Family Boundaries and the Parentified Child
"My 7 year old neighbor is extremely mature for her age. It's as if she has no Id or Superego. She does things that an adult would do. One morning her younger sister woke up really early and she cooked for her sister on a stove, dressed her and everything. The way she speaks is very mature as well. She does not sound like a regular 7 year old nor does she act like one. Is there a possible disorder here or maybe lead to one?"
This Email typifies the type of thing that happens all too often. Children become the "parents" to their parents and younger siblings. These kids are referred to as "parentified children." Indeed, these children do such things as: dressing the younger kids, house cleaning, preparing lunch and dinner for the entire family, caring for and supervising the younger children and, acting as parents to their own parents.
Hollywood portrays these youngsters as being very cute because they are precocious and mature beyond their years. Their adult behavior and wisdom is looked upon as entertaining because they seem to have naivete combined with these characteristics far beyond their years. In point of fact, these children are very unfortunate in many ways.
How do these children take on such very adult roles and responsibilities?
If there is one factor that is more fearful than any other for a child, it is that they will be abandoned. The adultified child takes on responsibilities in the hope that it will hold the family together by keeping mom and dad around.
First, given the fact that there are many single parent families, it falls upon children from some of these homes to carry adult responsibilities while their parent is out working. Often, in these situations, the parent is asking or expecting the child to take on adult responsibilities in their absence. They become the parent of the household in the interim between coming home from school and when the parent returns to the household.
Similarly, when a parent passes away, or when there is a divorce, the surviving parent either works or returns to work and becomes the sole bread winner for the family. Once again, it is left to the child to become the surrogate parent for the siblings and for the household.
Then, there are families characterized by having "boundary problems." Human organizations and relationships have clearly set boundaries in which certain role expectations are assigned and fulfilled by appropriate people. For instance, it is for adults to work and earn a sufficient living to provide safety and security while children are growing up and attending school. This also allows kids to play and enjoy childhood so that they can go through healthy development and become normal adults who are ready to fulfill their roles when the time comes.
However, there are two types of families who adultify their children.
In one type of family, the parent uses the child as a confidant. I have worked with patients who complained bitterly about having been forced to listen to their mother or father talk about their sexual and financial problems. In all of these cases, the children felt a heavy burden placed on themselves, a burden they did not know what to do with. They also felt frightened to listen to things that were well beyond their ability to understand and that were totally inappropriate for them to hear.
In the other type of family, drug and alcohol addiction render the adults incapable of attending to their responsibilities. Consequently, one of the children take on that responsibility, not only caring for their siblings but for their helpless parent as well. In one case, an adult has described how she, as a child, worried about her mother getting home safely because she knew how drunk she could get after work. Her father had passed away several years before.
These children often suffer terrible consequences. For example, some of them parentify their own children, visiting upon them the same cruel burdens that they were once asked to carry. Being the parentified child is a lonely experience because they have no parent to turn to for help and guidance. These kids carry the full burden of the family trauma. They lose out on the chance to experience their own childhood and are often resented by the other kids because they are doing the limit setting and child rearing.
These circumstances often lead this child to choose a marital partner who is dependent so that, once again, they are in the role of parent to their spouse. This unhappy circumstance is often disastrous for the marriage because of the amount of resentment and conflict that results. Ultimately, no married partner really wants to find themselves acting as parent or child to their spouse.
Awareness is an important way for adults to prevent this from happening to their children. For example, in the event of death or divorce, people commonly tell the oldest child that, "You are the man or woman of the house." It's important for parents to speak to their children so they understand that they need not worry about this ever happening. It is important to look to friends or family to help out if it's necessary to work. There are also after school programs for such children that go late enough so that they can be picked up by working parents. It's always important to talk to kids, see how they are feeling and to reassure them that you, the adult, are in charge. For children, the greatest fear is of being abandoned which it is why it's so important to give them that assurance.
Were you a parentified child? Your comments and questions are encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD
I was an adult as a child - Joanna Moore - Feb 17th 2015
My mother was a neglectful and disinterested narcissist. (Actually, she still is!) From the time I was very young, I had to be the adult in the home because my mother was not capable. While most kids my age were having fun, I was cleaning the house and making my own dinner. In high school, when many kids were having fun and focusing on their studies, I was skipping school so I could work more to pay the bills my mother refused to pay. Now that I'm nearing middle-age, most of my friends are a good 15-25 years older than I am. I could never relate to people my own age because they seemed so young in comparison.
