When Children Parent Their Parents



We might devoutly wish that those considering parenthood

would wait until they are psychologically ready before

reproducing.  Babies have a way of appearing nine months

after a particular encounter between their parents.

Readiness is not a factor.

This is not a miracle, just biology.  The real miracle

is not that adults produce offspring.  It’s that, sometimes,

offspring produce adults.

It is in the interest of every child to have a good,

mature, responsible parent to run the family and take care of

them.  Not every child is that lucky.  Some are born to

immature parents who aren’t equipped for the job.  Some

parents are so overwhelmed by the strains of adult life

that they regress to a less mature level of functioning.

Executive leadership is so vital in families that a

child will often take on this role, or parts of it.  A child

may become a mediator in parental conflicts, a confidante to

a grieving parent, an assistant to an overburdened parent,

a lover to a parent whose rightful partner has withdrawn


Power has its perks.  The job carries status and

privileges that are attractive to the child.  To be treated

as mature seems, to the child, a good thing.  Loyalty,

love and feeling needed create a potent inducement to fill

and even enlarge upon the pseudo-parental role.

When the child reaches adolescence, the press of self-

interest may cause an abrupt change.  The torch may be passed

to a sibling, but not always.  Some will remain their

parent’s caretaker for life.  Until this is resolved, the

adult parentified child will be unable to give freely to his

or her own spouse and children.  As soon as they marry they find

themselves boxed into a loyalty conflict.

People who grew up under these conditions feel like they

never had a childhood.  And they miss it, too.  The normal

play and peer relationship activities of childhood have

important developmental meaning.  When they don’t happen on

schedule, something of value is missing for life.

Children need to trust their parents to be parents.  If

parents fail in this, the child may never learn to trust.


This entry was posted in Family, Parenting and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>