Parentified Children

Helpful children are a blessing to parents. Some children do more than help; literally they run the household, almost as well as their parents. My oldest sister was able to take care of all of us (there was eleven) younger siblings by the time she was seventeen. In the absence of my parents she would feed, clothe, and keep the house clean. This felt very natural, and normal. We never questioned the arrangement. I heard often adults praising my sister for being so mature.

Today it’s known that while it’s good to encourage children to be independent, when their independence is a result of parental dysfunction, neglect, abandonment, or addiction the child suffers in the long run. It’s good for parents to have a close relationship, with their parents, but the boundaries between parent and the parentified child are too often blurred. Parents out of loneliness, neglect, distraction, disability, addiction, will cross boundaries with children.

Parents cross boundaries by sharing marital secrets, discussing adult problems, and turning the run of the household over to children on a regular basis; this is elevating the child to premature adult status. These children often become long term caretakers, so much so they often marry individuals who are dysfunctional, as adults they struggle with making decisions, and they continue the destructive pattern of prematurely, putting children, in an adult role.

It’s good for children to help, but it’s so easy to inappropriately cross boundaries, and put children in adult roles, especially when parents need the extra help, and/or the child fulfills an adult role for their parent.

Adult problems are too difficult for children to handle; remember doing chores is a natural part of growing up, however running a household is the parents’ responsibility.

Share this with adults who may be unintentionally making the mistake of making their children into little adults.

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