Parenting: what is it, types and characteristics of this family problem

It is common for children to be looked after by their parents. Parents’ roles include emotional support for their children, work, cooking, household chores, which vary depending on the age of the child.

It is true that boys and girls must learn certain household chores and help their parents, but this must be done within their means and according to what is expected of their age.

However, there are cases of children and parents completely reversing their roles, causing children to act like the parents of their own parents, a dysfunctional family dynamic known as parenthood. We find out what it is in more detail.

    When children play the role of parents

    The most common is that parents act as caregivers and their children are taken care of by them. Parents have a responsibility to be the economic, emotional and educational support of their offspring, to feed them, to take them to bed, to walk them or to hug them when they need it.

    While boys and girls can help their parents a little by taking responsibility for certain tasks, the most normal and healthy thing is to give them the opportunity to live their childhood without too much responsibility or at least not more than expected. for their age.

    However, it happens that in some families situations and circumstances occur which cause an exchange of roles between parents and children. Children become parents to their parents, doing most or almost all of the tasks that their parents would be expected to do for them. Children are plunged into a situation in which they have to do what they are not, adults, a phenomenon that can be very important for them and, therefore, mark their childhood and leave a mark when they reach the adulthood.

    These children, suddenly, they are forced to become very obedient, attentive children, with a sense of responsibility very demanding for themselves and for others.. The more they have to behave like adults, the greater the loss of their childish innocence. Their childhood is stolen from them and will most likely result in emotional wounds that will limit their personal development. These children who play the role of parents are victims of what child psychologists and psychiatrists call parenthood.

      What is parenthood?

      The term “parentification” was coined by Hungarian-American psychiatrist Iván Böszörményi-Nagy, a prominent figure in family therapy. This psychiatrist observed that this phenomenon is very common in dysfunctional families, being an unconscious process by which children end up becoming the parents of their parents, taking on more responsibility than they should for their age and maturity.

      It is defined as an unconscious mechanism because it is perceived to be strongly fueled by a very common practice today, a practice which at first glance may appear to be that of good parenting style. It is now socially accepted to treat children as if they were young adults, in the sense that they are not as underestimated as they used to be, which causes children to see their influence increase spontaneously and, at certain levels, educational as they may be given a greater responsibility, a challenge that helps them grow.

      However, this situation, a priori more flattering than criticized, in the event of uncontrollability or imprecision between the roles of the children and those of the parents can degenerate into a dysfunctional situation, an absolute reversal of the proper roles of parenthood. In this situation, the little ones are responsible for meeting the physical or emotional needs of their parents and looking after the rest of the siblings..

      Parenthood can be even more serious if the parents suffer from certain mental disorders, particularly personality disorders such as narcissism, addiction or limitation, and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. The disorder from which one or both parents suffers prevents him from performing his duties as a parent, either because he has an infantile and attention-seeking mentality (e.g. the most basic tasks (for example, depression ).

        Types of parenthood

        Although there are several classifications on the types of parenthood, one of the most common is the one that includes the following two modalities of this phenomenon:

        1. Emotional

        Emotional parenting happens when parents expect their children to provide emotional comfort, that is, to reassure them when they are upset or to protect them from the emotional consequences of their actions. In this way, they make their children their emotional support, but by making the little ones play an active role in their emotional well-being, by meeting their needs.

        However, parents who resort to emotional parenting mask this situation after denying their children’s reality as well as the irrational and distorted justification they are making for their own good.

          2. Physical or instrumental

          Physical or instrumental parenthood is the situation in which children are expected to take care of household or economic needslike preparing food, looking after other siblings, or even working – tasks that are all parents’ and never boys and girls.

          Of the two types of parenting, physical or instrumental parenting is considered the least damaging, with the exception of the situation in which children are forced to work because their parents are unable to do so. As a rule, the emotional is the most serious for the development of the child, as it involves taking on a role that can cause great stress while his emotional needs are neglected, as he cannot trust the child. adult to provide emotional support. The emotional needs of parents take on excessive importance.

            Consequences of this phenomenon

            Although it arises unconsciously and, in many cases, in a completely naive way, parenthood remains a worrying phenomenon for the childhood of any child. It’s considered violence and psychological abuse, at least one type of parental neglect. Parenthood in childhood has a major impact on the development of an individual’s identity and personality, on interpersonal relationships and on relationships with sons and daughters in adulthood.

            People who were parents in childhood have been shown to be more likely to develop impostor syndrome in adulthood. This psychological condition is characterized by the experience of a deep personal insecurity, despite the fact of having obtained great successes and successes, attributing the good that happens to him not to his effort or his know-how, but to deeds. simple strokes of luck, to extrinsic factors beyond his control.

              Does parenting benefit?

              As we have seen so far, parenthood has a profound effect on the adulthood of the one who was victimized as a child. His emotional wounds run deep, generating insecurities, fears, and the feeling that he’s never had the chance to truly be a boy or a girl. These emotional consequences not only affect parental children as adults, but also have an impact on intimate relationships, the couple and even the children.

              However, some suggest that this phenomenon, which should not be forgotten to be considered psychological abuse and neglect, could have benefits in some cases. Reversing parent-child roles could be rewarding for child safety needs, as long as he sees the situation of having to take on more responsibilities as a sign of recognition and gratitude from his parents.

              Some have suggested that higher levels of emotional parenting lead to higher levels of interpersonal competence in some cases. Because children learn things that they would normally learn later for their age, they develop a certain independence, skills and abilities without so many obstacles in the middle, just because it was their turn to do it. This could have a positive impact on their adult life, preparing them better for life and less fear of having to take on new responsibilities.

              However, despite these supposed benefits that parenthood might bring, everything indicates that the advantages are less than the disadvantages. We need to understand that each stage of life has developmental patterns and characteristics, and in the case of parenthood, these are not respected. Children are children and they must do childish things. If their childhood is not properly respected, they can end up suffering from alterations in their physical, emotional, intellectual and social development.

              What we can learn from all of this is that parenthood is another phenomenon that reminds us of the importance of the bonds between parents and children, how their development can influence them throughout life. Parenthood is a dysfunctional family situation and as such will require psychological therapy to be properly identified and treated. We need to think about the health and mental development of children, and make sure that they continue to do what is expected of them, childish things.

              Bibliographical references

              • Arès, P. (2002). Family psychology: an approach to their study. In A. Patricia, Family Psychology: An Approach to Her Study (p. 18). Havana.
              • Boszormenyi-Nagy, I. and Framo, J. (1991). Intensive Care Therapy: Theoretical and Practical Aspects. Mexico, DF: Trillas, SA
              • Boszormenyi-Nagy, I., Spark, G. (2003). Invisible Loyalties: Reciprocity in Intergenerational Family Therapy. Buenos Aires: Harper & Row
              • Cicchetti, D. (2004). An Odyssey of Discovery: Lessons Learned from Three Decades of Child Abuse Research. American psychologist, 4-14.
              • Hooper, L. (2007). The application of link theory and family systems theory to parenting phenomena. The Family Journal, 15, 217-223.

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