Are you experiencing the effects of parenthood?

OneFor a child, giving a hand around the house or offering to babysit a sibling is admirable. But when a child starts taking on most of the household chores, they basically become adults at home, it’s not just a commendable act of maturity. In this case, the child is going through the parenting process, the effects of which can manifest in the form of their identity and approach to relationships later in life.

Relationship therapist Genesis Games, LMHC says: “Parenting occurs when a child becomes the caretaker of a parent or sibling or assumes a level of responsibility that goes beyond their age. In other words, the roles are typically reversed: Instead of the parent largely supporting the child, the child is required to support the parent.

“Parenting a child means giving them something that is not developmentally appropriate.” —Lisette Sanchez, PhD, psychologist

This phenomenon doesn’t apply to a child doing age-appropriate chores — like a 10-year-old cleaning their room or a 15-year-old mowing the lawn. Psychologist Lisette Sanchez, who grouped those tasks into two categories: instrumental and emotional: “Parenting means giving them something that isn’t developmentally appropriate.

Tool parenting includes many of the household chores needed in everyday life, such as cleaning, cooking, and taking care of children and pets. But again, to be considered parenting, a parent would make a request of this kind that goes beyond the child’s developmental stage, such as asking a five-year-old to cook a full meal without need monitoring.

On the other hand, the emotional category of parenting involves the expectation, whether intentional or unintentional, that the child fulfills the parents’ emotional needs. It often results in the child organizing their life around making sure the parent is happy or in a good mood. “For example, over time, children can sense when their mother seems cranky, and then help her work things out to make her less stressed—and keep them out of trouble. ,” said Dr. Sanchez. “Every decision is geared toward making the parent feel better, and again, parents should be the ones to help children process their emotions.”

Why does parenting happen in the first place?

In many cases, a child will act as a parent when the parent is “emotionally or physically incapable or has limited understanding of boundaries,” says clinical and forensic psychologist Ahona Guha, DPsych said. The game states that the condition was previously often the result of a chronic mental illness, substance abuse, or physical health condition that prevented parents from fulfilling their parental obligations. “The child can then become the comforter and caregiver for the sick parent, the other parent (if they are present) and/or the younger sibling.”

In other cases, currency barriers can lead to inadvertent parenting. If a caregiver is working, such as two or three jobs, to make ends meet, they are probably not at home as often to take care of basic household chores or really deal with emotional needs. of the child—this can then force the child into life. parents’ shoes and handle it all by themselves from an early age.

Parenting can be common in immigrant families, as language or cultural barriers can limit a parent’s ability to raise children in a new place, Dr. Sanchez said. especially if they don’t have access to the right resources). Her mother was one of four children who immigrated with their grandmother to the US from El Salvador. “They are applying for asylum here, so they come from a trauma space,” she said. Her grandmother decided not to send the three girls to school because she thought they would be safer at home. Instead, girls take on family responsibilities and start working to provide for the family at a young age. Dr Sanchez said: “As my mother and her sisters grew up and had me and my cousins, they realized that what they had done as children was ‘just what children used to do for them. parents’ – help and teach them. “So that’s also what we’re expected to do later on, that’s how parenthood can become a generational cycle.”

First-generation babies also often learn the language of their new home earlier than their parents. As the only family members who can speak the aforementioned language, the children “then have to translate documents and calls, attend doctor appointments, and any other important meetings.” must be in their native language,” said Games, Cuban-American. run a bilingual, multicultural practice. If there are many children in an immigrant family, the oldest also often has to figure out the education system on their own and then guide the younger siblings, she added.

What are the long-term effects of parenthood?

Although Dr. Sanchez notes that instrumental parenting can help boost a person’s resourcefulness and self-sufficiency (after all, they may have learned key skills while taking on a parenting role. parents), both of which often have adverse effects in the long run. .

“Being asked to take on tasks that are beyond their development can lead to failure and difficult emotional experiences, such as anxiety,” says Dr. Guha. She added: “Having these kinds of heavy responsibilities as a child can also prevent you from having the chance to truly be a child and enjoy your childhood, having your emotional needs met as well as having fun. And explore.

“Parenting sends the message that to be loved, you have to care about others and not necessarily expect to be cared for in return.” —Genesis Games, LMHC, relationship therapist

If parenting is emotional in nature, “a child may also be exposed to material at an early age that they are not capable of understanding or processing. [like the difficulties of mental or physical illness]can overwhelm their developing emotional regulation skills,” says Dr. Guha.

As you take on this emotional burden on your parents, you can begin to “frame your world from the perspective of ‘How can I make sure that the people around me are okay, that I’m okay?’” This can also create anxiety or spawn people-pleasing behaviors, says Dr. Sanchez. “Parenting sends the message that to be loved, you have to care about others and not necessarily expect to be cared for in return,” Games said.

How parents can shape the way you choose and interact in adult relationships

If you always played the role of parent or caregiver in your relationship with your parents growing up, chances are you will continue to play that role in relationships as an adult. “Parents may feel the need to help or rescue others, choosing a partner or friend who is a little helpless and rushing in to ‘fix’ them, becoming committed or frequent grudges or difficulty in enforcing boundaries. .Guha.

Likewise, if your parents consistently failed to meet your emotional needs—while you were working hard to meet theirs—it is likely that you would later have relationships with other people. who either doesn’t meet your needs or doesn’t care about you spiritually. how you want to be taken care of. This often manifests itself in the form of insecure attachment patterns, whether anxiety, avoidance or fear avoidance, says Dr.

She says, people with this attachment style tend to undervalue themselves around relationships, constantly seek validation and reassurance (anxiety), or build many walls and struggle to ask for (avoidant) help, she said. All of the above “can make developing close relationships or any lasting relationships really difficult,” she says.

You can also feel guilty whenever choosing what’s really best for you, says Games, since you were often or never really prioritized as a child. It can push you into relationships where you struggle to express your needs and set boundaries or end up giving more than you get, she adds. “Those who are parents often have a profound sense of having to job for someone’s love.”

How to heal and move on from parents

Understanding the impact of parenting on your relationship habits in adulthood is the most important part of moving forward, says Dr. It’s a complicated process, which is why she recommends journaling, reading parenting books, and seeing a therapist, if possible, to better understand the connection between your role in the parent-child relationship and the role you may be taking on now.

For example, just knowing that you tend to seek reassurance in relationships can help you identify when that might be in real time, communicating these behaviors to your partner or friends and avoid ruining relationships. or terminate it, if it doesn’t really serve your needs.

Getting in touch with those needs and boundaries is another important part of parenting’s healing — because, again, you may not have had the opportunity to do so as a child. “When you continually learn to care about others, you don’t prioritize your own needs,” says Dr. Sanchez. And if Friend no, the people around you won’t either. To avoid that scenario, it’s important not only to understand your needs well, but to communicate them to friends and partners, so they know your expectations and how to meet them, says Dr. Sanchez. .

That boundary setting can also apply to family members, including one parent or both, if you’re looking to mend your relationship with them. “When you set new boundaries with your parents that you couldn’t set as a child, you’re telling them, ‘This is how I want our dynamic to be, and this is how I feel. good now’” said Dr. Sánchez.


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