Keeping Secrets: To Tell or Not To Tell

My grandchild tells me everything, and virtually nothing to her parents. I'm conflicted about this. Should I be telling her parents what she tells me?

By Susan Stiffelman

This is definitely a question with more than one answer and many layers, so hang in there with me while I attempt to help you find the solution that fits your situation.

Let’s say your 7-year-old grandson tells you that he kissed a girl at school.

“Don’t tell Mom and Dad!,” he begs you.

You’re torn. On the one hand, you want to respect his wishes and ensure that he’ll trust you in the future, especially as the secrets he shares become more significant. You want your grandson to consider you a safe haven, knowing how important it is for him to have a place to sort things out with a reasonable and loving adult as he grows older.

But on the other hand, you’re dying to tell his mother — your daughter. This is priceless, and you can hardly bear to keep it to yourself. What a thing to be able to chuckle over with your daughter, and reminisce about her own first-grade crush. What do you do?

You keep it to yourself. Your grandson has chosen you. He has considered you worthy of being his deep, dark well, and it’s not a role to be taken lightly. What makes this decision easy is that there’s no danger or serious repercussions to little Joey if his parents don’t find out about the kiss. So my advice is, you don’t sell out your grandson, and you keep the lines of communication open so he has someone to talk things over with as he gets older.

Now let’s take things up a notch. Your 13-year-old granddaughter tells you she’s gotten her period.

“Grandma, you absolutely, positively cannot tell Mom and Dad,” she cries.
You know your daughter — her mother — would want to know, and to celebrate this moment in her daughter’s life. You also know that your daughter will be furious with you when she finds out you’d kept it from her. What do you do?

You hold the secret, and create the space for your granddaughter to tell you about this new experience. You don’t rush the talk, and you stay lovingly connected to her. Eventually you may say, “Sweetie, I’m so happy for you. Wow! This is a huge moment in your life. I’m honored that you told me, and I respect that it’s your right to share this with whomever you choose. Can you tell me what it is about telling Mom and Dad that feels uncomfortable? What do you think might happen if you tell them?”

And then you listen. In the back of your mind, you’re looking for a way to help your granddaughter become comfortable sharing this with her parents, but you allow her to be ready at her pace. If your daughter finds out that you knew and didn’t tell her, you accept her anger and disappointment, assuring her that you will absolutely tell her if your granddaughter discloses anything dangerous.

Which leads us to the third scenario: Your 16-year-old grandson is staying with you for two weeks, and you’ve just discovered he’s been drinking and smoking pot. When you lovingly and gently confront him, he tells you he’s been doing it at home for months. He asks you not to tell his parents because they wouldn’t understand.

“Everyone does it, Grandpa. It’s no big deal,” he says with a shrug.

Now what do you do? You listen to him, love him, support him, and let him know that his parents need to know. When a grandchild reveals something to you that’s potentially dangerous, it’s essential — unless it would lead to further harm — that his parents be informed.

We want to avoid selling out our grandchildren whenever possible, but if holding their secrets could compromise their safety, we need to help our grandchildren find a way to tell Mom and Dad — unless they tell you that their own parents are in some way abusing or endangering their lives, in which case you must take the necessary steps to get them immediate help, support, and safety.

Comments

my 6 year old grandaughter told me last week that her mums boyfriend is nasty to her and hits her on the cheek, i told her mother what she said and i have been stopped from seeing her, im absolutely heartbroken at this and miss my grandaughter a great deal, i know she misses me too but her mum wont budge, i know i did the right thing by telling her mum what she said but now feel bad cos she stopped contact and i know my grandaughter will be upset. what do i do apart from cry???

loving but heartbroken nanna on 2013-01-19 16:39:14

Amen to the last one and to have the faith of a child for you to be h/h confident is extremely important

anonymous on 2012-09-12 10:14:33

Boy! Anonymous sure is confusing me as to what I would do. I'd like to know the answer as well.She said: My four almost five year old granddaughter has told me that her mothers boyfriend calls her mother bad names and they fight and that mommy told her not to tell anyone..I told her I would never tell anyone that she told me.also every time she comes to my house she begs me to let her spend the night and doesn't want to go home...?I think she feels safe and enjoys the calm atmosphere and is afraid of the fussing and fighting.what do you hunk. Should do?????

anonymous on 2012-09-12 08:08:58

My four almost five year old granddaughter has told me that her mothers boyfriend calls her mother bad names and they fight and that mommy told her not to tell anyone..I told her I would never tell anyone that she told me.also every time she comes to my house she begs me to let her spend the night and doesn't want to go home...?I think she feels safe and enjoys the calm atmosphere and is afraid of the fussing and fighting.what do you hunk. Should do?????

anonymous on 2012-09-11 23:43:38

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