Parents, you do not need to explain all your decisions to your children

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

Question: My daughter's school (she is 8 and in Year 2) for the first time is doing a sponsored fun run where the company is one of the conglomerates that takes up to 50 percent of the proceeds. They accept pledges via a website, and you must enter pledge information, including friends' email addresses, into their system.

We chose not to participate, and told our daughter why. Now she has gone to all her friends telling them it is a scam and the company is stealing people's identities and money. She's basically embellishing on why we said we did not participate.

Now there is fallout with one set of friends of ours (her best friend's parents) who apparently were promoting this, unknown to us. These parents are angry, and my daughter wants me to fix it.

I have repeatedly told her not to talk about it more with any of the kids because it is our choice, and they can make a different choice to participate, which is what we said all along. But she keeps talking about it with this friend, and we don't know how to get past this.

Answer: Thank you for sending in this thoughtful question. You have learned some great lessons. Let's figure out what they are and how you can move forward.

As parents, you sized up the fun-run company and decided this was not an organisation worthy of your money and time. You decided the way they forced the sharing of emails, among other issues, went against what you think is appropriate. You did not want to be a part of this fun run.

But then you decided to share these facts with your eight-year-old daughter, who clearly heard the tone of your worries, and then your daughter spread this news to her best friend and the friend's parents. Now feelings are hurt, people are feeling unsupported and judged (your friends), and you are feeling misunderstood and thrown under the bus.

Since I am a parent coach, I always ask one question when kerfuffles like this occur: "What have you learned from this incident?" It is clear you have learned (or I hope you have learned) that your daughter is too young to take in this information and fully understand it. She is also too young to "keep a secret," and she is definitely too young to fix this situation with her friend and your friends.

Even though many eight-year-old children can sound and appear quite mature, they still can be quite literal in their thinking. And for some children, if they can turn some information into a weapon or use it as a little jab, they will. I am not saying your daughter consciously is trying to hurt her friend; she simply did not understand the gravity and implication of the information you shared.

Advertisement

You have learned to keep your mouth shut when it comes to justifying your decisions. Under no circumstance are you required to explain all them, especially when it could hurt friends and community members. You have learned that your daughter cannot handle the privacy of the information, and it is unfair to expect her to. As she matures and grows, this dynamic will change, but it is not fair to burden young children with details they simply cannot process, especially with a layer of disdain.

As she gets older, you will find that the way you live your lives, combined with explaining some decisions you make, will influence her in all the ways you are hoping. Our children are taking in everything we do, so you can trust they will understand your ethics. But in this case, the lesson you were hoping to impart about untoward companies and privacy issues did not take.

You don't like this company, but it is not illegal and your community has chosen it. To go on about it to your daughter puts her in an odd position. By sharing your contempt, she is immediately placed on the outside of this event, and not belonging can easily make an 8-year-old feel insecure. Insecurity can breed a host of bad behaviours in children, and one of those behaviours is a desire to feel superior.

Again, this is not conscious. An eight-year-old does not have the wisdom or perspective to think, "Well, some people do this and some people do that." An eight-year-old wants to be like her friend, and the information you have shared puts her in opposition to her friend.

Now you have some cleanup to do.

Call the parents. (Don't send an email; we lose tone in an email.) Say something like, "I would like to apologise. We have some strong feelings about organisations like this, and we made the mistake of telling Casey about our thoughts. We know she has been talking to Ramona about the run, and we never intended for you to feel judged or unsupported. We have spoken to Casey about our mistake, but we want you to know that we apologise for any hurt feelings."

If your friends are decent people, they will say, "Yeah, no big deal, we get it. Kids talk." You don't have to lie and say you love the organisation nor do you need to make promises of financial support for the run, but you should admit that sharing all of your thoughts with your daughter was a misstep and you have learned your lesson.

Be sure to take your daughter aside and say, "Mummy and Daddy made a mistake in saying what we said about the fun run. We have called Ramona's parents to say sorry; their feelings were hurt. "

Leave it at that. If your daughter asks if you are going to contribute or join, stay blasé about it. "Mummy and Daddy are going to support our friends, and we are satisfied with what we contribute to currently." Do not feed the "sham" argument or any other story that judges the race.It simply isn't worth it (unless you feel so strongly about this that you are willing to take it to the PTA, for instance).

Moving forward, remember to keep some of your grown-up justifications to yourself. There is no reason that a child has to understand every decision parents make. The only reasonable expectations to toe the line are in the case of social justice issues where your silence adds or is complicit in another person's suffering.

You have learned a good lesson. Take it, make your apologies and move forward. Good luck.

Meghan Leahy is the mother of three daughters. She holds a bachelor's degree in English and secondary education, a master's degree in school counselling and is a certified parent coach.
 

The Washington Post