When a child takes responsibility for their parents, we call it parentification. In itself, parentification is not so bad. Healthy parentification is about giving appropriately; or giving from the child’s role. For example, a child can comfort his/her parent, or take care of them temporarily while developing valuable skills in the meantime.
But this situation of taking over responsibilities must be temporary, parents must continue to view the child as a child and show appreciation and recognition for the responsibilities the child assumes. As a child, it’s important to be a child. To have time for the things that are necessary for you to develop into a healthy adult. Think of: playing outside with friends and going to school. When a child isn’t able to do these sorts of things, it can lead to problems which can even affect adult life.
Forms of parentification:
- The caring type: the child takes care of themselves, the siblings, and/or is often the (only) discussion person for the parent. They are friendly and helpful. The child tends to not play with other children or doesn’t take children home for a play date. He/She wants to relieve some of the stress of a parent or makes time to take care of a parent.
- The child who must remain a child: if children feel that parents are having difficulties with the transition from living at home to leaving the parental home, they take care of the parent by not becoming an adult. This way they remain small and parents can continue to play their parenting role.
- The scapegoat: this role arises in a family where tensions prevail, usually between parents. The child’s goal is to keep the family together by being difficult. Attention is shifted from the tensions between parents to the negative behaviour of the child. Often this kind of behaviour is not seen as a form of giving to the parents. In fact; the child is often blamed.
- The good child: this type of parentification is also called the perfect child. These children feel the parents’ expectations. They behave in the outside world in a way that their parents want them to behave. Parents are often proud of these children and initially express their appreciation for what these children “perform” and less for who they “are”.
Breaking your child role as an adult: what can you do
If you suffer from your child role in adult life, you can try to prevent with these steps:
- Become aware of your feelings and your own needs. Take time to pay attention to your own feelings, such as joy, anger, fear and sadness.
- If this awareness of your feelings is still difficult, you can undertake activities that can help you get in touch with your feelings: creative hobbies, dancing and reading books.
- As soon as you are in touch with your feelings, you can imagine a situation For example a situation at work and consider what your feelings want to tell you. Then think about what you would normally do from an automatic point of view in that situation. Would this action really be your responsibility? Why do you do what you do? Or from the person who should be doing the job feeling helpless and questioning?
- If you come to the conclusion that the job is not (entirely) your responsibility, you can discuss it with someone you trust. It becomes clearer what belongs to you and what doesn’t. Also, discuss what you could do to balance your commitment with your responsibilities and capabilities.
- If you are good to yourself, you are more likely to notice when you are doing things for others that are at the expense of yourself. Include moments of rest and relaxation in your daily life and activities that are good for you, such as hobbies, cooking or other activities that make you happy. These moments of rest and relaxation can, for example, be peaceful walks in nature.
- If you eventually manage to no longer help others automatically, you have more options in who and when you help.