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Megan Huntsman's mugshot, courtesy of Utah Couny Jail.

Megan Huntsman’s mug shot, provided by Pleasant Grove Utah police.

Thirty-nine-year-old Megan Huntsman of Pleasant Grove, Utah, has allegedly confessed to fatally strangling and suffocating six of her newborn babies from 1996 to 2006.

Acting on a tip from her estranged husband, police searched her home on Saturday and found seven dead infants, six of them stuffed into cardboard boxes. The seventh infant had reportedly been stillborn. A search of court records revealed that apart from a 2011 traffic citation, Huntsman had no criminal record.

The technical term for when a mother kills her child is “maternal filicide.” An estimated 200 women kill their children every year in the United States. I use the term “kill” rather than “murder,” because the latter has a legal meaning, and even mothers who deliberately kill their children often are found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. In fact, a 1969 study conducted by Dr. Phillip Resnick found that when mothers kill their kids, 68% are sent to mental hospitals and only 27% are sent to prison; when fathers kill their children, 72% go to prison and only 14% are hospitalized.

In 1997, a US Department of Justice study found that children under the age of eight are more likely to be killed by their mothers, while those eight and older are likelier to be killed by their fathers. Throughout childhood, sons are more likely to be killed than are daughters.

If you’re looking for examples of female privilege, look no further than those stats.

Presented in alphabetical order, here are 19 other mothers who killed their children.

2. China Arnold

In 2005, China Arnold of Dayton, OH, stuffed her three-week-old daughter into a microwave oven and burned her to death after arguing with her boyfriend about the child’s biological father.

3. Kenisha Berry

A pair of Texas dumpster-divers in 1998 pulled out a bag from a trash bin that they initially thought contained a baby doll’s leg. Instead, it was the corpse of the four-day-old son of daycare worker Kenisha Berry. She had duct-taped his mouth shut, stuffed him into a black plastic bag, and tossed him into the bin, where he died of suffocation.

4. Diane Downs

In 1983, Oregon mother of three Diane Downs drove into a hospital emergency room with her blood-soaked children and a bullet wound in her forearm, claiming a “bushy-haired stranger” had carjacked and shot them. As her story unraveled, it became evident that it was Downs who’d pulled the trigger, killing her seven-year-old daughter.

5. Brenda Drayton

After a previous hospitalization for falling under the delusion that there were snakes in her body, 29-year-old Brenda Drayton of Flint, MI, strangled her two-year-old daughter to death, believing it had been “the Devil’s baby.” A decade earlier, her infant son had died of malnutrition and dehydration.

6. Shaquan Duley

A disturbingly common M.O. for mothers who kill their kids is to drive them into a body of water until they drown. The case was slightly different in 2010, when Shaquan Duley of South Carolina suffocated her two sons, 18 months and two years old, with her bare hands in a motel room before strapping them into car seats and rolling them into a river.

7. Dora Luz Durenrostro

In 1994, Dora Luz Durenrostro of San Jacinto, CA, stabbed three of her children to death—two daughters aged four and nine as well as her eight-year-old son. A police officer remarked remarked that Durenrostro “never showed remorse or sadness, even after we told her we found the body of her third child.”

8. Susan Eubanks

At the age of 33, Susan Eubanks shot four of her sons—ages 14, seven, six, and four—to death “execution style” in her San Marcos, CA home. She allegedly blamed her alcoholic parents and subpar mental-health treatment.

9. Jeanette Hawes

Early in 2009, Jeanette Michelle Hawes of Augusta, GA, walked into a convenience-store bathroom and stabbed her three-year-old daughter Shakayla and one-year-old son Jordan to death. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

10. Debra Jenner-Tyler

In 1987, using a kitchen knife and a “metal toy airplane,” South Dakotan Debra Jenner-Tyler stabbed her three-year-old daughter Abby Lynn 70 times, killing her. Jenner-Tyler claimed she “had been working a lot,” was “under a lot of stress,” and that her daughter had been acting “very finicky.”

11. Michelle Kehoe

After initially claiming one morning in 2008 that her two sons had been abducted, Iowan Michelle Kehoe was found guilty of murder by a jury who heard audiotape of her son Sean, seven at the time she attempted to kill him, testifying how she duct-taped his eyes and mouth before slashing his throat. She had done the same to her two-year-old son Seth, murdering him in the process.

12. Deanna Laney

Late one night in May 2003, Deanna Laney awoke and led her two oldest sons, eight-year-old Joshua and six-year-old Luke, outside her home, where she proceeded to smash in their skulls with a giant rock. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

13. Christina Miracle

The ominously named Christina Miracle of Miami Township, OH, killed her six-year-old son in a “bizarre religious ceremony” in which she allegedly thought she was resurrecting her dead brother while baptizing her son. The child was apparently beaten before being suffocated to death.

14. Frances Newton

After taking out life insurance policies on family members and herself, 21-year-old Frances Newton of Houston, Texas used her boyfriend’s gun to kill her husband, her seven-year-old son, and her 21-month-old daughter in April 1987. She received the death penalty and died from a lethal injection in 2005.

15. Robin Lee Row

In 1992, Robin Lee Row—infamous for being Idaho’s only female Death Row inmate—apparently turned off the smoke alarm in an apartment where her estranged husband, ten-year-old son, and eight-year-old daughter were living, squirted a liquid accelerant all over the premises, and set it ablaze, killing all of them. She had previously collected $28,000 in a life-insurance policy for another son who had died in 1980 when his blankets caught fire from a portable heater.

17. Deena Schlossser

In November of 2004, Deena Schlosser used a knife to amputate both arms of her 11-month-old daughter, killing her. Police arrived at the scene to find a blood-soaked Schlosser, knife in hand, singing songs to Jesus. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

18. Susan Smith

In 1994, South Carolinian Susan Smith told police that a black man had stolen her car and abucted her two sons, three-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alex. In truth, she had strapped them to car seats and pushed the car into a lake, drowning them.

19. Marybeth Tinning

Marybeth Tinning’s case is most similar to that of Utah’s Megan Huntsman in that she is apparently a serial killer—i.e., she allegedly snuffed her children in a series of events scattered over years—rather than killing them all in one shot. She oversaw the deaths of nine of her children, one of whom was adopted, during a fourteen-year stretch ending in 1985. She confessed to smothering three of them but was convicted of only one murder and is currently serving a life sentence.

20. Andrea Yates

One day in June 2001, Andrea Yates methodically drowned all five of her children—aged seven years down to six months—in the bathtub of her home in Houston, TX. She told the police and psychiatrists that Satan had ordered her to kill them so that they could be saved from hell. Like so many other killer moms, she successfully copped an insanity plea.





By Joe Tacopino


January 15, 2014 | 12:40am

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Jennifer Berman is seen with her two children, Jacqueline and Alexander, in this undated photo. Photo: Instagram

A distraught Florida mom fatally shot her two teenage children before turning the weapon on herself in a tragic murder suicide, according to reports.

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TRAGIC: Dad Richard Berman (center) rushed home only to find his kids, children Alexander 16, and Jacqueline, 15, had been slain by their mother.

Jennifer Berman, 48, gunned down her 16-year-old son Alex and 15-year-old daughter Jacqueline before killing herself on Monday, the Palm Beach Post said.

Her ex-husband, Richard Berman, said in a 911 call that the woman had sent messages to him and others about the impending crime.

“She sent me an email that she did the best thing for our family,” Berman said in the call. “And then she sent her cousin a text that she was going to kill the kids and herself.”

