By David Joel Miller.
If you are a Parentified Child how do you ever finish growing up?
Some children grow up way too young. Are you one of those people? Did you take on roles that were far too adult for your age? Parentified children begin to act like adults before they ever have the chance to be kids. This causes 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, grown into adults who never had a childhood become either super 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 parent’s other roles also. This parentified child becomes so used 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 challenge 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 parentified 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 counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books
- Do therapists tell parents what kids say? (counselorssoapbox.com)