Parents are those who take care of children, provide them with what they need, provide warmth and support. But in some families, the roles of parents and children are distributed differently than we are used to. And it’s not just about situations where a father or mother, for example, take drugs or abuse alcohol, thereby forcing children to take on some of the adult responsibilities.
Unfortunately, life sometimes prepares unpleasant surprises. When a parent is seriously ill or has to care for a relative or other child in need of help, this inevitably introduces imbalances in the family system.
The growing child takes on some of the functions of an adult: helping to care for the sick, doing housework and raising younger children. In addition, sometimes he has to become a source of emotional support for parents who find it difficult to endure what is happening.
There are situations where the imbalance in the distribution of roles is much less obvious. In such families, fortunately, there was no tragedy, however, for example, the infantilism of one of the parents also affects how the children feel.
The need for safety is one of the basic ones for a child. And it’s not just about having a house. It is important for children to feel the predictability of what happens to them every day. Chaos, a complete lack of rules and a daily routine are just as dangerous as excessive severity and over-control.
If the parent is infantile, having difficulty organizing his own day, this can cause anxiety in the child. In this case, children will strive to organize their surroundings on their own and will unwittingly take on some of the adult functions.
From the outside, it can seem touching when a child wakes up a parent in the morning so that he does not oversleep, or prepares breakfast for him. However, inside he may experience severe anxiety, which forces him to grow up faster. If this happens too often, the child has a feeling of lack of support. As if there are no adults around, which means that he is left alone with the world.
How does mixing family roles affect children?
When a child takes on some of the adult’s functions, it becomes a potential source of stress for him. Of course, it is important to consider how often this happens and how much responsibility falls to him.
There is nothing wrong when children have responsibilities around the house; it is more dangerous when they take on them out of a sense of hopelessness and a desire to make the environment less stressful. Typically, they grow up into anxious and overly responsible adults who reproduce the model learned in childhood in relations with others.
“Donors” in relationships
It is not uncommon for these early adult children to choose infantile partners who need care and supervision. They often show them almost maternal care, put other people’s needs in the first place.
Malcolm West and Adrienne Keller, scientists at the University of Calgary in Canada, suggest that a child who is used to being a support for a parent perceives the other’s need for care as a sign of affection and love. It can also be difficult for such a person to ask for help himself, because he has not been used to it since childhood. In a relationship, he would rather give than receive.
The mixing of roles in childhood also determines what kind of parent will become in the future the child himself, who had to grow up early. This is evidenced by several studies by Amy Nuttall, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.
“If, as a child, parents required us to be overly nurturing, preventing us from developing our own identity, this could affect our expectations of our own children, which means that we will also prevent us from meeting their children’s needs,” says Nuttall.
Mothers who have not managed to be children themselves will find it difficult to understand what their own child needs. According to Nuttall’s research, they often show insufficient sensitivity to the experiences of children, their guardianship interferes with the child’s natural desire to explore the world around him.
Whatever childhood we get, this does not mean that, as adults, we will not be able to build harmonious relationships or become attentive and empathetic parents. Children’s experiences do influence which scenarios we play in the future, but it is in our power to discover and change them.