What Is Parentification?

Parentification is a potential form of neglect (Hooper, 2008). 

Parentification is the lack of boundaries within a family unit which means the children or a child, takes on duties and responsibilities that are usually the domain of adults (Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark, 1973).

There are two types of parentification:

  1. Emotional parentification – Acting as a friend and confidant to a parent, becoming an emotional replacement for a physically or emotionally absent spouse, becoming the peacemaker, emotionally supporting the family.
  • Instrumental Parentification – helping the family with physical tasks such as cleaning, shopping, and caring for younger siblings.

Not everyone who experiences parentification also experiences negative effects as adults. 

However, some of the things you may experience are a loss of a sense of playfulness, and a feeling of not having had a fun childhood. There is often a sense of watching all the other kids without a care in the world, while you are having to support your parents and family.

You might have grown up disconnected from a sense of inner joy. Life can seem hard and there can be a feeling of having to work hard.

You might have missed out on essential stages of development, skipping the natural exploration of identity in the teenage years and skipping straight into the adult role.

Learning to re-parent and connect with your inner child as an adult can be incredibly useful in re-connecting with your inner joy and creativity.

Let me know if this resonates with you.

This is not intended to be used for diagnosis.

Reference: Hooper, L. M. (2008). Defining and Understanding Parentification: Implications for All Counselors. The Alabama Counseling Association Journal, 34, 1.