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When I have a close connection to a child through family friend, mentoring, neighbor, etc., I usually back up parents (even if I don't agree with a particular parenting style sometimes) so as not to be a wedge between the child and their parents. But in one family I have found it difficult to side with the parents when both of them--aren't bad--but often fail (IMO) because they are too concerned with themselves and don't act in the best interest in the children. Again, they're not abusive or anything bad--they're just not real good. Spending too much time on themselves, bad mouthing the other spouse (they're divorced), not disciplining enough because they don't want to spend the effort enforcing the discipline, teaching a conflicting set of values (b/w each spouse), etc.

When or in which situations is it a good idea to voice my opinion on a matter so the children don't grow up thinking that's how parents should behave?

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Follow-up question to these answers: Do your answers change if the child is young (elementary) versus old (high school)? –  user497 Aug 30 '11 at 16:16
    
I think the majority of these decisions sound like they are aimed at children under high school age. –  Brian Sep 16 '11 at 19:31

4 Answers 4

It's perfectly OK to express disagreement with parents, regardless of the age. Just make sure you do it in a way that won't get you in trouble with the parents, get the kid in trouble with the parents, or get the kid angry at you for what you've said about their parents.

People disagree a lot. No kid should grow up thinking their parents are beyond criticism, and especially not children whose parents really need to be criticized.

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Agreed, you don't need to drive a wedge between yourself and the parents. Plus, just because your opinion is opposite the parents it doesn't mean you have to let the kid think you disagree, it's just everyone has different opinions. A good way to introduce diversity of ideas to kids. –  MichaelF Aug 29 '11 at 16:58
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Sounds good in theory, but impossible in practice. How exactly would the OP do this for the scenarios mentioned? –  tomjedrz Aug 29 '11 at 17:26
    
I agree it's OK as long as you present it as a personal feeling: "I don't much like ..." –  reinierpost Jan 9 '12 at 15:29
    
The above ideas are great for kids who are developmentally ready for this (middle school and up), but elementary kids will likely just be further confused by it assuming you are simply discussing differences in opinion. Discussing parenting styles gets a lot stickier even with older kids and undermines parent authority. This can cause all kinds of confusion. You may not know the whole story and may make comments you would change given more information later. Be CAREFUL if you take this advice. –  balanced mama Nov 13 '12 at 20:31

NO.

It is not OK to tell the kids you disagree with the parents about parenting or about other serious life decisions. It is just as bad to be critical of the parenting of others to their kids or to your own kids, for that matter.

Other parents do not owe you an explanation for their actions and decisions, and almost certainly you do not have all of the facts. You have no business even evaluating their decisions unless you are exceptionally close, and you have no business ever informing the child that the parents are wrong. Regarding the situations you describe, about the most you can do is talk to the parent, but that is unlikely to have an impact.

In the vast majority of the cases, "Mind Your Own Business" is the proper starting point. We are becoming a busy-body culture, worrying more about others and not enough about our own affairs. The chances are pretty good that you have some parenting issues yourself that you are blind to, or you have some strategies that others might think are not very good. I remember once being berated by a mom for giving my child sweets. This mom's child was the schoolyard bully.

This does not mean that you can't be there for the kids, and love them, and support them. I realize that doing so without being critical can be difficult. And you can almost certainly model good parenting, with your kids and with them. But keep your mouth shut about the parenting.

My wife grew up in a troubled household, with alcoholism and affairs and lots of conflict. She spent a lot of time with her god parents, who were close to the family. She learned from the godparents how good parents should behave. The god parents were never openly critical of the parents to my wife until many years later. But their home was always open to her, and they supported her during the rough times. Had the god parents been critical, that criticism would have come out in an argument, and my wife would have been forbidden from seeing the god parents.

Think of it this way. Bad mouthing the parents and offering unsolicited advice and opinions are not going to change their behavior, and are likely to get you removed from the lives of these children. You can do more good being a silent, positive, supporting presence than being an absent critic.

