Parentification is a term that you might not have heard of, but what it means might be familiar to a lot of people. In most cases, parents take care of their children and thus the kids can grow up and develop through the parental emotional and physical support.
However, sometimes these roles are reversed and according to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Nancy Fagan, “Parentification is a role reversal between a parent and child. This forces a child to become the emotional or practical caregiver for the parent.”
Fagan continues on to say that parentification can be classicied as emotional abuse, whether it is done intentionally or not, as it places the adult responsibilities on the child. Typically, the oldest and female children are burdened with parentification most often. This impacts a child’s development.
There are different ways that parentification can take form, but many times it happens when a parent is relying on the child to take on the role of caretaker. The situations when this happens can vary from divorce, addiction, mental health, death, or physical illnesses.
Some examples of parentification include being taking on the role of caretaker for siblings, taking care of a sick parent or sibling, being a language translator for a parent, doing the main bulk of housework, or paying the bills.
There are two kinds of parentification: emotional and physical. Fagan explains that “Emotional parentification is when one or both parents inappropriately get their emotional needs met through the children. This is considered the more damaging type of parentification.”
Meanwhile, she says: “The second type of parentification is instrumental parentification. This happens when a child is given age-inappropriate tasks and responsibilities normally assigned to parents.”
A child that experiences this will experience a disruption in their development, especially when it comes to learning about co-dependency and secure attachments.
Often, kids who are parentified will experience depression, anxiety, aggressive behavior, academic issues, substance abuse, and social issues. Unfortunately, it can also mean that they will repeat the same patterns with their own future children, creating a unhealthy vicious cycle.
The way to break this chain is to be able to learn how to establish healthy boundaries, and for anyone who is experiencing difficulties with these issues, seeking professional help can certainly help determine the best course of action for treatment.