How Open Is Too Open With Children?

10/09/2011 11:15 | Updated 22 May 2015
Bored embarrassed teenagersCorbis

When I was young, I used to squirm with embarrassment every time my mum tried to be my 'friend', and talk about things like sex, periods and relationships. (Boys? Yuk!)

I'm sure this was just a normal teenage reaction, but it probably wasn't helped by the fact that the approach always seemed to be made with such forced light-heartedness, in a high-pitched, sing-song voice, like she'd made a conscious decision she was going to be One Of Those Mums, and was acting out the part.

Of course she may have just been trying to be nice, but then it's my job as a daughter to be critical of my mother's parenting. That's what we do, and I'm quite prepared for my children to do the same.

Having had my eldest daughter Bee when I was just 17, we've always had what feels like a more naturally close relationship, in age if nothing else. We share a sense of humour, albeit it a distinctly childish one at times, a set of cultural reference points, and an openness that doesn't have that usual awkward overtone.

I can still totally remember what it feels like to be her age, to be the dizzy heights of 16 years old. In fact, I still really do feel 16 a lot of the time, and spend many an anxious moment in meetings at work, shuffling in my shift dress, waiting for a grown-up to say 'hang on a minute, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be at school or something?' As a result, we are quite open and jokey about a lot of things other parents might feel uncomfortable talking about in front of their children, and vice versa.

How much is too much though? Being open with your kids is great, to a point, but where is the line?

The other evening we were having a family barbeque. Bee and I were chatting happily, but clearly making my relatively new partner, (who with no children of his own comes sometimes ill-prepared), feel quite uncomfortable with our level of openness. Part of the fun of this of course - an example of the shared cruel streak in our sense of humour - was knowing that we had to power to make him feel awkward, and exploiting it. We're so mean. A discussion followed about what things were appropriate for sharing, the conclusion being that I am generally not very good at boundaries.

"You are always going on about stuff you shouldn't, Mummy," Bee pointed out.

"And you write about it," pointed out my boyfriend, "I don't think your inappropriateness is restricted to the home."

He is quite right of course. I've recently started a new job, and have quickly established myself as the one in the office that says things out loud that other people think sensible to keep in their head. It's a steep learning curve for me, and I'm quickly having to learn the lesson that some things are just better left unsaid.

But to what extent does this apply to our relationships with our children, which are of course very different to a work relationship, and which presumably we would like to be as natural and uncensored as possible?

Watching a recent episode of The Sex Education Show, I think I found my cut off line. A teenage girl had gone to visit an 'expert' with her mother. She wanted advice about her sex life, in particular how she could maintain intimacy, without becoming stuck in a rut. "I want to us to be able to look each other in the eye all the time," she said. Hmmm.

To help her out, the expert showed the girl and her mother videos of couples having sex in various positions. The mother, daughter and 'expert' looked on casually, as though in the changing room at Debenhams. "Ooh," said the mum at one point, "that one looks good, I think you'd like that."

Seriously? This isn't Marks and Spencer. We're not shopping for dinner here.

To me, this is perhaps a little more than I'd like to share, and Bee agreed. "That's just gross," she said, when I told her about it. "Don't ever make me do that."

The other interesting angle is the question of crying in front of children. There is a danger, especially when children are that bit older, of seeing them as an adult, as a friend even, who you can share problems with, and who can handle difficult emotions, but the truth is that some children just can't deal with seeing their parents upset.


Being open and honest with your children might be healthy, but how much do you really want to share of your personal worries and anxieties? For most children, parents are the one reliable constant in their lives, and to see any signs of weakness, to see cracks in the family foundations, can be very upsetting.


How much is too much?

As a helpful guide for parents, I thought I'd compile a list of things that were probably best not to share, but given my apparent lack of boundaries, I wasn't really sure where to start. I asked Bee what she felt would be a case of TMI (Too Much Information). "I don't really care what you tell me," she said, which didn't help much with my list at all, so I've had to come up with some things of my own.

Sex advice videos

As I hope I have made clear, I don't ever want to watch a couple at it and have Bee say anything like 'Ooh Mummy, that looks fun, that position would really flatter your figure.' Yuk.

Details of my own sex life

Whilst I'm happy to talk about sex should Bee want to, and to share general advice or experiences, I shan't be going into specifics - there are some things that aren't just mine to share.

Signs of weakness

It's fine for your children to know you're human, and to appreciate that everyone, even parents, get upset sometimes, but think very carefully about exactly how much emotion you want to show.


If you can help it, never, ever share details of your secret chocolate supplies.

Do you over share with your children?

Where's your line between closeness and parenting?

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