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When The Child Becomes The Parent – 5 Negative Effects of Parentification

parentification, parental child,
parentification, parental child,
When The Child Becomes The Parent – Parentification – the reversal of the roles between child and parent.

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the 5 negative effects on a child when he/she plays the role of parent or caretaker.

First a quick update:

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Now, let’s talk about the 5 negative effects on a child when he/she plays the role of parent or caretaker.

Did you play the role of parent as a child?

Did you feel like you raised your parents?

Did you have to provide emotional support to your parents when you were growing up?

Did you try to protect one or more of your siblings or one of your parents from an abusive parent or the abusive boyfriend/girlfriend of a parent?

Did you feel like you missed out on having a childhood perhaps because when you were a child you had certain responsibilities such as taking care of others physically or emotionally?

If I were to ask you, “What is the role of the parent?”, you would most likely say that it is to love the child.

Love, of course, encompasses many things, particularly when we refer to loving a child: food, water, shelter, physical love and affection, attention, acceptance, care, concern, being wanted, feeling wanted, being and feeling understood, belonging, guidance, direction, encouragement, security, stability, protection, understanding, patience, acknowledgement, praise, validation, discipline, imparting of wisdom, and more.

The best way to sum up the role of a parent is to say:
The role of the parent is to give to the child everything that he/she needs to realize his/her full potential.

If the parent’s role is to give, what is the child’s role?
The role of the child is to receive.

What happens, though, when the roles are reversed, and the child is expected to give – to give in the form of taking care of, protecting or meeting the emotional needs of the parent or a sibling – even financially? Yes, there are children who, from a very young age, had to work to help the family financially.

There are 5 main negative impacts upon the child when he/she plays the role of parent, caretaker or is expected to meet the emotional needs of a parent. This is referred to as parentification – reversal of the roles between child and adult – the parent no longer fulfills the role of the parent, but rather, gives that role to the child, making him/her a parental child.

1. Loss of Childhood
What does it mean to be a child?

While parents demand primarily one thing from their children, obedience, children move in the opposite direction, struggling for freedom. Thus, being a child refers to being free:
Free of adult responsibilities
Feeling safe and protected to play and explore – to explore the world around him/her and his/her place in it
Free to have fun and express from their imagination
Free and able to express and satisfy curiosity
Free to have & create great adventures

Thus, for a person to say, “I never had a childhood” means he/she never felt free, never felt truly safe, cared for or protected; he/she felt burdens of responsibility (not age appropriate), and never had the chance to find and create his/her own place in the world – it was forced upon him.

Thus, instead of experiencing and developing with the natural transition from childhood to adulthood (with the appropriate responsibilities) the child misses is forced to grow too fast and misses out on childhood.

2. Inability to Receive
When the child becomes the giver or the caretaker, he forms new habits of giving and does not understand what it means to receive. Subconsciously, he/she believes that his role is to receive and that the way to experience love, significance and connection is to give, not receive. In adulthood, he won’t feel comfortable or worthy receiving, and will unknowingly (subconsciously) seek out and be attracted to ‘takers’, not givers. In other words, his relationships will be with people who are not giving and instead demand and take.

3. Identity as ‘the caretaker’
The child’s identity will be formed around the role of caretaker – taking care of others – again forming a subconscious belief that the way to experience love, significance and connection is to take care of others. This becomes the child’s subconscious identity and he/she will be attracted to roles and relationships, even professions where she is taking care of others.

4. Enmeshment/Default Spouse – Filling adult emotional needs of the parent
The child’s identity might also be enmeshed with the parent because he/she is meeting the emotional needs of the parent. This might be in the form of expectations placed on the child: “You’re the man of the house…my little man” and the parent might even directly turn to the young child to solve his/her problems, to listen his/her problems, to be a confidante, companion or friend, or to mediate between parents to solve issues and arguments or to simply try and stop the parents from arguing or being abusive.

If there is a divorce or a separation, one of the parents might engage in parental alienation (cutting off the child from the other parent or lying or convincing the child that his other parent is bad and evil.) That same parent might then turn to the child to meet his/her emotional needs, and might even make the child a default spouse.

Thus, the child tries to heal the parent, to make him/her happy, to relieve their sadness, anger or depression or to meet their emotional needs. Eventually, the child believes that it his/her role to meet other people’s needs, becoming in adulthood a martyr, a people-pleaser, or a protector if he was protecting one parent when growing up.

5. Emotional Void – Emotional needs unmet
By learning to take care of and meet the needs of the parent, the child fails to have his/her own emotional needs met. This creates an emotional void in the child, and as an adult she doesn’t know how to get her emotional needs met, doesn’t even know what they truly are, and will feel guilt or shame when she experiences emotions. The next result is anger, anxiety, depression, isolation, resentment, or eating disorders, possible fear to commit in relationships, all of which then create greater divisions in relationships and an inability to connect authentically with a partner.

I have helped to set free hundreds of clients who were suffering because as children they were forced to be the parent, caretaker or to meet the emotional needs of one or both parents. If you would like to be set free from the past, to overcome the pain and to create a new identity and get your needs met in relationships, book a one-on-one session with me.

You can add to the conversation below.

I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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