The couple divorced last month, the paper said.

The family had been fighting over money and the home that Berman lived in with her children had recently been sold, according to reports.

Jennifer Berman was working long hours and had recently become unhinged under the pressure, neighbors and friends said.

“Going through a divorce, foreclosure, a lot of that stuff which, it’s an upsetting thing,” family friend Brian McManus told news station WSVN.

“When you’re going through a divorce and having to sell the beautiful house in this neighborhood, and it’s just she just seemed like she had been upset lately.”

The teens, Alex and Jacqueline, attended Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.

Alex was an accomplished cello player while Jacqueline was a straight A student, classmates said.










WUSA 9 Staff 7:31 a.m. EST January 19, 2014


Zakieya Latrice Avery is charged with two counts of first degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. (Photo: Police)


GERMANTOWN, Md. (WUSA9) -- A mother killed two of her own children while performing an exorcism in Germantown, Md., police said.

Montgomery County police have charged two women for murder in the Friday deaths of a 1-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl.

Zakieya Latrice Avery, the mother of the children is charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the killings, and two counts of attempted first-degree murder, as two other children remain hospitalized after Friday's attack. Avery, 28, of the 19000 block of Cherry Bend Drive in Germantown, is being held without bond.

Monifa Denise Sanford, 21, who was also at the scene, has been released from the hospital and has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of the two kids and two counts of attempted murder for two children who are still in the hospital. She is also being held without bond.

Police identified the deceased children as Norell N. Harris, a 1-year-old male, and Zyana Z. Harris, a 2-year-old female.

The hospitalized children are identified as Taniya Harris, a 5-year-old female, and Martello Harris, a 8-year-old male.

People have laid down flowers, candles, and teddy bears in front of the home where the two children were killed and the two others were injured. A vigil was held Saturday night to remember the small children who were stabbed to death.

"It's kind of horrifying for any father, any grandfather," State's Attorney John McCarthy said Friday. "These are hard cases," he said, his voice breaking.

There has been no update on the condition of Taniya or Martello.


Flowers, candles, teddy bears set up in front of the home where 2 kids were stabbed to death in Germantown. (Photo: WUSA)



Posted: Dec 17, 2014 10:50 PM Updated: Dec 18, 2014 12:31 AM

Associated Press

BUTTE, Montana (AP) - At least 786 children died of abuse or neglect in the U.S. in a six-year span in plain view of child protection authorities - many of them beaten, starved or left alone to drown while agencies had good reason to know they were in danger, The Associated Press has found.

To determine that number, the AP canvassed the 50 states, the District of Columbia and branches of the military - circumventing a system that does a terrible job of accounting for child deaths. Many states struggled to provide numbers. Secrecy often prevailed.

Most of the 786 children whose cases were compiled by the AP were under the age of 4. They lost their lives even as authorities were investigating their families or providing some form of protective services because of previous instances of neglect or violence or other troubles in the home.

Take Mattisyn Blaz, a 2-month-old Montana girl who died when her father spiked her "like a football," in the words of a prosecutor.

Matthew Blaz was well-known to child services personnel and police. Just two weeks after Mattisyn was born on June 25, 2013, he came home drunk, grabbed his wife by her hair and threw her to the kitchen floor while she clung to the newborn.

Jennifer Blaz said a child protective services worker visited the day after her husband's attack, spoke with her briefly and left. Her husband pleaded guilty to assault and was ordered by a judge to take anger management classes and stay away from his wife. Convinced he had changed, his wife allowed him to return to the home.

She said the next official contact between the family and Montana child services came more than six weeks later - the day of Mattisyn's funeral.

The system also failed Ethan Henderson, who was only 10 weeks old but already had been treated for a broken arm when his father hurled him into a recliner so hard that it caused a fatal brain injury.

Maine hotline workers had received at least 13 calls warning that Ethan or his siblings were suffering abuse. The caseworker who inspected the family's cramped trailer six days before Ethan died on May 8, 2012, wrote that the baby appeared "well cared for and safe in the care of his parents."

Many factors can contribute to the abuse dilemma nationwide: The child protective services system is plagued with worker shortages and a serious overload of cases. Budgets are tight, and nearly 40 percent of the 3 million child abuse and neglect complaints made annually to child protective services hotlines are "screened out" and never investigated.

Also, insufficient training for those who answer child abuse hotlines leads to reports being misclassified, sometimes with deadly consequences; a lack of a comprehensive national child welfare database allows some abusers to avoid detection by moving to different states; and a policy that promotes keeping families intact can play a major role in the number of deaths.

Because no single, complete set of data exists for the deaths of children who already were being overseen by child welfare caseworkers, the information compiled over the course of AP's eight-month investigation represents the most comprehensive statistics publicly available.

But the number of abuse and neglect fatalities where a prior open case existed at the time of death is undoubtedly much higher than the tally of 760.

Seven states reported a total of 230 open-case child deaths over the six-year period, but those were not included in the AP count because the states could not make a distinction between investigations started due to the incident that ultimately led to a child's death and cases that already were open when the child received the fatal injury.

The data collection system on child deaths is so flawed that no one can even say with accuracy how many children overall die from abuse or neglect every year. The federal government estimates an average of about 1,650 deaths annually in recent years; many believe the actual number is twice as high.

Even more lacking is comprehensive, publicly available data about the number of children dying while the subject of an open case or receiving assistance from the agencies that exist to keep them safe - the focus of AP's reporting.

"We all agree that we cannot solve a problem this complex until we agree it exists," said David Sanders, chairman of the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, whose members are traveling the country studying child deaths under a congressional mandate.

States submit information on child abuse deaths to the federal government on a voluntary basis - some of it comprehensive, some of it inaccurate. In some cases, states withhold information about child deaths in violation of the terms of federal grants they receive.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services says all states receiving grants under a prevention and treatment program must "allow the public to access information when child abuse or neglect results in a child fatality," unless those details would put children, their families or those who report abuse at risk, or jeopardize an investigation.

Still, no state has ever been found in violation of disclosure requirements and federal grants have never been withheld, according to Catherine Nolan, who directs the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, a sub-agency of HHS.

The information that states send the federal government through the voluntary system also is severely lacking.

A 2013 report showed that 17 states did not provide the federal government with a key measure of performance: how many children had died of child abuse after being removed from their homes and then reunited with their families within a five-year period.

When President Richard Nixon signed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act into law in 1974, it was seen as a sign of federal commitment to preventing child abuse through state-level monitoring.

But in 1995, a board reviewing the subsequent progress issued a scathing report calling or better information and transparency and flagging "serious gaps in data collection."

Nearly 20 years later - 40 years after Nixon signed the act - the AP found that many such problems persist.

The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at investigate@ap.org

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



Police say a man and his girlfriend are charged with murdering the girlfriend's 3-year-old son in what a prosecutor described as an "unspeakable act of depravity.".

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan announced the arrests of Gary Fellenbaum and Jillian Tait Thursday morning. He says Fellenbaum, his wife, and girlfriend, Tait, all lived together in a mobile home in West Caln Township and worked at a local Walmart.

On Tuesday authorities were called to their residence for the report of an unresponsive child. Responding EMTs found 3-year-old Scott McMillan suffering from bruises, lacerations and puncture wounds all over his body.

Police say Fellenbaum, Tait, and Fellenbaum's wife, Amber, confessed that the little boy had been beaten with blunt and sharp objects, whipped, taped to a chair with electrical tape and beaten, hung up by his feet and beaten, leading to his death.

