Parentification harms children

On Behalf of | Mar 20, 2024 | Child Custody |

It is normal to expect children to contribute to the household through age-appropriate chores. This helps them learn life skills and develop a sense of responsibility.

However, there are cases where this contribution crosses the line to foisting parental and adult responsibilities on children. This is an occurrence called parentification and can have serious short- and long-term consequences for children.

What counts as parentification?

Parentification is when children step into emotional and/or physical parental roles. This may mean taking on all household duties, such as cleaning, cooking and maintenance. In certain cases, it means raising younger siblings, taking responsibility for their meals, schoolwork and worries and bearing the blame for anything that goes wrong.

In others, it means becoming an emotional support system or dumping ground for parents, who treat the parentified child like a spouse. Parentified children may also take on financial responsibilities, paying bills or purchasing household groceries.

What are the consequences of parentification?

When parents parentify their children, they deny them a normal childhood and stunt their development. Parentified children may see a decline in academic and social behaviors. They may be unable to participate in normal activities like school trips or extracurricular activities.

As a result, they may grow resentful towards their parents or siblings or develop a sense of responsibility for them to the exclusion of caring for themselves. They may have trouble developing normal relationships or setting boundaries as they age since their situation conditioned them to take care of everyone else before themselves. Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are also more likely to develop in parentified children.

After a divorce or remarriage, parentification can happen because suddenly single parents find themselves overwhelmed or new children introduced into the family produce more work. Regardless of the reason, it creates a poor environment for the parentified children and constitutes abuse. Parents who suspect the parentification of their children at their co-parent’s house may need to petition the courts to interfere.