Oldest of seven - - Feb 15th 2015
I am 21 and the oldest of seven children, one boy, six girls. I don't cook or drive, but do pretty much everything else, cleaning, repairing you name it. I find the worst part about it is that I know my siblings dislike me like a child might hate their parent for making rules and such. I found out recently that I have ADD and I have suffered with depression and severe anxiety all my life. I have never been drunk, or been to parties or hung out with freinds outside of school. I am in college now and come home every weekend, at school I go to class and then go home and do homework and never leave my room. Its a very lonely life. Doctors load me up on medications and the pain from muscle tension is severe. I played musical instruments for years but had to give up because of injuries due to being unable to relax my body. I have suffered sever abuse from one of my sisters that has caused me great emotional stress and the constant feeling of being annoying or in the way. My mother is a drug addict/acholic with sever anxiety and depression, and my father is a very excentric person who also suffers from severe anxiety and cannot get up off the couch unless he is working. I just wish I had had a normal childhood and maybe had a little fun in my life. But I suppose its too late now
Girlfriend of a parentified man - Stella - Jan 27th 2015
My boyfriend has been diagnosed with parentification. We have been together for several months now and we have yet to be intimate. In fact in that respect we have grown further apart. I am in love with him and don't want to give up however it is becoming increasingly difficult. I don't have anyone to talk to and I don't want to keep bringing it up with him as I know it makes him feel bad. All I want is communication and I don't get it. In fact he avoids it. I work very hard at this relationship and don't get me wrong, I am happy to work hard for him although there is little to no return when it comes to him. I'm sad more than I am happy. I know he can make me happy and I know I have to be patient.
I guess I just needed to put this out there. Any advice?
Third type - Violet - Jan 9th 2015
There is a third type of family that parentifies one or more of the children: households headed by personality-disordered parents, most specifically NPD.
In these households, parents who are not incapacitated by drugs or alcohol dump adult responsibility onto the children. I was that little girl who cooked breakfast for my little brother when I was only 7, got him dressed, cleaned house, baked cakes, mopped floors...while my mother slept in and, once up, watched TV or read magazines.
I made coffee, fetched snacks, made beds...but she did not inappropriately confide sexual or financial secrets to me--those were none of my business. I was, however, a nanny, maid, dog and cat carer and general all-around slavey for someone who believed her contributions to the household began and ended with an evening meal on the table and the roof over our head secured.
I know many, many people who experienced much the same: no inappropriate sharing, no drug or alcohol addiction, but an NPD parent who parentified them to the point that they had virtually no childhood.
It Took My Divorce To Make Me Look Back - Victor - Dec 23rd 2014
I was the single adopted child of a single mother who worked nights. My mom got me at 2 and a half. I was on my own in the daytime from a very young age. I was always attracted to the company of adults rather than people my own age. People would always comment upon how mature I was. I was definitely a latchkey child. My mom tried to be good, but she was also alternately loving and smothering, juxtaposed with being physically and emotionally abusive. I rather relished being alone. I moved out the day of my 18th birthday, and 25 years later, haven't spent a night back since. She had a complete mental breakdown that year, and was dX'd with depression. 25 years later, this past summer, she shared with me that one of her therapists suggested that she was Borderline Personality Disorder. Parentification is sadly a common trait that BPD parents do to their children.
That was the final piece of the puzzle since my ExWife has borderline traits (my mom--- an RN but not a mental health professional--- even said, "of course she's Borderline!").
My Ex referred to her "lost childhood" and that she can't remember "one happy moment, not one." She grew up in a violent household with a perdiodically abandoning (and emotionally unavailable) father. She was her mother's confidante, and the proxy parent for her 4 younger siblings. My Ex realized this as our r/s broke down. I had it a lot easier in my own way. She has, however, shown signs of Parentifying our own small children. At 2 and 4, they are already setting boundaries with her due to her anger issues, and guilt over her depression (at least the 4 year old). I had a gentle talk with her on the phone one night as she called me to reach out, scared when she lost control against our son one night. She confided in me "I don't want to do to them the same thing my mom did to me." I feel empathy towards her, but I also see that she thinks it's funny when the kids set boundaries with her over her "frustrations." Even the 2 year old started doing it. Role Reversal. Parents should mirror their children as they begin to develop their identities, not the other way around. The kids are responsible for her feelings, and so too are her romantic partners.
