Parentification Pros, Cons, and Solutions

Parentification Pros, Cons, and Solutions
Thinking about Therapy?
Take our quiz to see therapists who are a good match for you.

Parentification is a family dynamic in which a child is expected to take on the role and responsibilities of a parent, often at the expense of their own emotional and developmental needs. This can occur for various reasons, such as when a parent is emotionally unavailable, physically absent, or unable to fulfill their parenting responsibilities due to addiction, mental illness, or other challenges.

In a parentification dynamic, the child may be required to:

1. Care for younger siblings: They might be responsible for feeding, bathing, and supervising their younger brothers or sisters.

2. Emotional support: The child may be expected to provide emotional support and comfort to the parent, often taking on the role of a confidant or therapist.

3. Household chores: They might be responsible for maintaining the household, including cooking, cleaning, and managing finances.

4. Translation and mediation: In cases where the parent speaks a different language or has communication difficulties, the child may serve as a translator or mediator in interactions with the outside world.

5. Managing the parent’s emotions: The child might need to regulate the parent’s emotions or even shield them from their problems.

Research suggests that some children are at increased risk of parentification, including children of chronically ill or substance-misusing parents and children of divorced or migrant parents. Despite the necessity for some children to assume adult roles, parentification is potentially harmful.

Parentification can have significant adverse effects on the child’s development and well-being. It can lead to anxiety, stress, resentment, and a loss of childhood. Children who experience parentification may struggle with issues like low self-esteem, difficulty forming healthy relationships, and emotional challenges in adulthood. In some cases, parentification can be traumatic.

The experience of parentification can also have some positive effects. For instance, it can be adaptive and empowering for children. The potential components of adaptive parentification included emotional support, supportive and positive relationships with siblings and grandparents, parents openly delegating the roles to each child, having age-appropriate roles, parental support and validation, and children’s positive appraisal and perception of role-taking.

Professional help, such as therapy or counseling, can benefit both the child and the family in managing and mitigating the effects of parentification. Adults who have experienced parentification as a child can also gain insights by working with a therapist.

One such approach might include a process of parenting the self. This involves learning to give the adult self what parents could not give when growing up. Attention to patterns, reflecting on childhood experiences (including what brought joy), working with the inner critic, going back to things happy, and doing things that create safety are all potential goals in reparenting.

You May Also Like