The next listen and learning circle will take place on WEDNESDAY 16th November at 19:00 GMT. The cost is £40 per place and partners, friends and family members can join without extra charge.

What is Parentification?

Boundary dissolution occurs when there is a break down of generational roles which leads to a merging of psychological separateness between individuals in a family. These boundary dissolutions include enmeshment, spouseification, intrusiveness and the reversal of role between parent and child which is known as parentification. (Kerig, 2005).

In the case of parentification, the parent turns to the child for nurturance or support and overburdens a child with the responsibility of protecting and sustaining parents, siblings, and the family system (Jurkovic, 2007). There are two types of caregiving that may be expected of children: instrumental caregivingwhich requires children to assume responsibility for concrete functions in support of the family, and emotional role requires the child to assume responsibility for a caregiver’s socioemotional needs. (Jurkovic, Jesse & Goglia, 1991).

Parentification in Divorce and Separation

One cause of children’s alignment and rejection behaviour in divorce and separation is parentification, in which a parent relies pon a child or overshares their feelings with a child about their experience of the divorce or separation. The impact on a child of this behaviour, which is called enmeshment, is that they are drawn into a dynamic in which they must first regulate a parent before they can have their own emotional and psychological needs met.

The impact on children of living with parentification is serious and long lasting, helping them requires a depth knowledge of how this insidious form of emotional and psycholological trauma affects their behavioural presentation alongside strategies for helping children to learn how to live in a healthy hierchary in which their psychological and emotional needs are met by the adults around them.

Parentification is one of the key problems facing children who are manipulated in divorce and separation, it is a covert manipulation which can be difficult to spot, precisely because, as Dr Steve Miller always pointed out, it looks like a close and loving relationship.

There is no need to be helpless in the face of the parentified child however and, because the relational networks in the brain are constantly open to change, learning how to help the parentified child is a powerful tool to have at the ready for any parent who has been forced into the rejected position.

This circle will focus upon understanding how parentified children behave and how to operationalise strategies to help them.