From The SpiritWiki

Parentification is a role reversal in which a child is obliged to act as a parent to their own parent(s) or sibling(s). This can occur when the family is poor and both parents have to work, or when parents are unable to fulfill their roles due to mental or physical illness, addiction, emotional instability, or other forms of dysfunction. Parentification is an element of Toxic Socialization

Elements of Toxic Socialization

Toxic Socialization > Chaos, Destruction of Attachments, Indoctrination, Neglect, Parentification, Violence


Parentification,can lead to significant psychological, emotional, and spiritual consequences.

Physiological Consequences: Parentification can have several physiological effects. These effects emerge as a direct result of the stress experienced by the child, including activation of a child's stress response system, which over time can cause "wear and tear," or allostatic load. This can result in a range of health issues, including a compromised immune system, hormonal imbalances, and even disruptions in brain development.[1] Parentification can lead to sleep disruptions caused by stress, anxiety, or the caregiving tasks required of them can lead to a range of physical health issues, from impaired growth to an increased risk of obesity[2], to gastrointestinal issues, such as stomach aches or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).[3][4] For a more complete rundown of the consequences of chronic stress, see Stress.

Egoic Consequences: Parentification has a massive impact on the developing personality and Bodily Ego of a child. Parentification can lead to increases or decreases in motivation, changes in self-image, the development of trust issues, the development of anxiety disorders, personality disorders and more.[5]

Psychological Consequences: Children experiencing parentification can face difficulties with boundary setting, heightened feelings of responsibility, and an accelerated loss of childhood.[6]. In terms of long-term impacts, parentified children are at a greater risk of developing mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and attachment disorders[7][8]

Emotional Consequences: Emotionally, parentified children may experience a premature understanding of adult issues, which can result in feelings of burden and resentment[9]. These children may also suffer from self-esteem issues, leading to emotional distress and poor interpersonal relationships[10].

Spiritual Consequences: Spiritual consequences may be context-dependent, especially in indigenous communities where spirituality often holds a strong cultural importance. An early imposition of adult roles could disrupt a child's spiritual growth, their relationship with the natural world, their community, and their ancestors[11]

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  1. Evans, G. W., & Kim, P. (2013). Childhood Poverty, Chronic Stress, and Young Adult Working Memory: The Protective Role of Self-regulatory Capacity. Developmental Science, 16(5), 688–696.
  2. Cousins, J. C., Bootzin, R. R., Stevens, S. J., Ruiz, B. S., & Haynes, P. L. (2011). Parental Involvement, Psychological Distress, and Sleep: A Preliminary Examination in Sleep-Disordered Children. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(5), 698–703.
  3. Parkinson, T. “Early Life Stress and Chronic Disease: A Dual Pathway Model for Gastrointestinal Disorders.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 28, no. 2 (2019): 140–46.
  4. Minjoz, Séphora, Valérie Sinniger, Pascal Hot, Bruno Bonaz, and Sonia Pellissier. “The Burden of Early Life Stress in Chronic Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.” Journal of Health Psychology, May 19, 2023, 13591053231173918.
  5. Ratkovic, Gina, and Mike Sosteric. “A Case-Study of the Colonization, Parentification, Abuse, and Suppression of an Indigenous Female Youth.” Draft, 2023.
  6. Boszormenyi-Nagy, Ivan, and Geraldine M. Spark. Invisible Loyalties: Reciprocity in Intergenerational Family Therapy. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
  7. Champion, Jessica E., Sarah S. Jaser, Kristen L. Reeslund, Lauren Simmons, Jennifer E. Potts, Ashley R. Shears, and Bruce E. Compas. "Caretaking Behaviors by Adolescent Children of Mothers with and Without a History of Depression." Journal of Family Psychology 23, no. 2 (2009): 156-166. 10.1037/a0014399
  8. Hooper, Lisa M. "The Application of Attachment Theory and Family Systems Theory to the Phenomena of Parentification." The Family Journal 15, no. 3 (2007): 217-223. DOI. 10.1177/1066480707301290
  9. Kuperminc, Gabriel P., Gregory J. Jurkovic, and Sara Casey. "Relation of Filial Responsibility to the Personal and Social Adjustment of Latino Adolescents from Immigrant Families." Journal of Family Psychology 23, no. 1 (2009): 14-22. 10.1037/a0014064
  10. Macfie, Jenny, Nancy L. McElwain, Ross M. Houts, and Martha J. Cox. "Intergenerational Transmission of Role Reversal between Parent and Child: Dyadic and Family Systems Internal Working Models." Attachment & Human Development 7, no. 1 (2005): 51-65. DOI: 10.1080/14616730500039663
  11. Hodge, David R., Gordon E. Limb, and Terry L. Cross. "Moving from Colonization Toward Balance and Harmony: A Native American Perspective on Wellness." Social Work 47, no. 3 (2002): 213-221.