That I chose to enter into such a r/s in the first place shows that I'm not entirely healthy either (though months of counseling told me what I already knew: that I had no pathologies, despite what my Ex tried to imply when she was really projecting). Having been my mom's confidante, since she never had boyfriends, I was wired to be a "Rescuer," and hyper tuned to the feelings of women, often at the expense of my own. I remember all sorts of age-inappropriate conversations my mom had with me.
I'm calm and emotionally stable, but I am watching myself like a hawk and constantly seeking out resources such as this article to make sure that I don't Parentify my own kids whom I have half of the time.
Greatest source of anxiety - Diane - Dec 20th 2014
I agree that abandonment is a major issue for some children, but I'm not sure if you addressed the issue of fear that a child feels about not being able to live up to the parent's expectations. That fear and anxiety is caused by a parent talking about things that are adult issues that should be discussed only with another adult. The child wants to help but does not have the necessary skill and knowledge to deal with the issues.
True - - Nov 19th 2014
My parents are divorced and my mother works at work but not at home. I was always forced to cook and clean and do the laundry and run errands and make sure my family was being held up before myself. I always had to make sure everyone else was comfortable before I could even think about helping me, unless I was in crisis. I was in therapy and I was talking to my therapist about how I kinda of got my chldhood stolen from me, and she brought up the parentified child idea. I completely agree and this all is very relatable to me.
Study - Julie - Oct 28th 2014
I never learned how to make friends in school because my parents never taught me, encouraged me, or gave me advice, or were there for me when i needed to ask them how to deal with my peers. I have social anxiety from the bad rejeciton i experienced from my mother. I am still unable to make friends- I just dont know how to. I was married for 1 year and was physically abused.
I am 39 years old and I still cant shake the feeling that I "am responsible for my parents".
There has been a study done which has proven that children who were parentified by an adult that was both alcoholic and a workaholic had a higher percentage chance of being parentified than just an adult who was only alcoholic.
Personally, my mother was metally 'sick' and unavailable as a parent both physically and emotionally and just laid around the house contributing nothing and not being there for her children or taking part in any family activities, get togethers, or giving advice, being there, or giving hugs, or anything. She thought it was my job to do everything for her that needed to be done in the house and to take care of my sister.
My Father was up at 4:30 am to go to work and not home till 5:30, ate then went to bed, he worked all day then wasnt available in the evening. On the weekends he was the landlord to several properties and was responsible for the upkeep and lawn maintenance, plumbing, etc. so he was busy on the weekends also. He was a workaholic and also an alcoholic. As soon as he got home from work he began drinking and didnt stop till he went to bed. he also brought alcohol with him wherever he went on the weekends, even to mow lawns. I basically, except for paying for her, raised my sister. If I had been allowed to drive as a child, I have no doubt that my mother and dad would have thought it was okay for me to also drive her to school and back!
I believe that their fantasy would be that I was an adult and not a child. If I had known how to cook steaks, my mother would have expected me to do that for her. If I knew how to drive, my parents would heave expected me to buy the groceries. That is how they were. But they didnt expect my brother to lend a hand to do anything, even though he was 2 years older than me. In fact, they allowed my brother to make messes in the house after I cleaned that area. So I had to go back and clean up after my brother.
My parents never parented my sister. I felt like I was her parent. When I was 16, and my sister was 6, I began arguing with my Father on how he expected her to go to church every sunday, because I already felt that she was my child- that I had a right to say what happened to her.
It all makes sense now. - - Oct 16th 2014
I have never been happier to have found a post somewhere before. I've been having really harsh emotional bounces lately and had no idea why, but it kind of makes sense after reading about this.
I looked after my younger sister 6 days a week for six year before I moved out, and she depended almost completely on my for her emotional and physical wellbeing to the point that my parents would have to call me to have talks with her if she were upset or acting out.