Authorities say they beat Scott to death using homemade weapons, like a whip, a curtain rod, a frying pan, and an aluminum strip.

Police say Tait explained that the fatal beating began when the boy wouldn't eat his breakfast.

Hogan said, "Little Scotty McMillan is dead. Over a three day period ... he was systematically tortured and beaten to death. He was punched in the face and in the stomach. He was scourged with a homemade whip. He was lashed with a metal rod. He was tied to a chair and beaten. He was tied upside down by his feet and beaten. His head was smashed through a wall."

Hogan said professionals with deep experience in these types of cases were brought to tears.

"Our ER nurses see a lot of terrible things. But when they saw his body, they wept," Hogan said.

The district attorney says Gary Fellanbaum and Tait went car shopping, bought pizza, took a nap and engaged in sexual activity - all while the child lay dying after weeks of relentless torture.

Tait allegedly told police that Fellenbaum beat her 6 and 3-year-old boys on a number of occasions. He would allegedly hit them with a closed fist in the head, face, chest and buttocks, and on one occasion she says he strung the boys up by their feet and beat them, while she and Fellenbaum laughed.

That 6-year-old boy is now in the care of relatives.

Fellenbaum and Tait are charged with murder and are currently being held without bail. Hogan says he will be seeking the death penalty.

One neighbor told us, "I don't know if they should [be sentenced to death]or not... because they would probably suffer more in jail all their lives."

The Fellenbaums and Tait only moved into the mobile home community last month. Authorities say there are no signs of drug use in the home.

Amber Fellenbaum, who lived in the home with their 11-month-old child, has been charged with child endangerment for not calling police. She is currently being held on $500,000 bail.

Law enforcement veterans tell Action News that they have never seen a child abuse murder case like this one.

Hogan said, "When you go to bed tonight, say a prayer for little Scotty McMillan. The brief nightmare that was his life... is over."


In Wisconsin, termination of parental rights can result either voluntarily or involuntarily. The vast majority of cases filed seek involuntary termination. These cases are almost always brought by the State and the petition sets forth detailed information and facts to support the grounds alleged. There are instances, however, when a parent makes the decision to consent to termination of his/her rights because he/she believes that it is in the child's best interests. Many of these cases are filed by the parent himself/herself under 48.41 although in some instances they are brought by the State allege the parent's consent as the grounds. see 48.42.

In a voluntary consent scenario, the grounds consist of giving a free, knowing, intelligent consent. In these cases the Court must undertake a colloquy with the parent to be sure that termination is what the parent wants and be convinced that the parent fully understands the consequences of the decision. see 48.422(7). If the court accepts a voluntary consent after an in depth colloquy with a parent, it can proceed to disposition. A finding of unfitness is not a condition precedent to disposition.

In an involuntary TPR scenario, a parent disputes the allegations of the State and will demand either a jury trial or a court trial. The grounds alleged must be proven by the State by clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence. There are seventeen grounds that can be alleged:

1) Abandonment. Child left without provision for care or support and parents can not be found for 60 days. see 48.415(1)(a)1.

2) Abandonment. Child left without provision for care or support in a place where child is exposed to substantial risk or great bodily harm or death. see 48.415(1)(a)1m.

3) Abandonment. Child abandoned at less than one year of age. see 48.415(1)(a)1r.

4) Abandonment. Child out of parent home and parent does not visit or communicate with child for 3 months. see 48.415(1)(a)2.

5) Abandonment. Child away from parent, parent could visit or communicate but does not for 6 months. see 48.415(1)(a)3.

6) Relinquishment. This occurs when a parent gives up custody within the first 72 hours of the child's life. see 48.415(1m).

7) Child in Continuing Need of Protection or Services. This occurs where there is in place a dispositional order that governs a child in need of protection or services, reasonable efforts have been made to help the child and family reunite but the parent has failed to take advantage of the programming and services offered. see 48.415(2)(a).

8) Child in Continuing Need of Protection or Services - Three Strikes. see 48.415(2)(am).

9) Continuing Parental Disability. For two of the last five years the parent has been under disability, the condition is likely to go on indefinitely and the child is not being properly cared for. see 48.415(3).

10) Continuing Denial of Periods of Physical Placement or Visitation. This occurs when an order affecting a family has denied placement or visitation for at least one year. see 48.415(4).

11) Child Abuse. see 48.415(5).

12) Failure to Assume Parental Responsibility. This occurs where a parent does not have a significant parental relationship. see 48.415(6).

13) Incestuous Parenthood. This is utilized against the father. see 48.415(7).

14) Homicide or Solicitation to Commit Homicide against a parent by the other parent. see 48.415(8).

15) Parenthood as a result of a Sexual Assault. see 48.415(9).

16) Serious Felony against One of the Person's Children. see 48.415(9m).

17) Prior Involuntary TPR. see 48.415(10).

Of these 17 grounds, most oftentimes the State alleges three grounds: Abandonment - 3 or 6 months, Continuing Need for Protection or Services, and Failure to Assume Parental Responsibility. Regardless of what grounds are alleged, the allegations brought by the State provide the basis upon which the case will proceed.

In my next blog, I will look at the responsibilities of the Court at the Initial Appearance in the case.




Information Provided by: Max D. Harris, Esq.

If one parent is considered a custodial parent, i.e., has placement of the child more than the other parent, then the following applies:

If a custodial parent wishes to move with the child out of state or more than 150 miles from the other parent within the state, the custodial parent must give the noncustodial parent 60 days advance written notice by certified mail, with a copy to the court. The notice shall state the custodial parent's proposed move, including specifics on location and date of proposed move, and shall inform the noncustodial parent that he or she may object to the move by sending written notice of objection to the custodial parent and to the court within 15 days of receiving the 60 days written notice from the custodial parent.

If the custodial parent receives a written objection from the noncustodial parent within 20 days after sending the 60 days advance notice, the custodial parent is automatically prohibited from moving with the child pending resolution of the dispute unless that parent obtains a temporary order permitting the move on a temporary basis.

The parties will be referred to mediation to attempt to settle the dispute. A guardian ad litem may be appointed to represent the child either upon referral to mediation or, as is more likely, if mediation fails to resolve the dispute.

Unless the parties agree to extend the time period, failure to mediate a solution within 30 days after referral to mediation will be deemed an impasse and the matter will proceed to a hearing before the court, provided that the noncustodial parent files a motion or petition seeking either a change of placement or an order prohibiting the move. Failure to file such a motion or petition would constitute abandonment of the objection to the move.

If the objecting parent is seeking a change in placement, the court may modify the placement if the court finds that the move will result in a substantial change of circumstances and the modification is in the best interests of the child. There is a statutory rebuttable presumption that continuing the current physical placement with the custodial parent is in the best interests of the child, and to overcome this presumption the objecting parent must show that the proposed move is unreasonable and not in the best interest of the child. The burden of proof is on the parent objecting to the move.

If the objecting parent is seeking a prohibition of the move, the court may prohibit the move if the court finds that the prohibition is in the best interest of the child. The burden of proof is again on the parent objecting to the move.

Whether the objecting parent is seeking a change of placement or a prohibition of the move, the factors the court must considering in making its decision are defined by statute as the following:

  • Whether the purpose of the proposed move is reasonable.
  • The nature and extent of the child's relationship with the other parent and the disruption to that relationship which the proposed move may cause.
  • The availability of alternative arrangements to foster and continue the child's relationship with and access to the other parent.