DISCLAIMER: If there is an issue severe enough (abuse or serious neglect) that the welfare of the child is at stake, then talking to the parents is unlikely to be productive, unless you have a really solid relationship. More likely, a call to the local child protection agency is in order. But none of your examples sound remotely like that.

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+1 It can be incredibly tempting to point out how "it should be done", but criticizing other people's parenting to either themselves or their children is far more likely to cause significant amounts of harm than it is to result in even small positive outcomes. –  Beofett Aug 29 '11 at 20:28
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This is an excellent response. I agree with every word. I specifically like "And you can almost certainly model good parenting, with your kids and with them." By observing your behavior, the children will compare and think on their own. –  Ali Habbak Jan 6 '12 at 6:34

It's not the children "thinking that's how parents should behave" that should concern you, it's the children thinking the parents' behavior is the child's fault. Being told something like, "your Mom's not as angry with you as she is about something else that happened to her earlier today" can have a tremendous impact, helping the child actually feel closer to the parent. Children are much more resilient than people give them credit for. They just need to see their circumstances in the proper context.

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This is a much more appropriate answer than Tom's blanket "No". Sometimes you do need to help children understand. Sometimes this could include disagreeing. The aim is for whatever is in the child's best interest. –  Rory Alsop Jan 5 '12 at 14:34
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Except it doesn't answer the "should I disagree" question. I completely agree with Karl that being loving and supportive of the kids is important. But more important is not maligning the parents to their kids. –  tomjedrz Jan 12 '12 at 13:59

It actually sounds like the parents you are describing verge somewhat onto neglectful behavior which IS bad. Although it isn't bad enough to be considered neglect officially, (assuming the kids have shelter, food and clothes) it is bad parenting and the kids need people like you in their lives to counteract the neglectful behavior on the part of their parents. Having you as a resource for a place to go hang and someone to talk to is probably super important.

For that reason alone, (you don't want to tic the parent off and have the parent decide the children shouldn't be able to continue to have a good relationship with you) I'd be very careful about out right disagreement with the parents. These kids are probably confused enough if their parents are badmouthing the other parent all the time, they don't need more dissention.

If you have different rules at your house than the parents have or something, just state it as such, "the rules are just different here." You don't need to go into it any more deeply than that.

You can also be supportive if the kids are complaining to you by maintaining focus on their feelings rather than focusing on the parents, "Hmm. . . how did that make you feel?" "That must be frustrating" etc. If one of the parents ever confronts you about being a bad influence or disrespecting him/her you can honestly say you only listened to the child's feelings.

If one of the kids is sharing something with you where one of the parents said something negative about the other, you can try moderating the statements with something like, Well, I don't know all of the circumstances, but, we all have faults and challenges" or "there are two sides to every story" then use examples from your own life to back up these ideas (examples that are emotionally removed from the kid's immediate spheres). Talk about how your perception might differ from someone elses about some disagreement you have had in your past.

The only exception I would make is if the kids come to you sharing something nasty that was said about them personally. It is okay to disagree with a parent if the parent is calling their child dumb, ugly, lazy, . . . AND the kid probably needs you to say you don't think he/she is dumb, ugly or lazy! If you are having this kind of discussion you might ask, "was your mom mad? - what makes you think she really meant it? - Have you asked her if she really meant it? - Does she know how much it hurt your feelings?" Then you are empowering the child to say something without Directly critisizing the parent and along the way you are teaching life skills regarding dealing with conflict.

If you mostly listen and paraphrase their feelings these kids will be getting the support they need from you, without you needing to disagree directly with the parents making things confusing for the kids, and potentially hurting your ability to continue to be there in the kid's lives.

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Agreed. I work with kids where this issue comes up a lot! I do it exactly as mama suggests - "In this program, we [insert rule here]" which for me is usually something like "are respectful", "are helpful not hurtful, etc", "use our words, not our hands, to solve conflict" etc. The kids will know where they feel more valued, respected, etc and you won't have to say anything about it. –  Christine Gordon Nov 14 '12 at 1:48

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