Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD
In a recent research article, Hooper, Moore & Smith, (2014) provide a review of the research literature on parentification in the context of military family systems and military culture. Parentification is not unique to military families, but may occur in any family where there is a role reversal between the parent and the child.
What is parentification?
The authors define parentification as the disturbance or lack of appropriate boundaries between family subsystems, resulting in functional or emotional role reversal between parents and children in the family . Recently, the term parentification has been used more widely in the military family literature.
Why this is important:
- An increasing number of individuals on active duty are supporting families with children.
- Clinical practice should be informed by the military culture – military families face atypical stressors, such as frequent deployments.
Functional vs. Emotional Parentification
The authors distinguish between two forms of parentification: functional and emotional. Examples of functional parentification would be a child taking on additional household tasks and performing specific functions that the deployed parent might have taken care of previously, such as taking out the trash or babysitting. However, emotional parentification refers to the remaining parent using the child inappropriately for emotional support, which leads to increased emotional burden for the child. While it might be necessary and okay for children to help out in the household, and provide functional support, it is inappropriate and damaging for children to provide emotional support to their parents.
The researchers in this article state that far-reaching effects of parentified children can include poor academic performance, an inability to form positive relationships, and feeling overburdened and overwhelmed. Systematic evaluation should be used to identify the extent of parentification. While a good clinical interview should be able to help clinicians determine whether parentification is occurring, some additional tools are available:
The researchers emphasize that clinicians should consider a strength-based approach to treatment, because the child or adolescent may have experienced parentification as positive. Intervention and treatment strategies should be informed by the context and role adopted during the parentification process, according to the authors.
 Hooper, L. M., Moore, H. M., & Smith, A. K. (2014). Parentification in military families: Overlapping constructs and theoretical explorations in family, clinical, and military psychology. Children and Youth Services Review, 39, 123-134. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2014.02.0030190-7409.
 Hooper, L. M. (2009). Parentification Inventory. (Available from L. M. Hooper, Department of Educational Studies in Psychology, Research Methodology, and Counseling. The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487).
 Jurkovic, G. J. & Thirkield, A. (1998). Parentification Questionaire (Available from G. J. Jurkovic, Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, University Plaza, Atlanta, GA 30303).
This post was written by Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, You Tube, and on LinkedIn.