If a custodial parent intends to remove the child for an extended time of more than 14 days duration from the child's primary residence, such as an extended vacation or staying with a relative, but this removal is not a permanent move, the custodial parent has an obligation to notify the other parent. However, the other parent does not have the same rights of objection as indicated above for proposed moves.

If parents have shared placement of the child, a move that disrupts the feasibility of shared placement must necessitate a modification of the placement order. Either parent may move the court to modify the placement order if mediation fails to resolve the dispute, and the court may modify the order if the court finds that the proposed move makes it impractical for the parties to continue to have shared placement and the modification is in the best interest of the child. The statute provides that the burden of proof is on the parent filing the motion (so the objecting parent should just wait and force the parent who wants to move to file the motion).

Wisconsin's child removal statute is 767.327.

Information Provided by: Max D. Harris, Esq.



I have come to the conclusion after some long  time  of consideration that I will no longer fill the role of a Parental Advocate anymore.   It has been a long 7-8 years work on this blog.  I dedicated my life to it, just to make sure other parents who find them selves where I was so many years ago, would have a place to turn where they could get all the information they were going to need for the fight of their lives.  I researched and I studied and I applied my own  personal experience.  And I have tried to help as many who asked for my help.  But, now it has come to a time when the toll it has taken  upon me and my life has become too much for me to bare.

  For all these years I thought that the one person, who had my back in this and who understood my desperation in getting all the information I could out there for other parents, was not fully backing me.  Well he was too my face but behind my back he was trashing me about it.  He would say things like, “All she cares about is that fucking blog!” or things like “She is working on that stupid fucking blog again!”  The whole time offering up nothing but praise and showing pride in the things that I was accomplishing, to my face.  What he failed to mention to  people when he talked shit about this blog, is what the blog actually was about.  He conveniently left that part out.  And when it was brought to my attention by a  quite a few people about what he was saying, they were floored when they found out which blog it was, and they were even shocked that he would say such a thing,

Well this is the final blow that I believe that I can take.  After 16 years of sucking the life out of me and everyone of the dreams I had, this is the straw the broke the camels back.  I sincerely apologize to everyone who this may affect.  I just do not feel like I have anything left to give, to anyone,  and not even myself. 

So I think the time has come for me to walk away from Parental Advocacy.  I will leave the blog in place for future reference for anyone who might need it but I will no longer be posting on it or updating any of the information on it.  Again I am very sorry.  I have done all that I can do.

And for any parent who is new to this fight for your life, hang in there do what your case plan tells you to do, and I mean all of it, when Child Protection says and how they say.  That is the only way you will get  your kids back.  And to those who lost their kids due to drug related allegation, I am telling you this and I cannot stress it enough, if you want your kids back you have to quit the drugs.  And do not even consider doing them again until your child is 18 years old because if you do you are opening the door for Child Protection Services to come right back into your life again.  You cannot beat the system.  So do not even bother to try because the only ones you will be hurting are your very own children.

Good luck to all and may God be with you.  And thanks to all who came to this blog to get the information I wanted so much to share with you, Goodbye.

Jessica Lynn Hepner

What Is Parentification?

Parents are the guardians and caretakers of children - they care for the emotional and physical needs of a child to ensure that the child's needs are met. However, for some, the traditional roles of parent and child are not followed. Parentification may be defined as a role-reversal between parent and child. A child's needs are sacrificed to take care of the needs of one or both of his or her parents. In very extreme cases, the parentified child may be used to fill the void of the parent's emotional life. Parentification is a form of child abuse.

During the process of parentification, a child may give up his or her needs of attention, comfort, and parental guidance to care for the needs and care of logistical and emotional needs of his or her parents.

The parent, in the case of parentification, does not do what he or she should do to take care of the child or children as a parent and instead, gives up parental responsibilities to one or more of his or her children. Thereby the children are "parentified." During parentification, the child becomes "the parental child."

What Happens During Parentification?

Parents who have certain personality disorders are more at risk for transferring the responsibility of parenthood - the physical and emotional needs of the rest of the family - in an active or passive fashion.

There is an expectation of parentified children to forgo playing, making friends, school work, and/or sleep to better meet the needs of the rest of the family members.

In a family with more than one child, the eldest or most mature child is usually the child prone to be parentified.

In certain cases, a child of the opposite sex is chosen to meet the emotional needs of the parent and become a "surrogate spouse." It may also lead to emotional incest.

Most children are anxious to make their parents happy, so a child undergoing parentification, often takes his or her new responsibilities seriously. It may even feel as though it's a huge honor to have such responsibility given to them.

In the long term, however, parentification means that the child's emotional needs are not met. This can lead to many, greater problems down the road.

How Do I Know If I Was Parentified As A Child?

If you're unsure if you were parentified as a child, ask yourself the following questions:

Were you made to feel responsible for your parents welfare, well-being, and feelings?

Was your parent indifferent or did he or she ignore your feelings most of the time?

Were you often blamed, criticized, devalued and demeaned by your parents?

When your parent was upset, were you often the target of those negative feelings?

Did you feel like you were always trying to please your parent - without ever succeeding?

Did you feel like your parent took all the credit for your successes?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may have been the victim of parentification.

If those questions sounded familiar to you, ask yourself the following:

Did your parents ever say anything like...

  • "Don't you want me to feel good?"
  • "You make me feel like a failure when you..."
  • "You should care about me."
  • "If you cared about me, you'd do what I want you to."

What Type Of Parents "Parentify" Their Children?

While all parents may run the risk of parentifying his or her child, there are a few types of parents who run a higher risk of emotionally damaging their child through parentification. These include:

Parents who suffer personality disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and dependent personality disorder. Click each name to learn more about the specific personality disorders.

Read more about personality disorders.

Parents who are alcoholics.

Read more about alcoholism.

Parents who have a serious, chronic illness.

Read more about chronic illness.

Parents who have other mental illnesses.

Read more about mental illness.

What Are The Types Of Parentification?

Two types of parentification exist that may or may not occur together. These types of parentification are "emotional" and "instrumental" parentification.

1) Physical or Instrumental Parentification: In this type of parentification, a child takes up the role of the parent to meet the physical needs of the family and relieves the anxiety of a non-functioning parent.

The child usually takes over the needs of the household, by cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries, paying bills, managing the budget, getting his or her siblings ready for school, and caring for his or her siblings.

This differs from teaching a child to manage assigned chores and tasks, which is healthy for child development. The parent forces the child to become caretaker, dumping more and more responsibilities upon their child, whether or not the child is developmentally ready for such tasks. This leaves the physically parentified child without opportunity to behave as a child and engage in normal childhood behaviors. The child feels like a surrogate parent to his or her siblings as well as his or her parents.

2) Emotional Parentification: In this type of parentification, a child is forced to meet the emotional needs of his or her parents and siblings. Emotional parentification is the most destructive type of parentification as it robs the child of his or her ability to have a childhood. Emotional parentification also sets up the child for a series of dysfunctions that may incapacitate the child as he or she grows into an adult.

In the role the child is forced to try and meet the emotional and psychological needs of his or her parent. The child may become the parent's confidant. Every child feels the desire to please his or her parent, even if it means not having his or her emotional needs met. This comes at a high cost - the child cannot develop normally or learn what an emotionally healthy bond is, which can lead to many problems in intimate relationships down the road.