I didn't understand why, over the past year, I've been feeling so empty and strange, and now I realise it's because I was parentified, sort of. It makes sense when I think about it, but only when it gets showed to me straight, like here, do I realise how little of my child-hood and into my teenage years were taken from me.
Recovery - Londiwe - Sep 18th 2014
I am so glad to have found this page.I have been suffering all my life from an 'illness' I did not understand.I realize without a shadow of a doubt that I was parentified and it has caused me nothing but grief.I have been manifesting PTSD symptoms because I was not only parentified but I was verbally and emotionally abused as well.I took on the role of family mediator merely as a survival instinct .My mother used to wish me dead and I believed that she was going to kill me.My father was a walking saint who tolerated mothers abuse and did nothing to protect me.My siblings on cue picked up on mother's hatred of me and used me as a scapegoat and of course I tried even harder to please all of them.I effectively became the mother in the house while the actual mother was running around raging and causing hatbox and terrorising the whole family.My brothers are alcohol dependant and needy.One sister married and alcoholic who qas accused of sexual abuse by a niece.My other sister married a man who hated his own son an subsequently my nephew is also alcohol dependant with mental health issues.I have been married twice to emotionally unavailable men.I am in therapy with a kind therapist but I am fast becoming my own therapist .Yesterday I found out the term 'parentified' and I am so relieved to know that my intense pain and grief has a legitimate source.I have ordered a book called ' Lost Childhoods, the plight of the parentified child' by Gregory J Jurkowic!
There is still a big fat elephant sitting right in the middle of the room and no one dares point at it.That elephant is my Narcissistic Mother who everyone is orbiting around like the very sun but I'm out!! No more secrets for me.I was disowned once for pointing at the elephant but I'm not afraid anymore.I can't live the lie anymore.Thank you for listening and best of luck to everyone going through the grieving process into their own healing and bravo to those who have gone through it and hold the light for some of us still struggling.We need you xx
Extreme Delayed Anger for Parentification - Mom'sBFF & Dad'sconfident - Sep 14th 2014
I was 14 when my parents split my their affairs happened before then and I was both best friend to my mom and confident to my dad. My mom's affair was with a man we went on camping trips with. She was totally in love and even to this day (I am 53) I was so tied into her emotional well-being I was only angry she didn't tell me about it (I listened in on a phone call) not that she was doing it. And my father - he cheated first and my mom found out duiring a dinner with an alcoholic uncle who blurted it out and explained to her it was only "sport +@#- ing." No matter how many times I argued with my dad that he broke the trust first, he has yet to accept ANY responibility for his actions. After my mothers affair, he wrote hate poetry in spiral notebooks and asked me to read them. He told me she was frigid and so forth. To this day he tells me I "wasn't there for him" during his divorce. He is a diagnosed Narcissist come to find out. When the man my mother loved wouldn't leave his wife she had a second affair with my stepfather whom she married. I am grateful for their 20 year marriage in that it was healthy and happy. She died of frontal temporal dementia at 58 and was not the woman I knew and loved beginning 54. Flash forward after 26 years of being married to a nice but emotionally unavailable, immature, binge drinker I got EXTREMELY resentful of him, his lack of efforts in our marriage, work, affection. He has his own issues and was emotionally abusive (covert, crazy-making, diminishing, withdrawn.) After years of him refusing to leave the house for even an hour a day and three years of no income, I had an affair. The one thing I swore I would never do. Midlife crisis hit hard. I didn't have it in me to parent one more adult in my life! My kids had both recently left for college and I thought for ONCE I might be worthy enough to be taken care of instead of the one doing the care-taking. Not so. But these articles are helping a lot. I hope to grieve and move forward with a life I can be proud of.
Unable to Understand Others - Dave S - Jul 31st 2014
Learning about the parentification phenomenon has been very helpful for me. I am a 33 year old man that was an emotional confidant of my mother. She had a hard life: she was hated by her father for being a girl, disrespected by her husband and his family. This gave her an intense resentment of men, which she happily poured out on my father. This just increased his disrespect towards her and the cycle continued. They brought out the worst in each other.
