When parents and children enjoy a healthy relationship, it usually involves the parent doing the giving and nurturing and the child receiving this support and care. This allows the young person to enjoy being a child without being placed in an unnecessary role of caretaking someone else. Unfortunately, many families experience parentification, which involves a parent placing a burden on their child by putting them in inappropriate roles not meant for someone so young. New View Wellness in Atlanta understands that many people who have fallen victim to this situation may be unaware of it and wonder “What is parentification?” We help people whose mental health has been unduly affected by parentification and show them how to overcome its effects. 

What is Parentification?

The term “parentification” is not commonly known despite the fact that many people suffer from its effects. In fact, in answering the question, “What is parentification?”, a lot of people end up recognizing themselves. Parentification happens when a parent places their child in a role they should not take on, including giving the parent emotional or practical support. 

This serves to place a child into the role of the parent which forces them to take on adult behaviors, responsibilities, and concerns no child should have to endure. As a result, the roles of the parent and the child become reversed, which directly impacts the young person’s ability to experience a regular childhood and develop naturally into an adult. For many people, being part of the parentification cycle contributes to their developing mental health disorders and substance use disorders.

What are the Different Types of Parentification?

Part of understanding the answer to, “What is parentification?” is identifying the two different types that exist. The first is instrumental parentification, which consists of the parent requiring their child to undertake specific responsibilities. These tasks include duties normally performed by adults, such as cooking for the family, cleaning the household, or making sure the bills get paid. The child might also be told to take care of siblings or other family members, or even perform caretaker duties for someone with a disability or illness.

The other type is emotional parentification, which requires a child to provide emotional support to a parent that is outside the normal scope of what a child is capable of doing. Examples include being a confidant the parent uses to discuss their problems and receive comfort, support, and advice for how to solve their issues. The parent might also expect their child to mediate difficulties between the parent and other family members.

These types can be further broken down into two sub-categories. The first is adaptive parentification, which is often a temporary situation in which the parent or someone else in the family is sick. The child is asked to act in an adult capacity until the situation changes.  Destructive parentification is ongoing and may last until the child becomes an adult or leaves the home. 

What Causes Parentification?

Part of identifying what parentification is can involve understanding what triggered the development of the situation. The parent is often affected by an event or circumstance that compromises their ability to act in an appropriate manner as a mother or father. This can include a parent who deals with:

  • Mental illness
  • A physical disability or serious medical condition
  • Addiction to drugs or alcohol
  • Financial difficulties
  • Divorce
  • Their own childhood involved abuse or neglect
  • Lacking healthy coping skills or support from other adults

Symptoms a Child Has a Mother or Father With Parentification

Regardless of how long parentification occurred during childhood, it can directly impact the person’s life long after they reach adulthood. Symptoms a person may need treatment for parentification include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Stress related to taking care of others
  • Feeling shame or guilt
  • Constantly worrying
  • Working overtime on the job or at home in order to feel all responsibilities have been met
  • Difficulty relating to others
  • Physical symptoms unrelated to an illness, such as headaches, sleep disorders, and gastrointestinal distress

What is Parentification Treatment Like?

Many treatments that specifically address parentification can be found in facilities that treat mental health disorders. They can be provided on an outpatient or residential basis. Two common types of talk therapy that help people overcome symptoms related to parentification include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). These therapies help people identify and change negative and damaging thought and behavioral patterns. 

Family therapy sessions can help parents understand how their actions and expectations affected their children. From there, better communication can be established and old wounds can be healed. Using holistic therapy can also help people learn to parent themselves by engaging in soothing activities such as yoga, meditation, and art therapy.

Find Outpatient Mental Health Treatment in Atlanta, GA

Are you an adult who was placed in the unfair position of being a child in a parentification situation? When children are required to take on adult roles, it can drastically impact their mental health. New View Wellness in Atlanta employs a staff of clinical experts who know how to recognize the signs of parentification and help people overcome them. We offer a menu of therapy modalities that help a person put their past behind them and grow into the healthy, well-adjusted adult they were always meant to be.

If you would like more answers to the question, “What is parentification?” and if it might be central to your struggle with poor mental health, we can help. Contact us today and we can have a conversation about how we can help you feel better.