Emotional incest is a type of Emotional Parentification that may occur if a parent selects a child of the opposite sex to confide in, openly discuss the problems and issues facing the parent as the parent uses the child as a surrogate spouse or surrogate therapist. Children should never, ever be treated as adults and exposed to adult problems in such a way.

How Do Parentified Children Respond To Parentification?

There are two major responses that children who have been parentified exhibit. These responses are the compliant response and the siege response and are discussed in greater detail below:

Compliant Response to Being Parentified: this behavior is a continuation of how you behaved as a child caring for his or her parents.

  • Spend much time caring for others.
  • Very conforming
  • Hyper-vigilant about acting to in a manner that pleases others.
  • Feel responsible for care, welfare and feelings of others.
  • May be self-deprecating.
  • Seldom get their own needs met.
  • Rushes to maintain peace and soothe hurt feelings of others.

Siege Response to Being Parentified: a continuation of the behavior as a child who was parentified and rebelled by attempting to fight to be separate and independent.

  • Work hard at preventing others from manipulating you.
  • Withdrawn and seemingly insensitive to others.
  • Work to avoid being involved by the demands of others.
  • Assume responsibility for the welfare of others and feel diminished when you don't meet their expectations.

What Are The Future Problems For Victims Of Parentification?

Growing up parenting your parent, having your childhood taken away, never getting the opportunity to be a child, can lead to a number of bigger problems down the road. The two main problem facing parentified children as adults include anger and difficulty with interpersonal relationships and attachments.

Extreme Anger - parentified children can grow to become extremely angry. They may have a love/hate relationship with their parent, but they may not understand why. Some adults who were parentified children may not understand the seemingly endless chasm of anger at others, including friends, partners and children. These people may explode with anger if the emotional wounds of their childhood are triggered.

Difficulty Forming Attachments With Other Adults: an adult parentified child may have a difficult time connecting with others. This difficulty can be closely tied to growing up without understanding healthy versus unhealthy attachments. This may lead to problems forming a healthy intimacy in relationships.

Other Problems Facing An Adult Who Was A Parentified Child:

There's not a question that becoming the parent of your own parent can lead to some pretty heavy burdens. Losing your childhood, your innocence, turning into "little adults" far too young leads to many problems later in life. These problems can include the following:

  • Low or poor self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Feeling of disconnect from their real self.
  • Shame
  • Fears that he or she may not properly meet his or her own demands and expectations.
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling incompetent 
  • Feelings of being unable to cope with adulthood
  • Underestimation of his or her own intelligence
  • Overestimation of the importance of others
  • Codependency in relationships
  • Becoming a caregiver
  • Becoming a workaholic

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

Child Abuse

Emotional Abuse


Personality Disorders

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Histrionic Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder

Dependent Personality Disorder

Mental Illness

Adult Children of Addicts




How To Increase Self Esteem

Additional Parentification Resources:

Parentification Resources: University of Alabama's research into parentification, including links to parentification articles as well as research findings.

Family Boundaries and the Parentified Child: Article that discusses the reason certain children are parentified as well as how it impacts normal childhood development.






