t had anyone to turn to when things go bad - so she comes to me. It’s hard to know what to do - he’s my dad! I won’t bash him - but I can’t seem to take his side either. I’ve tried all different approaches over the years, but now I just go with mostly silence.

I hate it, of course. Mom knows that she shouldn’t turn to me - but there really is no one else.


Sorry, I should have specified, yep, biological parents still married.

Thanks for your input everyone. I know that this kind of arrangement is a bad thing in my family, even for non-marital issues; my mom is depressed, among other things, so it’s not a case of “can you help me with this problem/conflict”, it’s her pushing herself too hard, screwing something up, freaking out, then calling me to drop everything and fix it. I can’t be her safety net.

Now, I don’t mind on the other hand when either parent calls me for technical support, or for other general help.

I think the situation you described (your mom working too hard when she knows she shouldn’t, then having a problem and flipping out until you drop everything to fix it) is an unhealthy relationship for anyone, even between friends. I mean, sure, if it’s an emergency (someone got very sick, someone died, etc.) and doesn’t happen very often, that’s one thing, but if it’s an on-going thing, absolutely not. It sounds like your mom may even be simply trying to get attention by her dramatics. It’s not fair to you to have to drop everything to fix it, and it encourage her to continue that sort of behavior.

I think it’s putting your kids, adult or not, into a very bad situation when a parent runs into emotional issues and expects their children to listen to them as though they were best friends, not their children. You’re always your parents’ child, no matter how old you are, and if your mom keeps telling you things that you really shouldn’t hear and forces you to listen to them even when you express your discomfort, that’s just wrong. My mom did that to me all the time, and still tries to, and as a result, I now find it very difficult to work up any real sympathy for her when she does have a problem.