Were you parentified when you were a child? By that, I mean were you given the responsibilities of parenting your parent/s or guardians? Of course, it is entirely correct to encourage, and support, children to undertake tasks and chores around the house as they get older. It is only right and proper that children are taught the skills they will need to present as functioning adults when they leave the home where they grew up. It’s also important that children contribute to the running of the home they are living in, but what is expected of them needs to be tailored to their capabilities.
Parentification, however, means that a child is not (just) expected to carry out chores in the house that are not appropriate for a child their age. It might also mean that they are leaned on for emotional support when they are children – and not emotionally mature enough to take care of their own internal landscape. It can also refer to being expected to take part in conversations that are unsuitable for a child their age. For example, some of the women I have worked with were expected to listen to their mothers talk about their sex lives with their fathers, when they (my clients) were only twelve, or fourteen, years old.
If any of this resonates with you, you may find that this practice – this element of your family’s culture – has had long-lasting effects on you. In a healthy parent-child relationship, it is the job of a parent to give, and the job of the child to receive, while they concentrate on their own learning and growth. When a child has caregiving responsibilities foisted on them, they rarely receive acknowledgement – let alone praise – or support for taking on these responsibilities. This unhealthy role-reversal interrupts the natural maturation process.
As an adult who experienced parentification as a child, you may find that you have a number of difficulties with relationships, including some – or all – of the following:
- Setting, and maintaining, boundaries
- Trusting others
- Knowing what your own needs are
- Asking for what you need
- Retaining individuality within a relationship
- Choosing healthy relationships.
Some adults who were parentified as children can have an inappropriate sense of entitlement, or authority, and they may also have difficulty functioning independently. As with many traumas, adults who were parentified as children are at a higher risk of chronic physical illnesses; as well as anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, and eating disorders.
It may come as no surprise to Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers to learn that parentification is often a hallmark of a narcissistic mother, and something that is discussed in my DONM’s Liberation Programme.
If you would like to read more about healing from parentification, you can read Gegory J. Jurkovic’s book ‘Lost Childhoods: The Plight Of The Parentified Child’.