I am the oldest of two boys and was the one that Mom latched onto. I was never close with my father, who had a temper and always considered me to be "timid" and having "no balls." Mom died 8 years ago and I still live with my father. We are not close and I know he makes fun of me behind my back. I would move out but the economy still has not improved to the point that I can find a job, despite having a newly earned master's degree.
I once told my mother that it was wrong for her to make fun of men in front of my brother and I and that it had a negative affect on us. She simply denied that it had a negative affect. I was diagnosed as bipolar at age 22 and I didnt believe that she took the diagnosis seriously. I told her that and she outright agreed that she didnt take it seriously. She then mocked me for it. Before she died of lung cancer, she told me that she hated my face and that I should have been aborted. After I acted as her personal therapist from the age of 13, that was her thanks to me. I dont miss her at all.
I have never had a romantic relationship in my life. I just had my first kiss in January, to a woman that I wasnt attracted to. Romantic relationships are completely befuddling to me. I had my first date when I was twenty years old and it was a disaster. She and friends had rented a hotel room and were planning to go dancing in the hotel's ballroom. I panicked during the slow dance and left abruptly, leaving my date at the hotel. I didnt date again for years.
Therapy and medication has helped me immensely but I am still prone to depression, anxiety and mood swings.
Parentified by both parents - - Jul 25th 2014
So as I was growing up I was told I was going to die early on because I was a very sick child. I don't know why someone would ever tell me that as a child but my mother always cried and her very abusive boyfriend told me it was my fault and the reason. Going further while I was growing up my mother had multiple boyfriends every three to four months until the abusive one and then later my step father. She always talked with me about how hard her life is, she tried her best but I did end up taking care of myself and her a lot even with being so sickly.
Eventually her abusive relationship escalated and I tried to protect her. The last time was the worst, I was choked and almost killed for protecting her and eventually I managed to reach one of his eyes and stuck my thumb into it as hard as I could. I was thrown across the room in anger into a wall and I got up and ran out the door to the neighbors apartment and they called the police. My mother didn't push charges out of fear and would not let me tell the police what he did to her or me.
Going further forward I ended up traveling a lot for a year and a half because of my step fathers work. My mother had a child and I ended up helping a lot to take care of her. I ended up living with my military father and at that point I was taking care of myself a lot again. When he went overseas which happened a lot I stayed at a childhood friends and that was actually the first time I had a proper family even if it was not a normal family setting at all. It was thanks to them I got better and finally got a clean bill of health. I would still visit my mother once in a while for summers and since my sister was not a baby but not old enough to take care of herself yet I ended up babysitting a lot those summers so they could go out.
Eventually I had the choice to live with my childhood friends family but she had been killed and I didn't want to stay there with her memory so I moved with my father after he finally retired. He started partying with his brothers all the time and I became his care taker. Even when he stopped partying all the time the damage was done and he was a really bad alcoholic. I ended up not only taking care of him but also the house, the bills and well everything pretty much. I ended up failing school because I was absent so often. It did get better for a time because he recovered but near the end of my time in highschool he started again and it went back to me being the parent.
After graduation my girlfriend at the time moved across the country and the plan was for me to follow. I had a full scholarship to be an engineer and a paid internship with a company already. My father ended up being on his death bed temporarily and that went out the window. He did get better which was somewhat a miracle but the damage was done I lost my scholarship and internship. I was fighting with my girlfriend all the time. Eventually she ended up so upset over everything that she ended up killing herself. For another six years after four or five years after that I was working full time in a dead end job, paying his bills and trying to keep him from attacking people because he was a violent drunk which sometimes ended up leading to full fledged brawls to stop him and even sometimes protect him. I have even been arrested twice because of him both times were found in self defense but still it happened.
So I ended up going to school to be an automotive tech graduated with honors although I was still taking care of him and his bills and working part time and stopping him from hurting others. He wasn't able to show up because he ended up in prison for assault. I ended up getting a good job and then put out my back got another good job but he ended up in further trouble and I had to quit early on after he got out to be able to take him to all of his appointments which are all court ordered. He is sober and doing great but it is still a burnden because I am still handling the bills. I have no time to work, go out and do things with my friends or anything else the only good thing is I have paid my car payments and car insurance six months ahead and paid some of my other bills ahead.
