Parentification

This was a new term for me and came out of one of the stories I read recently conveyed by a foster parent. Here’s the story –

I am currently fostering a 14 year old. They were removed because of trauma from a family member who is not their mom but who still lives with their mom. Mom refuses to ask this person to leave or to move into a different apartment, but is otherwise doing what is asked of her to work towards reunification. Today this kid told me they really want to be reunified, which makes perfect sense. I’m worried because this seems unlikely unless mom starts believing them and takes steps to cut their perpetrator out of her life. How do I support them? If you were in their shoes, what would you want from a foster caregiver? I’m also worried because many of the reasons this kid states for wanting to reunify are to care for their mom. It’s not my place to make the judgment calls, but it seems from the outside like a case of parentification. Add to this that I’ve heard this child talk about how much they wish they had been given the opportunity that their peers had to “just be a kid”.

So what is parentification ? Parentification is when the roles are reversed between a child and a parent, a toxic family dynamic that is rarely talked about and is even accepted as the norm in some cultures. However, research has found that it can have far-reaching negative psychological impacts. It is a functional and/or emotional role reversal in which the child sacrifices his or her own needs for attention, comfort, and guidance in order to accommodate and care for the logistical and emotional needs of a parent and/or sibling.

One response was this from experience – my parents put me in foster care briefly when I was suicidal from the pressure of being a “good kid” and experiencing their abuse. I wanted to go back to them to protect my brother. I feel for the teen. I would have this child in therapy now to begin processing those emotions of responsibility. I’m 24 and still struggle with guilt that my brother may have suffered when I was gone or what would have happened if I’d stayed gone. My mom would’ve likely lost her mind. She did – when I went to college. My best advice is therapy for the child while in your care, and perhaps talk to a therapist about how you could best talk to their mom about her removing that person in the home. My mom chose my dad over me often, so I feel for the teen.

Another one shared – Unfortunately this might be something that never fully goes away. I was like this, the eldest child who took care of the family from a very young age and getting rid of that guilt and the “needing to take care of them feeling” has been very very resistant to therapy. I think the best you can do is just try to be empathetic, don’t make them feel like they’re acting too old or whatever (mine did that and it really fucked with my head) just be kind and remind them they can relax and do things for themselves, even if they don’t listen.

This one touched my heart, because I am the oldest as well. I was not in an awful situation but I have always felt a sense of responsibility for my two sisters. Our parents died only 4 months apart (high school sweethearts married for over 50 years). From the first day I returned to my family after my mom died first, I found myself having to take over financial responsibility for my sisters that my mom had been financially providing, making me in effect “the mom”. Then, after our dad died too, I had to ask the court to appoint someone to assist my youngest sister with her finances. She is likely a paranoid schizophrenic with very weird ideas about the way money functions. The court agreed to appoint a conservator. My sister and I have struggled. What had been a really good relationship before was destroyed when our mom died. Our mom had a poor relationship with my sister for over a decade and my sister’s feelings about that transferred to me when my mom died and I had to take over the family finances.

Also this interesting perspective – I cared for a teen relative of mine last year similar situation. As soon as she could legally, she returned to mom and the abuser to care for her siblings again and her mom. This is what she had been taught was the only way to get attention, love etc from mom. The best way we found to help her was to enroll her in a group for teens about healthy relationships at our local Domestic Violence shelter. She also did therapy with someone she selected and equine psychotherapy which helped her with attachment a lot. While she was here, we focused on just reminding her of our unconditional love and building trust in our relationship. Even though she went back, it didn’t take long for all of that to help her see how to set boundaries with mom, identify unsafe situations with abuser and start to come out of some of the fog. It’s still complicated but she isn’t engrained and I see her setting more healthy boundaries. We (and her dad) are still safe people she can come too and does. It took about 6 months of us just watching from a distance and being supportive regardless. In your situation, maybe focus on staying neutral and asking for a CASA or Guardian ad Litem to help with the other side of the coin. Having a mentor also really helped my relative. It was someone closer to her age that she could confide in and she is still actively talking to that person now. Maybe your foster youth could use a mentor because they aren’t a therapist but can be a sounding board. Also a lifeline if the youth returns and ‘adults’ get cut off from that person. (I say adults because the mentors we have had are usually 25 or younger and parents don’t see them like they do a 40 year old caseworker).

