60 Comments to
Harming Your Child by Making Him Your Parent

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  1. I am 20 years old now and have just recently been introduced into this term “emotional parentification”. My father has adhd, ptsd, depression, and multpile anxiety disorders which made him not entirely dependent growing up through my preteens and teens. I found myself taking the role of father to my younger brother and emotional support for my mom. When I read through these “symptoms” ,or what have you, I almost feel as if I am reading about myself. I have been successful in many ways, without my dad I actually managed to make it to compete at the Olympics, but the two that I cannot control are my trust in others and my relationships with women. I have read through quite a few articles on this subject lately (which obviously in no way makes me an expert) but I have not found too many that focus on “healing the wounds” caused by emotional parentification. I was wondering if there is any sources online that outline solutions or ways to practice getting through this and moving on with life? If so that would be amazing, I really want to address these issues and move on one step at a time. Thanks.

  2. Good God, will she ever stop?? As I get older and wiser, the more and more I realize that I am/was a parentified child. I have begun an inner journey a few years ago that forced me to look at myself and the way things were in my life. It wasn’t until 2009 and after I had a major nervous breakdown at work, that I entered therapy for what we have uncovered as abandonment and unending layers of toxic shame and guilt which were all leftover from an abusive childhood. The mistake that I made, this time, is coming back. Was it out of guilt? Was it a choice? After the incident at work, I decided it was time I left my family to figure things out, and to avoid any nasty confrontations. I spent three long years away from it, away from the histrionic behavior of my fiver year old mother, away from the toxic alcoholism of my dad’s side of the family, and away from the unfortunate denial of everyone else. So why did I come back here? I don’t know. My mother has not changed, nor has she taken the first step in admission of her problem. My father continues to remain absent, and the rest of my family does nothing except watch and point fingers. I supposed it is guilt that brought me back here because nothing ever changes and the same patterns keep repeating themselves over and over again. The more and more I say ‘no’ to my mother, the more and more I hurt and the more I go off and act out. I’m 33 for heaven’s sake! My friends all have families of their own, and their all millionaires. Why am I stuck at my mother’s doing her laundry? I honestly don’t know how abused children survive. I literally have to put myself in parent mode and pretend she’s really five, because so far, that’s the only method that works, even though it wears me out. If anyone has any comments or suggestions, I’m open to them. Thanks.

  3. Dear dr,

    I have heard the term ‘parentification’ before but I didn’t think it applied to me.I have always been the black sheep of the family in so many ways.I was terribly scapegoated .I believed that my mother is Narc and my father orbited around her.I was terrified of my mother to the extent that I had to be a ‘good’ girl and do everything in my power to make sure that SHE was happy not me.I lived in fear for my life.I became my fathers protector because she hated him too so I made sure that I loved him.

    Now I can’t have successful relationships or friendships because I always feel like people ‘need’ me and that they are going to ‘use’me and drain me.I feel like I have nothing left to give and I get extremely angry at any whiff of being needed but I seem to attract needy people .my siblings see me as their saviour and consequently I am walking around angry and guarded.I became everyone’s mother because our mother was pathetic and needy AND sadistic!

    I am so glad that I found your article.I am in therapy with a good and kind therapist .thank you for your work.


  4. Dear everybody,

    at 57 (!) I am at the stage where I am trying to forgive my 82 year old mother for the emotional burdens she placed on me as a child. No little girl should have to comfort a grown woman weeping for 3 days over the whole of the Christmas holidays because her married boyfriend didn’t send her a Christmas card. No child should have to grab the bottle of pills from her mother’s hands as she dramatically tries to swallow them all, whilst blaming me for all her ills.

    As a rational adult, I understand the ghastly life she had and the damage that was done to her. I also know that she did not do this to me deliberately. I know that she also cared for me and tried her best under impossible circumstances (domestic violence in the first 6 years of my life, dire poverty and isolation for the next 7/8 years etc).

    So I am still left with mixed feelings even now. My recommendation to people suffering is to get the hell away from toxic individuals, get as much help as humanly possible, look after your health and inform yourselves. Knowledge is definitely power. Also, as more and more is known about the mind and the brain, we see that we can “remake” ourselves or “rewire” our brains to a great extent through practices such as meditation etc.

    So good people, don’t give up and learn to love yourselves. Loving yourself is NOT an emotion, rather a commitment to your health and wellbeing and that is something achievable, especially one step at a time.

    Love to you all.

  5. “Emotional Parentification: This type of parentification forces the child to meet the emotional needs of their parent and usually other siblings also. This kind of parentification is the most destructive. It robs the child of his/her childhood and sets him/her up to have a series of dysfunctions that will incapacitate him/her in life.”