I am getting married next spring and am happy about that but I was talking to my fiance on the phone about how I am worried about how he will do on his own and my fiance said that is not a normal thing to worry about since he is my father not the other way around. She had been talking to her psychiatrist about me and he brought up that it sounds like I have a parnetification issue and hence she told me to look this up to learn more than what she could tell me so here I am. I have some actually a lot of the signs except the relationship issues although parentification has had an effect on a previous relationship as mentioned before but the rest of the signs are there. When I was reading this I was actually getting mad because now I feel like I am not gonna be able to live a normal adult life because of my parents being imature and throwing me into adulthood before the age of seven. Not mad anymore but it was there as I read this article.
Parentifiied Adult - Siamone - May 22nd 2014
It the last year I have realized that I too experienced parentification. I'm in my late 40's and the youngest of two. I am the girl child and was the emotional, logistical, mediator and surrogate spouse to both my parents. My father was an alcoholic who verbally used me as a sounding board when he was frustrated with his marriage and my mother and often stated that he never wanted to marry, have children, and she was unstable. His motivation to remain in the home was by the request of my brother. My mother used me as the secondary adult in the home, I cooked, did the laundry, food shopping, mopped floors, etc.i did all the physical errands with my mother while the men of the house we never required to help nor would she ask. My parents did not have a loving, caring, attentive,respectful relationship. My father definitely was the dominant force in the home. You would hardly ever see my parents together in public because they would use me to be the filter in their marriage. Oddly and sadly enough they are still together and I have been left with the residuals, burdens, secrets and inadequacies of a zvery dysfunctional marriage and household. I'm so resentful towards them that I have decided that right now it is best that I keep my distance and I interact with them only when I want. No more people pleasing!! this has reeked havoc on my adult relationships and intimacy. I would not wish this on anyone it can be a spirit killer but I have been in therapy and I'm getting stronger.
Parentified Child - Sarah DeForge - Apr 22nd 2014
I'm from an Irish culture where generational information was always kept secret. My parents were intact and both worked; Dad a City Laborer (Blue collar) and Mom a nurse (White collar). My biological family consisted of 5 children: 3 boys & 2 girls. My oldest sibling was male, then female; the next 2 were both males and me - female. My parents’ generation way of showing their love was by providing (food, shelter & clothing) which they did for the family. Dad was a (socially accepted alcoholic) Mom was (physically present but emotionally absent) the 4 oldest children were (all heroin addicts) and me (parentified child).
The family structure: Dad was the work mule whose authority in the family was usurped by Mom from the beginning. Therefore, it was as if dad did not exist other than his physical apparence. He was big in stature, yet a very passive man by nature. Within the family structure there was no masculine dominance.
Mom was a workaholic, a schoolaholic, and neurotic, with serious attachment issues. Mom was shunned because in her generation if a child was sick physically or mentally - they were considered possed. Not to mention her family came from money thus placing more burden on the "Family Reputation." Mom was physically challenged therefore; she was shuffled around everywhere the family could find. She was placed with family friends, an orphanage, until she eventually end up with her Militant Maternal grandmother. Most of these facts regarding her were unknown to me until 2013.
The oldest son was a Pedophile whom assaults the youngest 2 sibling during childhood. Both the oldest daughter and the middle some were incarcerated at an early age during Junior High school for truancy. The youngest son was introduced to the criminal life at an early age too. All of these family members were heroin addicts and involved in serious criminal activities starting in their early adolescents. That's where I fit into the family. There is approximately 13 years between the oldest child (boy) and the youngest child (girl - me).
My role in the family was to keep things as functional as possible among the family members. You name it - it was happening right within the home. From the most dramatic and frightening thoughts you can imagine to the most insane bizarre behavior toward one another. In the midst of all this I did my best to maintain as much "Normalcy." Remember I am only a little girl with no one to protect her from her own family. Truthfully I would have been safer had I lived on the streets of the City of Boston.
The fact is with all my perservance I could not make my family any more functional if I lived in a war zone. Although as mentioned despite all the emotional scares and trauma with I endured. I followed one trait from my mother and that was to return to school later in my life. That is not to say that just like it says in the article I did pass on the "Emotional parentification" to my only daughter. The only difference is because I was a 1960's child I did not expect the secrecy.
