The word „parentification“ is derived from the English word „parents“. Translated, it stands for the word „parents“. If we speak of parentification, we are talking about children who take on the role of parents and feel responsible for the health of their parents. It is a role reversal that has serious consequences for the child. Taking on tasks that are not age-appropriate can lead to developmental disorders. In this regard, further explanations on the topic follow in order to address the background in an understandable way.
What is parentification? Consequences, meaning, definition, explanation
Whether paying the bill, cooking or doing the shopping, there are things that are reserved for adults. If children are nevertheless entrusted with such tasks, this has long-term consequences. The negative consequences are not limited to childhood. In cases of particular hardship, the consequences continue into adulthood.
Among other things, it can have a negative impact on self-esteem. Children who only get love when you help have low self-esteem. Parents are important caregivers who shape us throughout our lives. Children depend on the love of their parents. If there were rejections in childhood, this has a long-term effect on trust. The child learns that he or she will only be accepted and loved if he or she performs. As a result, children have problems accepting themselves as adults.
Whether partnership, professional life or circle of friends, numerous areas of life can suffer from parentification. Due to low self-esteem, adults have a hard time building trust later on. Along with this, adults make high demands on themselves. They are convinced that they are only good if they help others. Thus, in a sense, they continue their role as a child by constantly helping others.
It is not uncommon for social isolation to result. Children who constantly help their parents inevitably have less time. They cannot meet friends, nor can they play carefree. In the worst case, bullying can occur, for example if one parent is an alcoholic. This increases the pressure of suffering on children. Anxiety and depression can develop, depending on the extent of the parentification.
Treating parentification – possible ways out in view
Generally speaking, it is advisable to seek professional help. It is not uncommon for there to be other problems behind parentification that require treatment. This can be an alcohol or drug addiction or a mental illness of the parents. Furthermore, it can happen that children themselves develop anxiety disorders or other behavioral problems. Therefore, it is important to intervene as early as possible.
In the first instance, it is important that parents are made aware of the issue. After all, it is the parents who are responsible when a child becomes overburdened. A therapist can help identify destructive behaviors on the part of the parents. Along with this, further action can be taken to help parents change their behavior.
Finally, it is a matter of assessing the consequences for the child. Is there already social isolation? Are there behavioral problems at school? What is the child’s well-being like? Important questions need to be answered. Based on this, therapeutic measures can be initiated to relieve the child. Often children carry an emotional ballast with them. Consequently, it needs a contact person.
Legal classification of parentification: Is it emotional abuse?
It is not a trivial offense. This is because parentification falls under the category of „emotional abuse.“ Thus, there may be legal consequences if children are subjected to emotional abuse. In particularly severe cases, the court may order out-of-home placement. Because of the long-term consequences for the child’s health, case law is particularly strict in this regard. Complications can also arise in the event of a divorce, with regard to custody. If there is a risk of parentification, the parent is denied custody.
Ultimately, the severity of the parentification is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Not in all cases does the court evaluate the parentification as emotional abuse. Contrarily, there is even a form of parentification that is positive in nature. In this regard, there is adaptive parentification, which is distinct from destructive parentification. Here, the child takes on tasks that are not overwhelming and are appropriate for his or her age. The child learns to take responsibility without fearing negative consequences.
Families that are particularly at risk
There are family constellations that are at particular risk when it comes to parentification. Among other things, divorce can lead to parentification. Children are particularly sensitive and understand that something is wrong. As a result, children feel responsible for their parents‘ well-being. They comfort, reassure or try to advise the parents. In doing so, parents should take responsibility by making sure that children’s needs are not neglected.
It becomes especially difficult when one parent speaks ill of the divorce partner. This is accompanied by a disruption of the relationship with the other parent. It is of elementary importance not to speak badly about the other partner. Otherwise, the child will be confronted with knowledge that is not age-appropriate. In this regard, it is taboo to inform the child about the reason for divorce and much more. It is significant for the child’s development to have a good relationship of trust with both parents.
Furthermore, addictions can lead to parentification. Drug and alcohol abuse often result in the whole environment suffering. In addition to the risk of developing co-dependency, parentification often occurs. Children want to protect their parents, especially in cases where the parents themselves are helpless. Children often try to take care of the household. In the worst case, they accompany their alcoholic parent to the pub and help on the way home.
But even supposedly intact families can pose a risk. A high performance mindset that parents pass on to their children can lead to parentification. It is important to give children enough freedom. On the other hand, those who train children to achieve and get good grades at an early age run the risk of overtaxing them.
Conclusion: What is parentification?
Parentification is associated with enormous dangers. In the rarest of cases, it is adaptive parentification. Therefore, it is important to take first alarm signs seriously. Otherwise, the child’s well-being will be endangered. The negative consequences continue into adulthood. Therefore, parents should make sure that children take on only age-appropriate tasks.