Implications for All Counselors
Lisa M. Hooper
The University of Alabama
This article advances a balanced
discussion of the extent to which varied
outcomes are evidenced in adulthood
after one has been parentified in
childhood. Recommendations are
provided that may help counselors avoid
the potential overpathologizing of clients
with a history of parentification.
Suggestions for clinical practice are put
forth for all counselors.
Parentification is a ubiquitous
phenomenon that most school,
community, and family counselors as
well as other human helpers face (Byng-
Hall, 2002). That is, most counselors are
likely to encounter both children and
adults who have a history of
parentification—a potential form of
neglect (Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark,
1973; Chase, 1999). What is
parentification, and given its relationship
with negative outcomes and behaviors,
what can counselors do to avoid
overpathologizing the client’s signs,
symptoms, and behaviors associated
with parentification? This paper offers a
review of what clinical practitioners and
researchers have described in the
literature. Subsequent to a brief review
of the literature, suggestions regarding
practice efforts directed toward clients
who have experienced parentification are
put forward.
Defining Parentification
Parentification is the distortion or lack
of boundaries between and among
family subsystems, such that children
take on roles and responsibilities usually
reserved for adults (Boszormenyi-Nagy
& Spark, 1973). That is, either explicitly
or implicitly, parents create an
environment that fosters caretaking
behaviors in their children that help
maintain homeostasis (i.e., balance) for
the family in general and the parent in
particular. Above and beyond
maintaining homeostasis for the family,
the responsibilities that are carried out
by the parentified child are traditionally
behaviors that provide the parent with
the specific emotional and instrumental
support that the parent likely did not
receive while he or she was growing up
(Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark,1973;
Minuchin, Montalvo, Guerney, Rosman,
& Schumer, 1967). Thus, the child must
be emotionally available for the parent,
even though the parent is often
emotionally unavailable for the child,
which may engender a chronic state of
anxiety and distress in some emotionally
parentified children (Bowen, 1978;
Briere, 1992; Cicchetti, 2004). The
clinical literature has also reported that
the breakdown in the generational
hierarchy may rob the child of activities
that are developmentally appropriate; the
child instead participates in either
instrumental or emotional caregiving
behaviors directed toward parents,
siblings, or both that may go unrewarded
and unrecognized (Boszormenyi-Nagy
Defining and Understanding Parentification
& Spark,1973; Jurkovic, 1997; Kerig,
2005; Minuchin et al.,1967). Some
research and practitioners contend that to
fully understand the aftereffects of
parentification, the type of
parentification (i.e., emotional and
instrumental) experienced in the family
must be assessed (Jurkovic, 1997).
Emotional parentification is the
participation in the “socioemotional
needs of family members and the family
as a whole” (Jurkovic, Morrell, &
Thirkield, 1999, p. 94). Behaviors
described by Jurkovic and colleagues
include, “serving as a confidant,
companion, or mate-like figure,
mediating family conflict, and providing
nurturance and support” (p. 94).
Instrumental parentification is the
participation in the “physical
maintenance and sustenance of the
family” (Jurkovic et al., 1999, p. 94).
Behaviors described by Jurkovic and
colleagues include, grocery shopping,
cooking, housecleaning, and
performance of daily duties that involve
caring for parents and siblings” (p. 94).
Of significance to counselors and other
mental health practitioners, not all
children who are parentified will
experience negative aftereffects (Byng-
Hall, 2002; DiCaccavo, 2006; Earley &
Cushway, 2002; Tompkins, 2007). In
fact, approximately only one-fourth of
all children who experience neglect will
go on to experience negative aftereffects
(Alexander, 1992; Cicchetti & Toth,
1995; Golden, 1999; Toth & Cicchetti,
1996; West & Keller, 1991). The next
section takes a less myopic view of the
potential aftereffects of parentification
often reported in the literature. The
following section includes a brief review
of the research base of both negative and
positive outcomes associated with
Understanding Parentification: The
Negative and Positive Effects of
Established Negative Effects. Studies in
the last 30 years have established a
relationship between parentification and
later maladjustment. Researchers have
found linkages from early childhood
stress/trauma to child and parent factors
such as divorce (Wallerstein, 1985),
parental alcohol and drug use (Bekir,
McLellan, Childress, & Gariti, 1993),
disruption in attachment (Zeanah &
Zeanah, 1989), family discord, low
socioeconomic status (Boszormenyi-
Nagy & Spark, 1973; Minuchin et al.,
1967), depression, and attachment and
relational difficulties (Jones & Wells,
The effects of childhood parentification
can be long-lasting, multigenerational,
and deleterious, presenting over the
course of a lifetime (Chase, 1999;
Karpel, 1976; West & Keller, 1991). For
young adults, parentification can impede
“normal” development related to
relationship building, personality
formation, and other developmentally
critical processes (Burt, 1992; Goglia,
Jurkovic, Burt, & Burge-Callaway,
1992; Sessions & Jurkovic, 1986;
Wolkin, 1984). Valleau, Bergner, and
Horton (1995) found that children who
are parentified have significantly more
“caretaker characteristics” in adulthood
than do those children who are not
parentified. Similarly, Jones and Wells
(1996) found an association between
personality characteristics such as
“people pleasing” and adults who had
been parentified. Further, their study,
comprising 208 undergraduate students
The Alabama Counseling Association Journal, Volume 34, Number1, Spring 2008
35 Defining and Understanding Parentification
Defining and Understanding Parentification
from a large Midwestern university,
found that participants who were
destructively parentified as children
often relate to others in problematic,
overfunctioning, caretaking ways.
Domains like separating from the family
of origin, participating in ageappropriate
behaviors (Olson & Gariti,
1993), engaging in academic pursuits,
and developing self-esteem can also be
affected (Bekir et al., 1993; Chase,
Demming, & Wells, 1998). Other
aftereffects may include mental illness in
general, and depression, anxiety,
substance abuse, and dependence
disorders in particular. For example,
Chase et al. (1998) found relationships
between high levels of parentification
and academic achievement and parental
use of alcohol. These findings are
consistent with multiple studies that
have established a relationship between
parentification and alcohol use by at
least one parent or guardian (Bekir et
al.,1993; Goglia et al., 1992). Bekir et al.
concluded that adults who abuse alcohol
or drugs are often unable to perform
their parental duties and that, therefore,
the parentified child is often left to care
for self, siblings, and parents. Bekir et al.
also found that the parentified child is
often inclined to repeat the same
behaviors as an adult with his or her own
children. Borderline personality and
dissociative disorders, although rare, can
be evidenced in extreme cases of this
phenomenon (Cicchetti, 2004; Liotti,
1992; Wells & Jones, 2000; Widom,
As previously mentioned, neglect
such as parentification can be and often
is traumatic for a child as well as for the
adult he or she becomes (Aldridge,
2006; Alexander, 1992; Chase, 1999;
Jurkovic, 1998). Trauma is often
experienced when a situation or
environment is perceived as being
overwhelming, threatening, and too
much for the individual (Briere, 1992;
Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), or when a
chronically stressful situation becomes
unrelenting and the individual is unable
to adapt and cope with the experience in
a healthy functional way (Brewin,
Andrews, & Gotlib, 1993; Werner,
Parentification can therefore be
characterized as a traumatic event and an
adverse process, in accord with the
definitions and criteria put forward in the
family and trauma literature, that have
long-lasting effects experienced in
adulthood (Belsky, 1990; Briere, 1992;
Chase, 1999; Cicchetti, 2004). Further,
extant literature on parentification has
shown that the process is in fact adverse
for most children and that it can later be
linked to poor adult functioning. The
process of childhood parentification can,
in the adults those children become,
produce a fear of having children and/or
lead to the transmission of
parentification across many generations
(Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark, 1973;
Bowen, 1978; Chase et al., 1998).
Potential Positive Effects
Because of the trauma often related to
the parentification process (e.g.,
significant distress, adversity,
dissociation, and even suicide [Jurkovic,
1997; Markowitz, 1994), research has
tended to focus on psychopathology and
other negative outcomes (Barnett &
Parker, 1998; Walker & Lee, 1998).
There is a dearth of research discussing
positive outcomes after childhood
parentification. One of the few studies to
do so, conducted by Jurkovic and Casey
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Defining and Understanding Parentification 36
Defining and Understanding Parentification
(2000), reported on the linkage between
emotional parentification and
interpersonal competence among Latino
adolescents. That study’s findings
suggested that higher levels of emotional
parentification are predictive of higher
levels of interpersonal competence. On
the other hand, adolescents who
experience low levels of emotional
parentification—in a family system in
which they perceive the parentification
process (i.e., the assignment of and the
responsibility to carry out parent like
duties) to be unfair—also experience
low levels of competence. Jurkovic and
Casey concluded that parentification has
the potential to promote competence.
Additionally, they suggested that
potentially critical to positive outcomes
after parentification is the degree to
which the child perceived the process to
be fair. In the context of a family system
where children have reported that the
parentification process was “fair” also
reported that their parent-like behaviors
and responsibilities did not go unnoticed
and they carried out those
responsibilities for brief periods of time.
Of significance, a family system absent
of parentification may prevent some
children of the skills and abilities they
could use across domains and
throughout their lives—although more
research is needed to clarify and support
this assertion. Towards this end, in
Thirkield’s (2002) study examining the
relationship between instrumental
parentification in childhood and
interpersonal competence in adulthood, a
significant positive linear relationship
was obtained. Thirkield also found a
positive relationship between age,
positive outcomes (operationalized as
interpersonal competence), and
instrumental parentification. Findings
from these studies (Jurkovic &
Casey,2000; Thirkield,2002) provide
preliminary support showing that (a)
benefits may be engendered by the
parentification process, and (b) benefits
may last over time.
In a more recent study conducted by
Walsh, Zvulun, Bar-On, & Tsur (2006)
they examined the extent to which the
parentification process may be
associated with positive factors among
adolescent immigrants. In their study
they found parentification was related to
positive outcomes such as high levels of
individuation and differentiation from
the family system. They also found
when adolescent immigrants and nonimmigrants
perceived their roles and
responsibilities as fair and age
appropriate the outcome was positive:
sense of mastery and competence. Thus
they concluded the provision of parentlike
roles and responsibilities among the
study sample engendered individual
autonomy, self-mastery, and family
cohesion. McMahon and Luthar (2007)
also found a relationship between
psychosocial adjustment and
parentification. Of significance, and in
support of divergent findings related to
childhood parentification and adult
outcomes, McMahon and Luthar
contend this process and its associated
outcomes are multidetermined and
multifactorial, even in the context of
severe, long-standing levels of
parentification. For example, among
their study sample of children living in
poverty, the researchers failed to find a
significant, stable relationship between
parentification and poor outcomes.
Given the overwhelming findings
regarding negative outcomes, counselors
The Alabama Counseling Association Journal, Volume 34, Number1, Spring 2008
37 Defining and Understanding Parentification
Defining and Understanding Parentification
may be inclined to delimit their
therapeutic encounters to investigations
that look for the negative outcomes often
seen among this population (DiCaccavo,
2006; Earley & Cushway, 2002; Kerig,
2005). This potential overpathologizing
among counselors (Barnett & Parker,
1998; Hooper, 2007) could result in
missed opportunities to uncover
exceptions, that is, when positive skills
and coping strategies are experienced.
Consistent with a wellness, strengthbased
counseling framework, counselors
should assess for clients’ strengths—if
any—derived from the parentification
process and infuse them into the
counseling and treatment planning
process. Therefore, the advantage of the
application of the counseling wellness
framework—as compared to a deficit or
medical model framework—is that it
allows for the explication of differential
outcomes—both negative and positive—
associated with parentification
(DiCaccavo,2006; Hooper,2007;
Jurkovic, 1997; Mayseless , et al.,
In the case of potential neglect, such as
parentification, many factors, as
previously described, may contribute to
the same event or process leading to
divergent outcomes. For example,
parentification can be perceived as
traumatic, as stressful but not traumatic,
or as a regular, even an anticipated
cultural event in the course of daily
living (Walsh, et al., 2006). To this end,
a large body of trauma literature has
suggested that the number of stressors
has more to do with the outcome or
aftereffects than does a particular
stressor itself (Waller, 2001). Thus, in
the case of parentification, the number of
stressors may influence the outcome
exhibited in both childhood and
Also, as asserted in the parentification
literature (Chase, 1999; Jurkovic, 1997,
1998; Minuchin et al., 1967), how long
the stressor was related to providing
caregiving to the parent and sibling is
also a contributing factor for those
children who carry out the parentified
role in their family of origin. Those who
perform this role for short periods of
time may perceive the role as less
overwhelming, stressful, or traumatic
than will others (Byng-Hall, 2002;
Saakvitne & Tennen, 1998; Tedeschi &
Calhoun, 1995). Finally, from a
developmental perspective, older
children are likely to feel more equipped
to take on the caregiving role than
younger children, thereby influencing
growth or distress outcomes associated
to the parentification process.
All counselors should consider the
following points when working with
clients who have a history of
1. First, consider that not all clients who
are parentified experience negative
sequlae that are often reported in the
clinical and research literature (Barnett
& Parker, 1998; Byng-Hall, 2002;
Jurkovic, 1997; Jurkovic & Casey, 2000;
McMahon & Luthar, 2007; Thirkield,
2002; Tompkins, 2007).
2.Consider how long the parentification
process has been going on. The resultant
aftereffects may be different for clients
for whom the process is brief and
temporary as compared to long and
chronic (DiCaccavo, 2006; Tompkins,
2007). Shorter brief episodes of
parentification may foster competency
and self-efficacy in the client rather than
The Alabama Counseling Association Journal, Volume 34, Number 1, Spring 2008
Defining and Understanding Parentification 38
Defining and Understanding Parentification
pathological, poor outcomes (McMahon
& Luthar, 2007).
3.Consider the age of the client. The
aftereffects are likely to be different for
a younger child who is parentified as
compared to an older adolescent
(Kaplow & Widon, 2007; Walsh et al.,
4.Determine if the parentification
process is delimited to instrumental,
emotional, or both. The research
suggests emotional parentification may
be more deleterious than instrumental
parentification (Hooper, 2007;
McMahon & Luthar, 2007; Tompkins,
5.Consider the cultural and familial
context in which the client is embedded.
For example, how do the family and
people who adopt the client’s culture
perceive the parentification process
(Jurkovic, et al., 2001; Walsh, et al.,
2006)? Is the parentification process
culturally expected and valued?
6.Consider using a questionnaire to
capture the level, type, and perceived
fairness of parentification (e.g., Jurkovic
& Thirkield, 1998, for child and adult
7.Examine to what extent the client feels
the parentification process is “fair.”
Again, research suggests if the process is
perceived to be “fair” then it is often
associated with fewer negative outcomes
(Jurkovic, et al., 1999).
8.There may be strengths engendered by
the parentification process (Hooper,
2007; Tompkins, 2007). Thus it may be
helpful to explore both positive and
negative aspects of the parentification
9.Involve the family if possible.
Education may be all the family needs to
help the client and family restore or
reestablish the appropriate boundaries
where the child (if working with a child
or adolescent) has a safe, appropriate
context to grow, learn, differentiate, and
thrive (Walsh et al., 2006).
10.Consider a referral. Depending on the
context in which a counselor works, and
the extent and level of adversity
associated with the parentification
process, specific trauma-based
counseling (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 1999)
may be indicated.
Counselors and researchers have long
demonstrated a clear awareness of the
deleterious effects of parentification in
general (Chase, 1999; Jurkovic, 1997;
Mayseless, Bartholomew, Henderson, &
Trinke, 2004). On the other hand, and at
the same time, Barnett and Parker
(1998) concurred with Boszormenyi-
Nagy and Spark (1973) that it may in
fact be maladaptive to avoid or miss out
on any parental roles in the family of
origin—in that many lessons for
adulthood and parenthood are derived
from family-related roles and
responsibilities (i.e., parentification)
during childhood. Recently, Barnett and
Parker (1998) have questioned whether
parentification leads to early competence
or childhood deprivation. Similarly, one
of the “founding fathers” (Boszormenyi-
Nagy) of the construct of parentification
reminded counselors, theorists,
researchers, and the like that “the term
describes a ubiquitous and important
aspect of most human relationships. It is
suggested that parentification should not
be unconditionally ascribed to the realm
of ‘pathology’ or relational dysfunction.
The Alabama Counseling Association Journal, Volume 34, Number1, Spring 2008
39 Defining and Understanding Parentification
Defining and Understanding Parentification
It [parentification] is a component of the
regressive core of even balanced,
sufficiently reciprocal relationships”
(Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark, 1973, p.
Correspondence regarding the
manuscript should be directed to: Lisa
M. Hooper, Ph.D., Department of
Educational Studies in Psychology,
Research Methodology, and Counseling,
The University of Alabama, Box
870231, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-
0231. Email: lhooper@bamaed.ua.edu
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Parentification is the process of role reversal whereby a child is obliged to act as parent to their own parent. In extreme cases, the child is used to fill the void of the alienating parent's emotional life.[1]

