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Reversing Parentification and MAAME by Jessica George

Cover of the book Maame by Jessica George used to teach the mental health concept of parentification.

Maddie takes care of everyone. Her mom frequently needs financial help, and Maddie sends her money. Her dad has Parkinson’s and needs round-the-clock care, so Maddie spent college and young professional years living at home, helping rather than moving into her own apartment. It’s similar at work; Maddie picks up the pieces when her boss has emotional breakdowns.  Maddie needs a break from bending over backward for others. And it wouldn’t hurt if someone cared for her, too.

Maddie experiences parentification. Parents generally give support in healthy parent/child relationships, and children typically receive it. Parentification is when a parent abdicates logistical and/or emotional responsibilities and passes these obligations onto their children. In these unhealthy role reversals, the child becomes responsible for meeting the parent’s needs. The child is generally too young to handle the tasks thrust upon them and receives neither guidance nor validation for their immense burden.

The emotional impact on parentified children is significant. They struggle with emotional regulation, experience anxiety, fail to set appropriate boundaries in romantic relationships, struggle to form secure attachments, and cannot trust others.


Here are tips to reverse the negative impacts of parentification:


Learn About Healthy Relationships: This can be fun. Watch movies or read books that depict loving, trusting, and balanced relationships. Talk to people you know in healthy relationships and learn from them.


Stop Carrying Other’s Burdens: Set healthy boundaries. This means learning to say no and occasionally disappointing people who have grown accustomed to relying on you. Work through any associated regret or shame arising as you transition from being everyone’s helper.


Explore Your Childhood: Explore the circumstances that led to your parentification. Process the expectations you fulfilled and any acknowledgment you received. Try to see things from your parent’s perspective with the goal of understanding (or accepting, or even forgiving), not villainizing.


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