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Divorced parents: Be on the lookout for parentification

Parents know that their decision to divorce will not only impact them but their children as well. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to determine precisely how their divorce will affect their children. Some children might take it hard and withdraw from activities and school, while others might experience grief, but eventually understand why their parents divorced.

In some cases, the emotional turmoil of a divorce could lead to the parentification of children. This can place a significant amount of stress on children, and parents must watch out to prevent parentification.

What is parentification?

Parentification is also known as “reverse parenting.” Essentially, it is a role reversal where children take on the role of caretaker for their younger siblings or perhaps even their parents. They might feel the need to care for their parents after the emotional stress of a divorce.

While taking on responsibilities is important – and even beneficial – for children to grow, taking on the responsibilities of the parent can seriously affect their developmental, emotional and mental health.

How does this happen after a divorce?

There are a few situations when children might become “parentified,” including:

  • If they feel that they are the only person their parent can turn to, and parents overshare with them;
  • Children feel guilty and caught between their parents, while parents focus on competing with their ex-spouse versus meeting their child’s needs;
  • If parents are struggling to adjust to their role as a single parent;
  • If parents withdraw from their responsibilities after divorce; or
  • Both parents argue often, and the child feels they must play peacemaker.

Parents do not often mean for their children to take on this role, but it can happen without them noticing as they try to grow accustomed to their new life after divorce.

How can parents prevent parentification?

Getting used to life and parenting post-divorce can be a challenge. However, there are a few ways parents can protect their children from feeling the need to take on the role of parent, including:

  • Ensure both parents agree to prioritize their children’s best interests;
  • Avoid badmouthing the other parent or communicating through the children; and
  • Regularly discuss how the children are feeling.

At Bowen Ten Cardani, PC, we are dedicated to helping families not only survive but thrive after divorce. We can help Virginia parents protect their relationships with their children during and after divorce and reduce the family’s stress.

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