It is a parent’s job to emotionally and physically support their children, not the other way around, but that does not mean that sometimes, the roles aren’t reversed. When this happens, it is known as parentification.
Parentification is what happens when a child has to take on the role of caregiver to the parent. Experts have identified two major forms of parentification, one is emotional and the other is instrumental. In cases of instrumental parentification, you may notice the following signs:
1. The child takes on the role of parent to other siblings.
2. The child assumes cleaning tasks, cooking, and other responsibilities like laundry and grocery shopping.
3. The child has to pay the bills around the house to support their parent.
4. The child has to be the caretaker for a parent with a disability or illness.
In emotional parentification, we observe these signs:
1. The parent leans on the child with issues that are not age-appropriate.
2. The parent leans on their child for advice.
3. There is a lack of boundaries present.
4. The child serves as a mediator between their parent and others.
5. The child becomes their parent’s confidante.
When a child has to assume the role of the parent in any capacity, they have to jump from one stage of development to another. In many ways, this stunts them, and it can lead them to have a savior complex in which they will spend much of their lives trying to please everyone around them. Many of these children grow up believing their needs don’t matter because their needs were put on the back burner to their parent’s needs.
In many ways, parentification is a form of neglect, because the bond between parent and child and the very nature of their relationship requires the parent to step up and be the parent. In cases where the roles are reversed, there can be long-term implificiations and negative consequences for the child.