I've heard it said many times. It's usually an attempt to get a child to do something or to stop doing something. "You're hurting mommy's feelings! You're going to make mommy cry!" Or the always effective fake crying done by parents, grandparents, friends - also usually used to manipulate a child in some way. It seems innocent enough at the time, but let me assure you, it's not.
What is actually happening is that the child is learning to associate his or her behavior with that of others. If I do this, mommy cries. I don't like it when mommy cries so I should stop. If I don't do this, daddy will get upset and I don't want daddy to get upset. It's a cop out to parenting and teaches the child that they are somehow responsible for the emotions of the adults around them. They often begin to feel the need to "protect" their parents and those they love. This is not only incredibly sad for the child but is also bass ackwards.
In no way shape or form are children responsible for their parents emotions and well-being. Parents are just that; parents. They are grown ass adults who are responsible for their own well beings and emotions. Tasking such a job to a child is beyond wrong in the natural order. It's actually parents who are tasked with guarding and protecting their children's emotions and overall sense of being.
Unfortunately, all too often this pattern will follow a parent/child relationship into adulthood. Teens and young adults often make life choices (college, career, where they live, who they marry, who they don't marry) based solely on what they think/know will make their parents happy and not what will make THEM happy. If the child (now grown) attempts to do something or actually does do something that is for themselves, if the parent does not agree with said choice, it looks something like this "I can't believe you're doing this to me! How could you??! You have no idea how much you're hurting me!!" Other manifestations might include not speaking to the child, telling the child (and possibly siblings) how disappointed they are in the child who is going their own way, etc.
Parent, I iterate again. You are GROWN ASS ADULTS. YOU and only YOU are responsible for your feelings. And contrary to popular belief, it's entirely possible for you to be happy in your own right. For you to recognize that your children are not you, they aren't really even a part of you. In fact, they are totally and entirely themselves. You may feel like they should be one way or the other based on how you were, how you raised them, etc. But at the end of the day, your children are individuals. They are wonderful, amazing, unique individuals who deserve the chance to live a life free of parental emotional blackmail and parental emotional debt (another day another post).
News Flash!!!! Your children will most likely make many choices you don't agree with and that's 100% okay and 100% healthy. What is not 100% okay or healthy is for you to hold them responsible for how YOU feel about what THEY do. You handle that mess. You go vent to a friend or a husband or a therapist or a glass of wine. But do NOT put that on your child. They are doing something FOR them, not something TO you. And as previously stated, they deserve to be able to learn and grow and fall down and get up and have triumphs and failures and believe and live totally different from you without the constant nagging of your personal emotional struggle in their faces.
No matter what my daughters choose for themselves, I will always be there for them. The few times that my oldest daughter has witnessed me crying, she has been given a full run-down of "This is my issue, not yours and it's not you. This is me. It's a struggle I'm dealing with and I will figure it out." There is nothing wrong with expressing the fact that you're struggling with your children. But there is something wrong with making them feel responsible for it.
Heaven forbid if the words "You're hurting mommy's feelings" every come out of my mouth, I pray my 2 year old will answer me with one of her current favorite phrases: "Get it together, mom!"