Well to say I messed up as a parent, but I had no role models to glen parenting skills from. I do acknowledge I could have done much better as a parent. Although I'm confident I did the best I could with the knowledge had and the lack of support systems involved in my life back then. Unfortunately it was until my children were young adults did I manage to find the proper help necessary to rewire my thinking.
I wanted to know why I was so fearful, insecure; untrusting, and seeking love in all the wrong places (people, places, and things) Need I say why I believe I already stated my story. I went on to college later in life. (During my early education I was unable to participate in life just being a child). Today I'm proud to say despite the nightmare described above I have letters after my name and I'm able to help and understand other and their emotional pain and suffering.
Since much emotional heal has taken place in my life already I understand myself better today than I did back then. Understand that emotional healing is like an onion there are many layer to get to the core. So when you’re sad and you do not truly understand why do some counseling and/or journaling to help you through it. Remember being the "parentified child" was a challenge you overcame and believe me it's something we will all deal with throughout the rest of our lives.
I pray that this encourages at least one of you and gives someone else the knowledge and understanding to face whatever it is that they may need to conquer today. Don’t use life’s experiences as a crutch instead use it as a learning experience?
Thank you to the writer of the above comment - Anna - Nov 30th 2013
I am 29 years old and have just started getting therapy for a number of issues. Mostly panic attacks, a huge amount of people pleasing, constantly feeling guilty and a lack of understanding about how to deal with situations without consulting every Tom, Dick and Harry for approval first.
Turns out that I was a parentified child.
I've spent the entire day researching about 'parentified' children. I've been feeling sick and angry and hurt and upset. Reading your comment above, which says to stop looking after everyone else and start looking after yourself, is the BEST bit of advice I have read all day. I think that sums it up.
Thankyou. I hope that you are doing the same.
Parentification -- hot buttons - komeca - Sep 23rd 2013
My parents were divorced when I was six. My brother was an infant and Mother was on crutches pending much-needed knee surgery. Our parents married across religious lines, so both sets of grandparents had disowned us. I became both the instrumental and emotional parent for the family. One of the consequences was that I did not marry or have children until I was nearly 40, when I started to figure out what had happened to my own childhood. Another was that, as an adult, I moved as far away from my family as possible. I did continue to feel some duty to mother, and actually she remarried when I was 12 and began working on her own mental health. She cut back on drinking, and reached out to other people, and before her death, she had earned a widespread reputation for kindness to others. And she did make an effort to be kind to my brother and me, at least in what she did. She made an effort to curtail her devastating verbal zingers, and towards the end there, she even tried to pretend to be interested in my feelings, although she couldn't maintain that pretense for longer than a few minutes. I made regular visits to care for her until her death, and helped her have a gentle, caring death. And we celebrated her life with a memorial service that earned many compliments. But my heart still aches that, for some reason, my mother was able to be nice to almost everybody she met -- except me. Her own therapist and one of her longest-term friends have confirmed that they saw this too: my sister (born into better circumstances) could do no wrong, but nothing I ever did could ever be good enough. I do have children now, and I'm happy to say they had reasonably carefree childhoods and have grown into reasonably well adjusted adults. But I still run into parents who brag about giving their children adult responsibilities, and that's a big hot button for me. My rage flares up immediately.
Thank you - Sarah - Apr 20th 2013
Parts of your story really hit a nerve with me. I have had to look after all of my siblings and mother for as long as I can remember. I am 43 now and its still going on. I really had no idea that so many people live this life of being burdened with being responsible for people that can look after themselves. The guilt enmeshed in us is a killer. So thank you for your post. I have been thinking seriously about going for counselling and after reading your post I am going to start working through this mess. Thank you and take care, I hope you are recovering and things are looking up.
I am a child-parent - Juan - Mar 28th 2013
I've been making serious research after failing a finance test. Why? Suddenly, I came to realize that maybe all this effort I'm doing is fruitless. I knew something was wrong and there had to be a reason why certain "things" made me lash out irrationably at my parents.
