Stolen Childhood // The phenomenon of parentified children

There are children who never had a chance to experience a regular childhood. From a very young age, these children are forced into the role of parents, making decisions that are way out of their league. Sometimes these children take care of their younger siblings or assume the financial burden of the family in the absence of a stable adult. Other times, they are called upon to make life-altering decisions when they were far too immature to understand the implications. Or these children’s parents look to them to fulfill their emotional needs.

The phenomenon of children forced to become grownups can have lifelong repercussions. Decades later, many of these parentified kids struggle from unresolved conflicts, unable to parent their own children properly after having been forced to shoulder too much responsibility prematurely.
Here are three such cases.

Mommy’s Little Banker

Shifra’s story:
“Do you have a few dollars to spare?” my mother asked as soon as I got home from work.

It was a familiar scenario, one that had been going on for years. But things had been getting much worse in recent weeks. I took a deep breath and counted to ten. Then I repeated the lines I’d practiced earlier, preparing for just such an eventuality.
“I’m sorry, Mommy, but I’m out of cash.” My voice sounded stilted, even to my own ears.

“What do you mean you’re out of cash? Don’t you get a paycheck every week? You’re not even paying rent. Where does all the money go?”

Why was she saying this? Didn’t my mother know where my money went? Last week it was a day at the spa for her birthday, and the week before, a shopping spree at Nordstrom.

“You have to start telling Mommy no,” my married sister Chumy warned. “Otherwise, you’ll end up with your credit card maxed out and all your savings gone. And there won’t be any money left to marry you off when the time comes. You know you will have to pay for everything yourself.”

My sister was speaking from experience, having been the first child in the family to get married, at the age of 26. By then, my mother had been “borrowing” from her oldest daughter for years. It was hard to resist her pleas, especially when she was feeling sorry for herself and telling us how much she’d suffered over the years. After Chumy got married, her husband made her put a stop to the never-ending handouts, and I became our mother’s banker instead.

“So, what do you say? Can I have $100?” my mother tried again.

“I’m sorry,” I repeated, standing my ground. “I don’t have the money.”

“You have no idea how desperately I need it!” she continued, launching into the familiar tune I’d heard dozens of times before. “Your father didn’t give me a penny for groceries this week. Look!” she said as she flung open the refrigerator door. “Only a half-dozen eggs and the milk is spoiled. If I don’t get some food soon, no one will have anything to eat.” She then listed a litany of sins that my father was committing against her, and I ended up consoling her.

“That’s okay, Mommy. We’ll manage until Tatty goes to the supermarket. He usually goes on Tuesdays after work, right?”

My mother exploded. “You have no idea how hard it is to keep this house running being married to such a skinflint. I literally feel like I’m in prison!” She began to sob.
My resolve, which had been so strong when I spoke to Chumy earlier in the day, immediately weakened. “Don’t cry!” I pleaded with her, feeling sick to my stomach. “I’ll give you my last $100, even though it means I won’t have any money this week.” I scrabbled in my purse to find the bills.



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