Parentification is when a child is forced to take on the role of an adult. Many children get pushed into the role of caretaker for their younger siblings or become the referee in their parent’s arguments. When caregivers aren’t able to fully show up for themselves, children get put into developmentally inappropriate situations.
Parentification occurs across a spectrum and there are different levels of hurt that may develop. There are also qualities that arise through parentification that may benefit you in certain areas of your life, like being responsible or a great caregiver. It’s not all bad, but it has the potential to become catastrophic for a child and their adult self. We have to find the right balance between responsibility and structure, play and fun.
Kids that were parentified often need inner child work. They usually struggle with having fun and are easily pulled into the caretaker role. Their worth is often tied directly to what they can provide to others and how “good” they are. Structure typically feels safer to them than play or improvisation.
Signs that you were parentified as a child
- Grew up feeling like you had to be responsible
- Trouble with play or “letting loose”
- Like to feel in control
- Pulled into arguments or issues between caregivers
- Felt like you were given responsibilities that were not appropriate for someone your age
- Often compliments for being “so good” and “so responsible”
- May feel that being self-reliant is better than trying to trust others
- Don’t really remember “being a kid”
- Parents had trouble caring for themselves or others and placed the responsibility on you
- Often find yourself becoming a caregiver for others
- Being a caretaker feels good, even when you are sacrificing parts of yourself
- Heightened sense of empathy and an ability to more closely connect with others
- Feel like you need to be the peacemaker
- Feel like your efforts aren’t appreciated
If you relate to any of the signs on this list, it might be helpful to get in touch with your inner child and allow yourself to experience that part of you. The playful part of the inner child is usually the part that gets crushed through parentification. This part wants to have spontaneous fun and live free from guilt or anxiety.