Two distinct modes of parentification have been identified technically: instrumental parentification and emotional parentification. Instrumental parentification involves the child completing physical tasks for the family, such as looking after a sick relative, paying bills, or providing assistance to younger siblings that would normally be provided by a parent. Emotional parentification occurs when a child or adolescent must take on the role of a confidant or mediator for (or between) parents and/or family members.[2]


Melitta Schmideberg noted in 1948 how emotional deprivation could lead parents to treat their children (unconsciously) as substitute parent figures.[3] "Spousification" and "parental child" (Minuchin) offered alternative concepts exploring the same phenomenon; while the theme of intergenerational continuity in such violations of personal boundaries was further examined.[4] Eric Berne touched on the dangers of parents and children having a symmetrical, rather than asymmetrical relationship, as when an absent spouse is replaced by the eldest child;[5] and Virginia Satir wrote of "the role-function discrepancy...where the son gets into a head-of-the-family role, commonly that of the father".[6]

Object relations theory highlighted how the child's False Self is called into being when it is forced prematurely to take excessive care of the parental object;[7] and John Bowlby looked at what he called "compulsive caregiving" among the anxiously attached, as a result of a parent inverting the normal relationship and pressuring the child to be an attachment figure for them.[8]

All such aspects of disturbed and inverted parenting patterns have been drawn under the umbrella of the wider phenomenon of parentification - with the result (critics suggest) that on occasion "ironically the concept of parentification has...been as over-burdened as the child it often describes".[9]

Choice of child

For practical reasons, elder children are generally chosen for the familial "parental" role - very often the first-born children who were put in the anomalous role.[10] However, gender considerations mean that sometimes the eldest boy or eldest girl was selected, even if they are not the oldest child overall, for such reasons as the preference to match the sex of the missing parent.