Hope Springs Eternal

It is a story as old as humanity.  The rebirth through time of the species.  Every child spends time in its mother’s womb.  Every child carries the seeds of its father.  Every human being is precious.

Sadly, many children are born into humble beginnings.  Just as the old Christmas story tells us of the struggles of the young family who give birth in a stable for animals because there was no room for them at the inn.

All of us who live have reason to be grateful.  No one promised us a rose garden on being birthed into physicality but many many humans have proven to us that anyone with enough persistence and determination can change the circumstances of their life.

When times are exceedingly difficult, we can be comforted with knowing that change is constant.  When times are abundantly good for us, we should remember that this too is likely to pass into something else.

Christmas Eve is a time when the whole world hopes for peace, goodwill towards men.  However you celebrate and whether you celebrate or not, may your holidays be blessed with warmth, loving souls around you and harmony for at least some few moments so that you too know that it is possible.

 

What Was And Never Should Be

~ 1997 ~

Growing up, I had something my parents didn’t, my real genetically related mom and dad.  I don’t know at what age I first learned that both of my parents were adopted.  It was just a fact of life and one that I never judged to be good or bad for my entire childhood.  Their adoptive parents were my grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins I acquired in that manner were just that.

Adoption was so accepted in my family that both of my sisters ended up giving up a child to adoption.  Parenting was seen as something any adult human being with good intentions could do.  So my nephew ended being raised by his paternal grandparents and my daughter ended up being raised by her dad when he remarried a woman with a daughter and they had a daughter together, thus creating a family for her that I could not give.

Though I felt a piece was missing in my life – my cultural heritage that had been passed down by those unknown people who gave my parents life – it wasn’t until my mom started investigating her own adoption – after learning in the early 1990s, the story of the scandal that surrounded Georgia Tann’s work – that I became aware that all was not as it should be in adoptionland.

By the grace of a loving energy, I have been able to discover who all 4 of my original grandparents were since my parents died.  It saddens me that they didn’t have the opportunity to know about these people themselves.  I now know of cousin and aunts that I am genetically related to.  I still cherish the family adoption brought to me as well.

What I never expected was the education I would receive along with learning my genetic roots about the damage done in the name of a profit-motivated industry taking babies from their mothers and giving them to the people who had money and could not have their own children for whatever reason.

What once was accepted and “natural” in my understanding – adoption – is now seen for the travesty it has been but thankfully, even that is changing in this world that continuously does.

What Is Lost

I think about it sometimes.  I read in the book Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman that one of the things a daughter misses out on when a mother dies while she is yet young is a lot of little things that are transferred in person.

In this case, it is a smidgen of milk added to an egg to help the white break up as it is stirred for a scrambled egg.  My youngest son wants to eat one almost every day at the moment and I don’t cook it the same way my mom did, we use a microwave.  And it is a bit complex to get it just right – several little cookings and stirrings until it is no longer wet.

My mom made certain we knew how to do all kinds of wifely things because I grew up in a era when the differences between little boys and little girls were clearly drawn, though feminism was beginning to soften the lines.  Though we were a family of all girls and there were no boys, causing me to become somewhat of a tomboy growing up close to my dad.

Mothers could, and probably should, teach their sons some of the things that my mom taught us.  There is no guarantee there will be a compliant servant wife to do them for my sons.  At the same time, childhood is so brief.  I understand that so clearly now.  My mom’s mother didn’t teach her much in the way of wifely things.  She said she was quite ignorant about how to do even the simplest thing at first but she muddled through and became quite proficient.

The world is changing so quickly.  Who knows what life will be like when my sons become independent ?  Somehow, I just believe, they will figure out what they need to figure out for themselves.  We all do.