    Woah, woah. Pull the reigns in there, Jango.
    Look, my brother and I both came out of abusive homes. Our father was an opiate addict who physically and emotionally abused us and our mother was terminally ill most of our childhood and died in our teens.
    Both of us were in every aspect “parentified” – I frequently broke up domestic disputes between adults, as did my brother. My brother, several times, engaged in domestic violence on my mother’s behalf.

    I am now in my 30’s, have been happily married for 8 years with three children and am currently finishing out my degree for psychiatry. I am also of sound mental health and functioning.
    Being “parentified” has by no means incapacitated me. Has it required a significant healing process? Of course. Incapacitated? Not in the least bit.

    I can appreciate the helpful content of your article and I most certainly appreciate what experience you bring to help others with. But in the mental health field we should try very hard not to “blanket statement” these things or make it sound like something inevitable and inescapable that would provide individuals with a “labeled excuse” to throw in their peer’s faces as to why they think they cannot change. (With neuroplasticity, we know the alleged inability to change is false. Even if it is minute.)

    “Difficulty with Adult Attachments: The parentified adult child can experience hardship in connecting with friends, spouse, and his/her children. This person could be operating out of deficits in knowing how to attach. Hence he/she could find it difficult to experience healthy intimacy in relationships. Relationships will tend to be distorted on some level.”

    As I said, I’ve been happily married for 8 years. This is certainly not the product of someone with “difficulty attaching” despite being a subject of “parentification”.

    If it was not the intention to “blanket statement” a good way to avoid sounding like it is through similar means that professionals like M.D. Bruce D. Perry Ph.D, and Robert Sapolsky do in their work. i.e. “Does this mean that every child subjected to parentification will turn out incapacitated and struggle with attachments for the rest of their lives? Of course not!”

    Not everyone is doomed to be damaged for the rest of their lives from this. And there is certainly no reason why victims of this sort of thing cannot change and live positive, productive lives.

    How do I know? I’m living proof of it.

  6. I identify with so many of you who have commented on this site! I greatly appreciate this opportunity to share my experience in summary…

    I grew up as a very serious child. My parents had a very tumultuous relationship, and expressed their dislike for one another as long as I can remember… Dad wanted a partner to help him in his business) and understand him; Mom wanted someone to take care of her, let her get dressed up, and take her out on the town. At age five, I remember my father huffing and puffing on cigarettes, and telling me my mother didn’t understand him at all–he was angry–and I remember so well how helpless I felt. From the time I was eight years old, I worked with my father after school in his meat market. I was the only one of my three sisters to do so. My mother never worked outside the house. My father relied on me to help him with his accounts payable, wait on customers, and even do meat cutting after school. This transferred to the home, where I started to help with the finances. My mom had no interest in helping with the finances, and so my Dad “trained” me. As the eldest, I was a straight A student, and got into UCLA in 1980. I couldn’t live on campus, however, because I still worked in the family business and was responsible for my two sisters, moving them in and out of their dorms in their college. I worked all through college; my sisters didn’t. This was expected of me. Now, I am an educator myself, and at 52, I am caring evenings for my 88 and 82-year-old parents. They still fight daily and can’t stand each other. I feel great resentment that I am responsible for so much, and even provide a good deal for them financially, with all the stress they continually put me through. My mother only approves of me when I do whatever she wants and dotes on her. It’s like she has no conception of what I did growing up and even what I do for a living. She doesn’t seems to care. My Dad still complains day and night about my mom and how she doesn’t understand him. Today, he threw down his metal cane in frustration. My sisters stay away because they “can’t take it” and don’t want to hear about my stress in this situation. I am so filled with hurt and resentment. I feel so alone!! I also do all the paperwork for my parents and my disabled brother. He has been in and out of the psychiatric hospital numerous times, suffering from OCD which is exascerbated by all the fighting between my parents. I was told as a young adult in college that I had the potential to succeed in graduate school (very high SAT scores, straight As at UCLA); but I would have had to leave home, and I wasn’t “permitted” to do so. I am so hurt now at age 52 about all of this. I keep wondering how my life would have been different if I would have been a bit selfish and actually lived a childhood. I still have a hard time having fun; I don’t know how to play card or board games, or sports, or such pastimes children my age engaged in. I am prone to depression and anxiety. Thank you for listening– Perhaps someday, after my parents have passed on, I will finish my Master’s Degree in Psych (I was half-through) and study the healing of parentified children.

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