Are you a Parentified Child?

By David Joel Miller

If you are a Parentified Child how do you ever finish growing up?

An icon illustrating a parent and child

An icon illustrating a parent and child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some children grow up way to young. Are you one of those people?  Did you take on roles that were far to adult for your age? Parentified children begin to act like adults before they ever have the chance to be kids. This cause them problems later in life.

If you came from a dysfunctional home and there are lots of different types of dysfunctional homes, you may have been cast in the role of parent for your mother or father. They played the child role; you tried to be the responsible adult. You made their food, cleaned the house and may have cared for your siblings. You may have had to call their bosses or make excuses for them when they were not able to function as an adult.

If you had to be a surrogate parent before you were able to be a child, how did you learn what to do as an adult and when do you ever get to be a child? Parentified children, gown into adults who never had a childhood become either supper responsible or irresponsible to the max.

We often see this in families where a parent is an alcoholic or an addict. They are so debilitated much of the time that a child steps in and takes care of the parent and fills the parents other roles also. This parentified child becomes so use to being the responsible, caregiving one, that they all too often end up in dysfunctional relationships hooked up with an immature adult that needs a caregiver rather than a partner.

The little girl who goes to school, say in the third grade, but then goes home to fix dinner for her younger siblings, is acting like a parentified child. She may have to do the laundry or even feed and change the baby. She becomes the parent for her siblings. What happens to this child when they grow up?

One result of being too mature too soon is the unresolved need to be a child and play. These Parentified children are quick to jump into sexual relationships. They go straight from being a child-mother to their brothers, sisters and parent, to being a partner and mother or father themselves. There is never a time to get their needs met.

These Parentified children are at high risk to abuse substance themselves to cope with the too early assumed responsibilities of being a parent. They are also at risk at some point in their life to veer off and go through a period of irresponsible behavior, trying to learn to play and have fun. What they may not have learned is how to have fun without indulging in drugs, alcohol or other risky behavior.  

They are also at risk to never really learn functional ways to parent. Having had to be adults at a young age they expect their own children to start taking on that role before those children are ready. This results in a lot of family dysfunction.

If you grew up in a home where you had to take on too many adult responsibilities at a very young age you may not have had good role models for the ways in which you need to behave. You have had to make the rules up as you go along. Often you have paid the price of having to learn how functional people behave by trial and error.

One major challenger for the parentified child is to learn about developmental milestones, what should you have learned and how should you have behaved at eight, at eighteen and at twenty-eight. Many paretified children need to take parenting classes so they can parent themselves as well as parent their children.

Did you become a parentified child? Do you now have to learn how to play, have fun and go through the process of growing up all over again? 

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

14 thoughts on “Are you a Parentified Child?

  1. Never seen an article like this before. A nice piece. I am a parentified child as I lost my mum when I was 10 years and had to stand in as a mum for all my siblings. Now I want to play because I feel there has always been too much to do since I was young. That makes me feel work is stressful many times. How does one strike a balance?


    • Thanks for the comment.
      This is a real challenge for anyone who grew up to young and to fast. The things I suggest are:
      1. Learn how to have fun and play.
      2. Go back and learn the things that you should have learned at each developmental stage but missed out on because you were having to care for others
      3. Do all this without ending up abusing or addicted to drugs, alcohol or risky sexual behavior.
      It is possible to have fun and care for yourself without doing things that will self harm.
      Keeping things in balance, that is the challenge.
      Best wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

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  7. I was a parentified child; I took responsibility for raising my siblings since I was 8. My mother is a parentified child in that her mother was a raging alcoholic. Now that my mother is older, she makes horrible choices and is not responsible for her behavior. She says things like “I’ve dropped everything and been there for you, more than once!” It was VERY liberating when I replied to her, “That’s what parents are SUPPOSED to do for their children.” Some where in her mind, I’m not her daughter, but an annoying ex of some sort. Thank you for this article. I wish there was more about this subject. I’m 48 and just now figuring out what my problem is.


  8. I was a parentified child. I had to take care of myself and of my mother. She was emotionally unstable and poured her problems onto me. She treated me like I was her mother and had to listen to her problems and shit. I broke up with her because I couldn’t take it anymore. Ever since, I’m much happier as an adult.


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