Thus where there is a disabled child in the family to be cared for, "older siblings, especially girls, are at the greatest risk of parentification";[11] where a father-figure is missing, it may be the eldest son who is forced to take on his father's responsibilities, without ever obtaining the autonomy that normally accompanies such adult roles.[12]

Alternatively a widower may put a daughter into the social and emotional role of his dead wife - "spousification"; or a mother can oblige her daughter to play the caring role, in a betrayal of the child's normal expectation of love and care.[13]

Narcissistic parentification

Narcissistic parentification occurs when a child is forced to take on the parent's idealised projection, something which encourages a compulsive perfectionism in the child at the expense of their natural development.[14] In a kind of pseudo-identification, the child is induced by any and all means to take on the characteristics of the parental ego ideal[15] - a pattern that has been detected in western culture since Homer's description of the character of Achilles.[16]


The almost inevitable byproduct of parentification is losing one's own childhood.[17] In destructive parentification, the child in question takes on excessive responsibility in the family, without their caretaking being acknowledged and supported by others:[18] by adopting the role of parental care-giver, the child loses his real place in the family unit and is left lonely and unsure.[19] In extreme instances, there may be what has been called a kind of disembodiment, a narcissistic wound that threatens one's basic self-identity.[20]

In later life, parentified children may be left struggling with unacknowledged anger and resentment, may have difficulty trusting their peers, and may end up struggling to form and maintain romantic relationships.[21]

However, not all results of parentification may be negative. Some studies have hypothesized that when a child is the subject of parentification, it might sometimes result in them, later in life, having greater psychological resilience, more individuation, a clearer sense of self, and more secure attachment styles during adulthood. These characteristics may be because the person had to adapt to changes and take on responsibilities.[22] Crosscultural studies also point to the widespread nature of the practice of parentification, and indicate that normal as well as pathological aspects of parentification need to be taken into account.[23]

Case studies

  • Carl Jung in his late autobiography reports that his mother always spoke to him as an adult, confiding in him what she could not share with her husband.[24] Laurens van der Post commented on the grown-up atmosphere surrounding the young Jung, and considered that "this activation of the pattern of the "old man" within himself...was all a consequence of the extent to which his father and mother failed each other".[25]
  • Patrick Casement reports on a patient - Mr T – whose mother was distressed at any and all his feelings, and who therefore protected her from them – mothering her himself.[26]

Literary examples

In The Tale of Genji, we are told that for "Kaoru's mother...her son's visits were her chief pleasure. Sometimes he almost seemed more like a father than a son - a fact which he was aware of and thought rather sad".[27]

Charles Dickens' "Angel in the house" characters, particularly Agnes Wickfield in David Copperfield, are in fact parentified children.[28] Agnes is forced to be the parent of her alcoholic father and seems to strive for perfection as a means of reaching the "ego ideal" of her deceased mother (who died upon child-birth). Agnes marries late, has relationship and intimacy problems (she has a hard time expressing her love for David until he reveals his own love for her), and has some self-defeating attitudes; in one scene she blames her own father's misfortunes on herself. However, she proves to be resilient, resourceful, responsible and even potentially career-driven (she forms her own school). She also manages to marry the protagonist David and the two live happily together for 10 years with children by the end of the novel.

The theme of parentification has also been explored in the Twilight series,[29] with particular (but not exclusive) reference to the character of Bella Swan.[30]

See also


  1. R. A. Gardner et al., The International Handbook of Parental Alienation Syndrome (2006) p. 200
  2. Gregory J. Jurkovic, 'Destructive Parentification in Families' in Luciano L'Abate ed., Family Psychopathology (New York 1998) pp. 237-255
  3. Jurkovic, p. 240
  4. Jurkovic, in L'Abate ed., p. 240
  5. Eric Berne, Sex in Human Loving (Penguin 1970) p. 249-53
  6. Virginia Satir, Peoplemaking (1983) p. 167
  7. Adam Phillips, On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored (1994) p. 31
  8. John Bowlby, The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds (London 1979) p. 137-8
  9. Karpel, quoted by Jurkovic, in L'Abate ed., p. 238
  10. Satir, p. 167
  11. Bryna Siegal, What about Me (2002) p. 131
  12. Harold Bloom, Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie (2007) p. 142
  13. Diana Brandt, Wild Mother Dancing (1993) p. 54
  14. Jurkovic, in L'Abate, ed., p. 246-7
  15. Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of the Neuroses (London 1946) p. 510-11
  16. R. K. Holway, Becoming Achilles (2011) Chapter Five 'Fathers and Sons'; and notes p. 218-9
  17. Siegal, p. 114
  18. Jurkovic, p. 237
  19. Satir, p. 167
  20. Paula M. Reeves, in Nancy D. Chase, Burdened Children (1999) p. 171
  21. "Parentification & Parentified Children"
  22. Hooper, L. M., Marotta, S. A., & Lanthier, R. P. (2008). Predictors of growth and distress following childhood parentification: A retrospective exploratory study. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 17(5), 693-705. doi:10.1007/s10826-007-9184-8
  23. Nancy D. Shape, Burdened Children (1999) p. 26
  24. C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (London 1983) p. 69
  25. Laurens van der Post, Jung and the Story of Our Times (Penguin 1978) p. 77
  26. Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1990) p. 174
  27. Murasaki Shikiki, The Tale of Genji (London 1992) p. 790
  28. Nina S. "Unwilling Angels: Charles Dickens, Agnes Wickfield, and the Effects of Parentification." Dickens Blog. http://dickensblog.typepad.com/dickensblog/2010/09/unwilling-angels-charles-dickens-agnes-wickfield-and-the-effects-of-parentification.html
  29. E. D. Klonsky/A. Blas, The Psychology of Twilight (2011)
  30. Nancy R. Reagin ed., Twilight and History (2010) p. 184-5 and p. 258-9






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Save A Life by Angie Kassabie

Save A Life by Angie Kassabie
I URGE ALL MY FRIENDS TO READ & SHARE THIS; YOU COULD SAVE A LOVED ONES LIFE BY KNOWING THIS SIMPLE INFORMATION!!! Stroke has a new indicator! They say if you forward this to ten people, you stand a chance of saving one life. Will you send this along? Blood Clots/Stroke - They Now Have a Fourth Indicator, the Tongue: During a BBQ, a woman stumbled and took a little fall - she assured everyone that she was fine (they offered to call paramedics) ...she said she had just tripped over a brick because of her new shoes. They got her cleaned up and got her a new plate of food. While she appeared a bit shaken up, Jane went about enjoying herself the rest of the evening. Jane's husband called later telling everyone that his wife had been taken to the hospital - (at 6:00 PM Jane passed away.) She had suffered a stroke at the BBQ. Had they known how to identify the signs of a stroke, perhaps Jane would be with us today. Some don't die. They end up in a helpless, hopeless condition instead. It only takes a minute to read this. A neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim within 3 hours he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke...totally. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and then getting the patient medically cared for within 3 hours, which is tough. >>RECOGNIZING A STROKE<< Thank God for the sense to remember the '3' steps, STR. Read and Learn! Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer severe brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions: S *Ask the individual to SMILE. T *Ask the person to TALK and SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently) (i.e. Chicken Soup) R *Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS. If he or she has trouble with ANY ONE of these tasks, call emergency number immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher. New Sign of a Stroke -------- Stick out Your Tongue NOTE: Another 'sign' of a stroke is this: Ask the person to 'stick' out his tongue. If the tongue is 'crooked', if it goes to one side or the other that is also an indication of a stroke. A cardiologist says if everyone who gets this e-mail sends it to 10 people; you can bet that at least one life will be saved. I have done my part. Will you?

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