Emotional Parentification

So a couple of days ago I wrote about Instrumental Parentification. In that blog I explained that there are 3 types of parentification, Instrumental, Emotional, and Narcissistic.

Today I’m going to write about Emotional Parentification.

So, what is Emotional Parentification?

Well, ultimately, and most simply, it is when the parent relies on their child for an inappropriate amount of emotional support.

It has been argued that it’s the most damaging of the parentification types, but that argument doesn’t refer to narcissistic parentification, only Instrumental and Emotional. I would agree, but as long as narcissistic parentification is included within the description of Emotional parentification.

Anyway, I digress…!

The best way to describe Emotional Parentification is through examples. Essentially, it is where the parent crosses emotionally inappropriate boundaries, and makes a child their confidant, or their friend, or the go between two parents.

For example, a child being told secrets that are beyond the appropriate knowledge for their age, such as the abuse experienced by a parent, sexual relationship things with the parent’s partner, financial worries, etc. The impact of this behaviour is that the child (who initially only knows relationships through those they experience at home) starts to feel responsible for how everyone around him or her feels.

The parent who confides in their child about their emotional state, beyond the realms of teaching the child that it’s okay to be happy, sad, angry etc., is crossing a boundary into Emotional Parentification, and that isn’t okay. Telling a child about their own sexual abuse, or how Daddy doesn’t love them (the parent) anymore is way over that boundary.

Sharing intimate adult details of relationships is inappropriate. I mentioned earlier the idea that a child is a ‘go between’ between two parents. I cannot emphasise enough how inappropriate that is. Adult relationships between two parents are no business of a child. It does not in any way help a child to know that one parent has cheated, or done something else to compromise the adult relationship. It puts the child in a position where they might have to choose between parents. It means the child is fighting an adult battle with one parent on behalf of the other.

When this happens, when a child is exposed to the ‘wrongdoings’ or character flaws of the other parent, they start questioning their own identity. All that matters in this situation, is the child’s own relationship with their individual parent.

Relying on a child for positive affirmation, validation and attention is also crossing that boundary. Again, the child is being put in a position where they are made to feel responsible for how the parent feels, and if that is negative, the child experiences a huge amount of guilt. The Emotional Parentifier may even capitalise on that guilt, and they may punish the child for not offering the expected/required response. The Emotional Parentifier might never allow or validate the achievements of the child unless they can make it about themselves somehow (although that’s crossing into Narcissistic Parentification too).

Emotional Parentification is essentially where the adult is looking for a relationship with a child that is not based in guider/learner, but more friend/validator, and it’s legacy is emotionally crippling for the child who later becomes the adult.

In a similar response to Instrumental Parentification, this adult might find it very very difficult to say ‘no’ for fear of upsetting others. They will feel incredibly guilty or berate themselves horribly if they cause perceived pain to others. They will feel responsible for how every single person they interact with feels, although they may be able to stand up for and defend others with gusto.

To avoid Emotionally Parentifying your child, ask yourself if what you’re asking from them benefits them, ask if they really need to know what you’re about to share with them. Ask what their emotional response or experience will be as a result of this interaction.

I see loads of posts about parents saying their children are their best friends, and whilst I don’t want to dismiss or devalue the power of a wonderful and intimate bond with your child, we cannot look at our children as our friends. They aren’t. They are our children.

It is a parent’s job to provide and environment where a child can learn to trust their own judgement, grow and establish boundaries, feel comfortable with the emotions of others, and learn how to both fail and be criticised.

It is not a parent’s job to seek a relationship that validates the parent as a human or even a parent; it is not a parent’s job to rely on the child to make them feel good. It is not a parent’s job to share information about adult relationships with a child, especially when the other adult is also a parent.

If you take anything away from this today, please remember this. Parent first, friend second, love always.

As ever, feel free to ask any questions ☺

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