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Are you or your co-parent “parentifying” your child?

On Behalf of | Mar 19, 2024 | Family Law |

One all-too-common problem when parents divorce is that they turn to an older child or teen for emotional support. They may not realize they’re doing it. However, if a parent considers their child their “best friend,” they may share details about what went wrong in the marriage that their child doesn’t need to — and probably shouldn’t — know.

This is one example of what some mental health professionals call “parentification.” Basically, that’s when a parent treats their child like an adult and expects them to be part of their emotional support system as well as their more practical support system (for example, taking care of younger siblings). Newly single parents are more likely to do this than married parents.

That’s not to say that you should never admit to your child that you’re sad or a bit overwhelmed. Nor that you shouldn’t expect your child to contribute to the family in ways that are age appropriate. However, you shouldn’t be unloading all of your feelings on them. Further, while it’s fine to ask them to help out a bit more as you adjust to juggling parenting, work and taking care of your home as a single parent, they shouldn’t become your younger children’s sole babysitter or be expected to do all the household chores. Your child needs to experience their childhood or teen years.

What if your co-parent is parentifying?

Even if you’re not parentifying your child, that doesn’t mean your co-parent isn’t. If you’re seeing or hearing about things that make you suspect they’re relying too much on your child for emotional or any other kind of support, it’s important to find out more, without accusing your co-parent of wrongdoing to your child.

Sometimes, kids exaggerate. Do they really have to cook all the meals when they’re at their other parent’s house or are they just asked to pour their own cereal for breakfast?

Both parents need their own support systems after divorce that don’t include their children. That can mean seeing a therapist, joining a support group or just spending more time with friends and family.

If you’re unable to manage things as a single parent without relying too much on your child, you may need to seek a modification in parenting time or ask for more support so that you can get child care and/or help with household tasks. With legal guidance, you can better seek any modifications you need for your child’s – and your family’s well-being.