Many people grew up in a family where there were more children than the ability of the parent(s) to adequately care for them. Perhaps the parents were single parents who worked full time and needed the help of the children to run the household. Or maybe one of the parents worked night-shift hours, leaving the oldest child in the position where they filled the absent parent's role while they were gone. Another example is when one parent has an active addiction that keeps them from being fully present and engaged in the family system.
When a child grows up in a family where they are taking care of/responsible for their siblings or in a position where they are more responsible for life situations than what is appropriate for their developmental age, we call this a parentified child.
Being a parentified child can be damaging to a child in many ways. They don't learn to develop healthy boundaries with others, and learn to take care of themselves first as adults. Often times, they become over-responsible with the other person in adult relationships, and become caregivers to others, at the expense of their own well-being. Other times, the lack of having an appropriate childhood that isn't riddled with hyper-responsibility, can create a likelihood to "make up" for this in adulthood, which can mean coping with feelings through addictive behaviors, shunning responsibility that is necessary as an adult, and having difficulty following appropriate rules and expectations from adult relationships.
Learning to address the wounds of being a parentified child can be helpful in forming healthier adult relationships. If you connect with any of this week's blog topics from dysfunctional family dynamics, we encourage you to start working on these things in your relationships to become a healthier you!
Joleen Watson, MS, LMFTA, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling, and specializes in infidelity counseling and helping couples heal from an affair. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.