Parentified Children

 

Little girl pouring milk for her friendIn December we celebrate the birth of Jesus, in July we celebrate independence, and in May we celebrate mothers. Some women become mothers by carrying a baby in their belly and dedicating the rest of their life to ensuring the baby’s needs for love, safety, and belonging are met. Some women become mothers by carrying a child in their heart before ever meeting them and provide them with love, safety, and belonging through the foster/adoption process. Regardless of how motherhood fell upon you, in May, we celebrate you; and rightfully so!

 

However, there is a hidden figure that goes unrecognized in May - parentified children.

 

Parentified children experience a role reversal, of sorts. They become responsible for the care of their parents and/or younger siblings. In foster care at Boys and Girls Homes, we see this phenomenon often. Parentified children will take their little brother/sister in one arm and their step stool in the other each morning to help them reach all the necessary items to bathe, dress, and feed their sibling(s). They will break open their piggy bank for lunch money and other school expenses. They learn from trial and error as there is no suitable parent to guide them. They do what they can, with the little power children have, to ensure the status quo of their home, however dysfunctional, is unchanged so that any peace that can be kept is kept. They worry about everything: their parents, their siblings, the uncertainty that tomorrow holds. They shoulder these burdens silently in the shadows, unnoticed by the rest of society.

 

This May, they will not be celebrated with breakfast in bed, flowers, or a card. This May, they will continue the routine, however minimal, that they have worked hard to create and strive to maintain.

 

When parentified children come into foster care at Boys and Girls Homes, they are often seen as disrespectful with no regard for authority. They might be separated from their younger siblings for doing the very behaviors that have allowed their survival.

 

Most people transition from childhood to adulthood to parenthood. So, the transition from parenthood back to childhood can feel like an impossible regression to these parentified children. Boys and Girls Homes foster parents and case workers understand this phenomenon and are there to guide children back into their natural childhood role.

 

This May, let us be thankful for the mothers in our lives and the chance they gave us to be children. However, let us remember those not so fortunate and wonderful people who are acting as new mothers helping to restore children.

 

Happy Mother’s Day, Parentified Child.

 

Abbigail Roberts, BSW, is a foster care consultant at Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina.

 

Learn more about foster care at B&GH.

 

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