Parentified Child

LOST CHILDHOOD: the tragedy of the caretaking child

      It is in the interest of every child to have a parent who is reliable, nurturing and mature.  Not every child is so fortunate.

Often a child will take on adult roles in an effort to make up for a parental deficit.  This is quite common where one parent is missing or dysfunctional due to divorce or drug/alcohol abuse.

What this appears to be is a child who is mature beyond his years.  That child may be a great help to the other parent, perhaps an older child who looks after the younger ones while Mom works.  A child may also act as an emotional support, confidante and pseudo-partner to a parent who is spouseless or in conflict with their mate.

The parentified or spousified child may seem a willing, even eager, participant in this “role reversal.”  There is glory and honor in helping a parent in need and the child may delight in the “specialness” and privileges inherent in the pseudo-adult role.

But if children become stuck in this position over time, they are likely to pay a high price—-the loss of their own childhood and an inability to recognize their own needs and to seek satisfaction of them from other people.

The chronically parentified child appears to be highly functional because he or she is so good at taking care of others, being the mature one, sacrificing for the family.  Scratch the surface and you’ll likely find a young person who is depressed, unsure of who they are and what they want, feeling they’ve missed out on something important, and unable to give and receive love freely.  They keep hoping for a reward that never comes.

Childhood is for self-discovery, carefree dependency and learning to receive love just for being who you are.  Caretaking is a job properly reserved for real adults.  Those who do it best have been well cared for as kids.

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