Dysfunctional Families and Reverse Parenting
When the Child Becomes the Caretaker
In some families, one or both parents are too stressed, immature or ill to be the calming and effective parents that the children truly need.
In order to feel secure, children need to experience their parents as big people so that they can be freed up to be the small people they really are. But not all children are fortunate to have this deserved experience. Some find themselves in chaotic and stressful situations where the parents(s) are not able to manage their own emotions maturely and effectively. For some children, the only way to get some sort of sanity and control over their out of control family environment is to become the responsible or placating child (or both).
The responsible child had to get older before his or her time.
This child takes care of younger siblings and may even cook meals that the parent should be doing but is not. The placating child talks to the mother or father and tries to soothe them. This child may be affectionate with the parent, holding her or caressing her and keeping a watchful eye on her. The problem with this kind of attention and affection is that the child is doing it to keep her world in control. She has sacrificed her childhood right to be carefree and exploratory of her environment in order to prop up her depressed or anxious parent. The same is true for the child who is taking care of the siblings, meals, and household. This is a far too heavy burden for these children who may hide their own anxiety because they are too busy taking care of people who should be taking care of them.
This reverse parenting can become a lifelong burden that lasts long after their “pseudo-childhood” has ended.
This (now) adult will have a habit of sacrificing his or her own needs and may attract a partner or friends that are needy and need rescuing in some way. This person has learned well to ignore his or her own feelings and needs and actually manages his or her own feelings by hyper-focusing on the needs of others.
The good news is that this person can learn to access that carefree, young, childlike part that got left behind.
I have helped many individuals reclaim these lost parts. I see seven steps to recovering this childhood part and living from it (at least some of the time).
7 Ways to Handle Dysfunctional Families and Reverse Parenting
- Track your childhood patterns and become more aware of this reverse parenting.
- Let go of any blame that you have for yourself that you could not “fix” your parent because it never was possible anyway. It was an impossible job.
- Forgive yourself for making this adaptation. That was the best you could do at the time and actually was a creative way to survive the dysfunction in your family.
- Notice how you may be recreating that role in your current relationships.
- In incremental steps, experiment with being “young and playful.” Look for role models and imitate them doing it your way of course. I often recommend skipping, dancing, singing happy songs, blowing bubbles, etc.
- Let the people in your life know what you are doing and ask for their support as you reclaim your childlike part. Those that needed you to be in the limited responsible/placater role may eventually drop out of your life. My experience has been that some of those people change for the better, as you become more of your true self.
- Keep practicing expressing these playful, fun parts of you until they start to feel more normal. It may take a while. Then, of course, continue to be more of the full-bodied multidimensional person you were destined to be.
Did you grow up stuck in a pattern of dysfunctional families and reverse parenting? I can help you change…
Some of these changes are difficult to navigate on your own.
I will help get out of the pattern of pattern of dysfunctional families and reverse parenting and guide you along the path to yourself. I work virtually as well as in person. I wish you ever-increasing joy in your growth.