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Parentification: A less well-known source of childhood trauma

On Behalf of | May 5, 2023 | Divorce & Legal Separation |

Divorce often places minor children in a situation of extreme stress and emotional turmoil. Even when parents try to shield them from the proceedings, the lack of control and sudden upheaval can cause them pain and trauma.

However, there are cases where parents, sometimes without realizing it, cause mental and psychological pain through their actions. One less well-known way parents hurt their children during and after divorce is parentification.

What is parentification?

When parents “parentify” their children, they force them to take on the role of an adult. This may be in an emotional capacity, where the parent uses a child as emotional support. For instance, the parent may discuss adult matters with the child like with a friend. He or she may vent about the divorce, financial problems or other issues that are inappropriate for children to deal with. The child may become a stand-in for the leaving spouse.

Parentification can also take a more physical form. The parent may force the child to take on the physical tasks associated with parenting, including taking care of the younger children and performing all household tasks.

What are the potential consequences of parentification?

Parentification can result in long-term psychological effects on children touched by it. It can rob them of their childhood and leave them with identity problems. It can also make them feel insecure and anxious.

Parentification can happen outside of divorce as well. A certain level of helping out around the house or sharing concerns with children is normal, depending on their age. Because of this, it can be easy to dismiss when children complain about taking on too much. However, there is a point where it crosses into parentification, and it is important to watch out for the breaching of that line.

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