My father was always an abusive man. He always manifests his anger whenever 'necessary', with the most flexible criteria that is. Like a little girl, he would complain that me and my mother or anyone in the family would not give him respect or want to go anywhere or do anything with him. I say 'little girl' because i believe him and my mother had a gender-specific role reversal. The woman is emotional, she is meant to lose control, making her attractive. The man is always calm, dominant, leading. My father has always been a very emotional man. His emotional inheritance was very poor. So when he started relying on me with his complants about my mother, it all just went downhill. My mother on her part, would talk to me about how she 'isnt having sex' with my dad right now because hes acting like a child. While me, the son, get to listen to all this crap. I had/ and still have psychological burdens while at the same time not getting the respect for assuming those roles. It can be very discouraging and confusing.
Now, I get insurmountable amounts of anger when my mother calls me 'her beautiful son' because she once said i was fat when i was getting a little heavy. This just shows how many of her insecurities she has projected on to me. My father has given me personality issues, on his great behalf. I no longer feel like I miss my parents. My entire childhood I spent alone while other kids' parents went to their play recitals, and took pictures of them. Not one of them took pictures of me, while my parents were too tired or too busy working. The stress would collapse all family foundations and the most wrong roles would be assigned to the most underqualified people. The son= caretaker, the mother= the man-boy, the father woman-girl. Son blames parents for reasons unknown to even himself. I always knew it was something, i could NEVER put my finger on it. But to quote my favorite comedian Bill Burr:
~In your twenties, you're just trying to figure out what the f**k just happened in the first 20 years of your life.
Let Your Kids Be Kids - Anon. - Apr 9th 2012
I am a 57-year old parentified "child" who is still dealing with the burdens placed on me. I am the second of 6 children, and the oldest daughter. I was manipulated by my parents my whole life.
My parents had a rocky marriage that ended in divorce when I was 22-years old. Before the marriage ended, my mother made me her confidante. She shared every horrible detail of her childhood with me when I was still a child myself. She made me feel sad for her and sorry for her. I knew at 11-years old who my father's mistress was. I knew the names of all her old boyfriends, and which one she should have married.
My father, who was self-employed, had me doing secretarial work summers, vacations, and after school from the time I was 12. I had taken a half-year of typing in 7th grade, and was an excellent typist, but I was still only 12. We would often work until well after midnight, with me taking dictation and typing up legal briefs.
My mother had me taking care of my younger siblings. In 3rd grade I was washing out soiled diapers in the toilet. She was a hypochondriac who thought every ache and pain was cancer. As a child, I believed her and thought she always had one foot in the grave. There's nothing worse for a child than thinking mom is going to die.
My father died suddenly when I was 23, and my youngest sibling was 8. He left nothing but debt. My mother wouldn't get a job, and it never dawned on any of us that this 52-year old woman should get a job and contribute financially to the roof over her head. My sisters and I supported the family and raised the youngest child while my mother pursued her own life, as if she didn't already have a pile of kids who needed a mother.
My mother developed multiple sclerosis in her early 40s, but her symptoms didn't really kick in until she was around 63, which tripled my burdens. Being the only single sibling and the parentified child, I was her primary caregiver for 20 years until her inability to transfer to her wheelchair left her no choice but to go into a nursing home two years ago at age 83. I started therapy at that point, something I wish I had done 35 years ago.
I have rocky relationships with many of my siblings, who perceive me as a bossy martyr. I am emotionally exhausted from trying to manage my screwed up family since I was a kid. My parents pulled me into their marital drama leading me to believe I had the power to save the marriage if I just kept the house clean enough. When the marriage finally ended a month before my father died in an accident, I felt as though my own marriage had failed. I didn't have the emotional energy to pursue a relationship of my own. In fact, I had no idea how to have any kind of equitable relationship with anybody.
I feel responsible for making and keeping siblings, nieces, nephews and my mother happy and seeing that their needs are all met. And now my mother is dying, and I'm fighting the urge to manage her death.
I am trying to build a life for myself. Thankfully, I've always been happy with my work and have always had good close friends. I will never get my childhood back, however, and I grieve for what was stolen from me. For the husband I never looked for and the children I never had.
I'm sharing this in the hope that somebody who might be in the process of burdening their own child with their problems and issues will stop. And if you are an adult parentified child, stop taking care of people who can take care of themselves, start taking care of you, and find a good therapist.
Thanks for listening.