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Parentification can have serious consequences for children

Parentification occurs when a child takes on the role of a parent against his or her will, often due to the actual parent’s inability or unwillingness to fulfill their responsibilities. A normal level of chores and household responsibilities is not parentification. It is when children perform tasks that parents should, such as raising younger siblings or taking care of all household chores that contribution becomes parentification.

When this blurring of lines happens, it can have serious consequences for the child.

Emotional burden

One of the most immediate consequences of parentification is the emotional strain it places on children. Parentification is not always about physical duties. It can also take the form of children becoming their parents’ sounding boards and emotional outlets, forced to listen to and take on the emotional and sometimes financial burdens of their parents. This and other adult responsibilities can cause stress and anxiety.

Stunted development

Parentification can also stunt a child’s emotional and psychological development. By taking on adult responsibilities at a young age, the child misses out on important developmental milestones and experiences. They lose the opportunity to have a childhood, go on school trips, participate in extracurriculars and socialize with peers. This can lead to issues later in life, such as difficulty forming healthy relationships, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in their abilities. They may also never develop the ability to develop boundaries.

It is normal for children to have responsibilities, but parentification goes beyond this and can affect children their whole lives. It is not uncommon after a divorce or remarriage in families with more than one child, when there is a lot of disorder and chaos, for parents to delegate tasks to older children and knowingly or unknowingly parentify them, justifying it as “helping out.” Parents who suspect theirs of being subject to it in the other household may need to petition the court for interference.