So, you may be wondering why I am doing a couple of posts in a row with these big words as the titles? What gives? Nothing really, it just so happens that I ran into this term today while talking to some friends about their other friend's kids. Don't you hear that more and more these days? People comparing and talking about other people's kids and how they parent, do things differently, etc.? Seems like we are always comparing our kids to other's ..lol..
Well, what prompted this particular post was when my friends were telling me about this couple they knew who have a 5th grade girl, a 3rd grade boy and a Kindergarten little girl. They were going on and on about how great it was that the 5th grade girl gets up all the children in the morning and fixes their breakfasts, packs their lunches and makes sure everyone is on time, so that her parents have time to sleep in and get themselves ready . Excuse me, what?
I know as a child therapist, people are wondering if I am always passing judgment on them and how they raise their own children. All I have to say to that is that I make mistakes too and the best thing about being a parent is getting second chances!! No one is perfect and you have to do what works best for you and your family. But, on the flip side, I do have a slight problem with some things out there, especially extremes like the above example.
As in the story above, the term 'Parentification' means when a child has become the parent in the parent-child relationship. Sure, older kids are great at helping out around the house and they SHOULD learn to do chores, such as setting the table, making their bed, etc. But when the child starts taking on more responsibility and caring for their parents or younger siblings too much- that is when it is a problem.
Children need to be children. Their jobs are to run, play outside, play with toys, interact with other kids and basically just be a kid. When they start taking on the role of a parent, they start taking care of them emotionally, and physically: making sure to cook breakfast for the family, pack everyone else's lunches, makes sure everyone in the family is dressed and ready to head to work and school, that their parent isn't upset about something, etc. these tasks are a parent's job- not the child's. And when they take on that role, they start to feel anxious and AKA: stressed. A 5th grader is not supposed to be stressed!!
When I counseled single parents who had a lot on their plates taking care of their own children, either after a divorce or death of a spouse, it was hard for them to watch their child take care of them (the parent) emotionally and physically. The single mom was usually feeling down and depressed after such a life changing event (and so was the child of course) and the child would start to worry about the mom, comfort her when she was crying and the roles would get reversed. The mom is supposed to comfort the child, not the other way around. As you can see, not a good situation. (And not to go into this here, but a child has a much tougher time adjusting to changes like a death or divorce than an adult due to their cognitive limitations- takes the average child 2 years to adjust to something like that.)
So, all in all, I guess what I am saying is to try as much as possible to let our kids be kids! This world is stressful enough to live in already, and our kids need to climb more trees, play more tag, read more children's books and just act silly for the heck of it! Leave the worrying and adult chores to the adults!
Do any of you think I am crazy or does some of that at least make sense? We all feel guilty at times for asking our kids to do too much, but what do you think is too much? Have you heard any stories out there like the ones above?
(photo credit from toonpool)