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Parentified children - Very interesting
October 15, 2005
10:41 am
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garfield9547
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"Parentified" Children Suffer Later
by Honorable Anne Kass. Ann Kass is a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico.
It is common to hear a divorced mother proudly declare that her son has become, "the man of the house." It is also common to hear a divorced father boast about how his daughter has assumed care taking duties in his home such as meal preparation and housework. Extended family members often remark about "how cute" these children's grown-up behavior is.

There is nothing wrong with giving children tasks and chores to do, but when we hear young children declare, "My mommy/daddy needs me," we worry.

Sons who are expected, encouraged or allowed to become the "man of the house" and daughters who are placed in similar grown-up roles are living up-side-down lives. They are taking care of parents when the appropriate role is for parents to take care of the children. Psychologists call these children "parentified." We worry about them because these children tend not to advance through necessary developmental stages.

The developmental tasks of children are numerous. Cognitively, they are acquiring academic knowledge which will allow them to be self-sufficient adults. Emotionally, they are learning to develop relationships and how to balance their individual needs and goals against the needs and goals of others. Socially, they are developing friendships outside the family structure.

Basically, children learn about their world through experience. When they are in a home where the parent is responsible, they are free to explore and make mistakes while having the safety net of the parents to fall back upon. If they are parentified, children feel restricted and unable to freely explore their environment. They worry that they cannot afford to make mistakes. They must be perfect. The burden is enormous and far too heavy for a child. Children who feel responsible for their parents can become overwhelmed. This can lead to depression or frustration and self-doubt because they feel incompetent to do what is expected of them.

One primary task of childhood is socialization. Learning how to give and take in relationships with peers is critical to successful adult relationships. A parentified child often acts like the boss, so other children avoid them. The child can become isolated from age-appropriate peers and may associate with individuals who are older. This can result in the younger child being manipulated or used by the older person. Parentified children often lead lonely lives and sometimes are hurt when others take advantage of them. Their adult relationships, including marriage, often fail as well.

Perhaps the greatest danger of children assuming grown-up responsibilities is the reality that children who are not allowed to act like children when they are children start to act like children when they are grown-ups.

I can't begin to count the number of divorces I've seen in which one of the spouses seems almost driven to behave irresponsibly. They appear to be sowing wild oats that were unsown before. These grown-up children can be the cause of terrible consequences as they abandon their spouses and children. Sometimes they quit their jobs and ignore their financial responsibilities. The result is chaos.

Parents need to be the caregivers to their children, not the other way around. A parent who uses a child for support is robbing the child of his childhood.

Garfield

October 15, 2005
2:09 pm
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exoticflower
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This is very interesting...I wonder if it is the same thing when your job is to take care of all of the other children? I was never expected to be responsible for my parents, but for every other matter in the house--siblings, cleaning, organizing. i know a few other people who where also responsible for all of the perental responsabilities except the bills too, I wonder if that would be the same thing or not? I suppose that the parents would then need the child to bee the parent so they could meet their own needs?

Always such interesting posts, Garfield, thank you for sharing this!

October 15, 2005
2:26 pm
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Anonymous
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Thanks, Garfield, this explains so much.

A joke about Garfield, the cat, which seems to apply to you:

Garfield says: The moment we are sure that the world is sad, cold and cruel... You (I forgot G's dog) happen to show and ruin everything! Tks!

October 15, 2005
2:39 pm
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addicts wife
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WOW.
This is so interesting to me. And it triggered thoughts of my mom, her neurosai, codep ways. She was born in 1941, the oldest of NINE chilren on a farm, and was expected to care for and parent the other 8 children, along wit hcleaning, farming etc of the house. I always thought of hwr as having an OCD type thing with cleaning, and being organized... but now that i think of her upbringing, and how her father was never satified, Nothing was ever quite good enough for his standards, and she was responsible for 8 others.... She still cleans and organizes as if for not just herself, but she does the work of 8 people. She jokes and says shes "Strong as an Ox," and how her house cleaning clients always comment that she "does the work of an army."
She even had custody of my aunt (The youngest)) when she was totally wild and 16. (She got maarried shorlty after to "get out of Maine, and start anew." she has been amrried 4 times and is presently on a trip to the wet coast to meet a man she met online.)

And my mom will constantly attempt to come over hwere to clean, organize and she does not have the ability to just sit and enjoy a visit.
I am wondering if I mistook insanity for parentified???

Im going to think a while on this one.
VERY interesting!!!!

October 15, 2005
4:27 pm
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mrdibbs
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garfield9547.I found this very interesting as when i divorced my husband my then 17yr old son decided to take on the "man of the house"role without any promting from me.At first i didnt notice anything but then i realised that my son didnt want to go out with his friends anymore but took to sitting in with me and his younger brothers.He would bring me a drink in the mornings,prepare breakfast,and do the things his father normaly did when he was there.This went on for a few months until one day i took him to one side and explained to him that although i appreciated his help from time to time and thanked him for all the help in the past i didnt expect him to take on his fathers responsibilities.He was quite shocked and said that he thought that was what i expected from him now.We discussed it further and i told him that what i expected was for him to carry on enjoying his life as that would make me happier.He gave me a big hug and im glad to say although he did enjoy his teenage years and beyond, he is now a responsible Husband and Father to my three Grandchildren.

October 15, 2005
4:50 pm
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exoticflower
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AW, I do the exact same thing...when talking with my friends it always comes around to fixing their problems, what I can do for them to make their life easier, tidying up their house and organizing their lives for them, doing research for them about whatever their life issue is. I guess I too just thought I was a caregiver, something like this never occoured to me in the slightest. And it just feels like what I SHOULD be doing too, I wonder if your mother feels guilty if not doing such things too?

October 15, 2005
9:16 pm
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Anonymous
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Just emailed my family on this article and hope theyll appreciate it for what it is: enlightening! It explains some the depression Ive had and the panic attacks my brother has been diagnosed as having at almost 50 years of age! Tks, Garfield (Im a fan, went to see your movie!!:)

October 16, 2005
4:34 am
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Lass
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Garfield:

Just found this. Thanks. I relate a lot to EF in this. I was never allowed to go out on a date because my parents "might want to go out." I had to be the always available babysitter. I still want to chuck the whole mother / wife thing some days, to run away, to what? I don't know what I want still, at 45.

My concern about "being left behind," under the abandonment thread, remains a mystery to me tho~ My parents did not divorce.

I was, however, left all night in the car on a camping trip, and stayed awake all night, afraid of a bear. Dad came and got my twin brother, who was crying far worse than little mature me, and assumed I must be fine. So I got left all alone instead. This story was never validated by anybody, no matter how many times I told it. My dad's idea of my bizaar memory almost kept him from letting me share at Mom's funeral.

Love, Lass

October 16, 2005
10:18 am
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garfield9547
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Hi Everybody

This article also helped me allot. That is why I posted it. Being a parentified child (the oldest) of 4 I always had to be responsible. Always had to be the strong one and help out with the siblings.
This is where we lose our childhoods. There was always something I had to do for my mother or siblings. My dad came home and sat infront of the T.V. with the newspaper.
Emotionally it was also hard to know that they did not get along and that they could not always (dad) work with money and go forward in life. My brother used to wash cars so that my mother could reconnect the telephone or pay the water and lights.
I am glad that I can work thought this and for the wonderful therapist who showed me the way. Thanks for everybody's replies.

Garfield

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