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Don’t worry, I’m the parent

Don’t worry, I’m the parent

In my work with Children's Aid I often run into kids who are “parentified”, who do the job of parenting their younger siblings because their own parents haven't been able or willing to do it. Very often these kids come into conflict with foster or adoptive parents. These kids are afraid to give up the role of parent because parents have let them down in the past.

I sometimes see these behaviours in regular kids as well, especially in oldest kids. They have a tendency to enforce rules on their own, to step in when they think that parents haven't dealt with a situation adequately. They police younger children, often employing the same language and tactics they have seen their parents model. It's the sort of behaviour that other kids usually call bossy.

Parentified kids (both in extreme cases and in the bossy-pants kids you might see around your house) need assurance that you are the parent, and that you will adequately deal with situations as they arise.  They need to be reminded that certain jobs are for parents, not for kids, that your job is to take care of them and provide for them and to allow them to do the things that kids need to do.

This might seem at odds with what I've written previously about kids needing to be given responsibility, but it's really not. Kids need to be given responsibility appropriate to their age, and in order to take on this responsibility well, they need to know that their parents are taking care of the rest. Far from preventing kids from being responsible, this allows them to know which roles are theirs and to take those roles on with confidence.

This is true in the bigger things (Yes, it is your job to deliver your papers on time every day, but no, I'll take care of calling the paper when they short you) and in the smaller things (Yes, it is your job to put your dishes on the counter, but no, I'll take care of it when you're younger brother forgets). It's even true the other way around, when defining those roles carefully will remind you that maybe your kids are ready to take on bigger responsibilities than you assumed.

Luke Hill is a stay-at-home father of three boys, aged nine, seven, and three.  He has fathered, fostered, adopted, or provided a temporary home for kids anywhere between birth and university.  He has taught college courses, adoption seminars, camp groups, Sunday School classes, rugby teams, not to mention his own homeschooled kids.