Understanding Parentification in the South Asian Diaspora

The Basics of Parentification

  1. Logistical/instructional — Child provides logistical or financial support to parents (e.g., paying bills from a young age, financially supporting younger siblings, running errands on behalf of a parent who may be unable/unwilling to do so on their own)
  2. Emotional — Child provides emotional support to usually one but sometimes both parents that may be developmentally inappropriate or overtaxing (e.g., mediating conflict between parents or serving as a confidant for one parent)

Why Diasporic South Asian Culture?

Detriments of Parentification

  1. Low sense of identity/self: A self-concept begins to develop when a child has freedom to gravitate towards preferences and develop unique competencies. In a home environment that expects the child to take on caretaking responsibilities, they may not have the space or energy to build this confidence through trial and error.
  2. Loneliness and attachment issues: When the parent-child subsystem is compromised because of disregarded boundaries, children can struggle to feel a sense of belonging and develop insecure attachments. They may feel alienated from other kids who struggle to relate to their experience and may subconsciously assume caregiving roles in their other relationships, resulting in dysfunction.
  3. A fear of inconveniencing parents: Children who take on a caretaking role feel responsible for their parents’ emotions. They feel extreme guilt in knowingly inconveniencing them and therefore avoid situations that require their parents to expend effort on their behalf. Making their needs and wants known becomes exceedingly unnatural, even in relationships in which doing so would be welcomed.

Damning Logic

  1. Well-behaved kids don’t inconvenience their parents.
  2. Well-behaved kids are worthy of their parents’ love.
  3. If I inconvenience my parents, I will not be worthy of their love.

Signpost Behaviours

  • Asking their friends for rides, even if their parents are home and available to drive them
  • Keeping bad news (poor grades, minor car accidents, school and work and school challenges) to themselves to avoid adding to their parents’ stress (not concerned about punishment)
  • Keeping their own relationship challenges from their parents
  • Refusing to ask parents for money, regardless of how big or small the amount
  • Pretending to be their parents on the phone to handle logistical matters like bills and negotiations from a young age
  • Training younger siblings to come to them for support and guidance instead of going to their parents

Not Just Theory

Not An Inconvenience

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Long Way Home🏡 by Vandan Jhaveri

Long Way Home🏡 by Vandan Jhaveri

Creator of the Long Way Home🏡 newsletter. Writing to think. Let’s explore.

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