Parentification: when the roles are reversed...
Following her doctoral research on parentification, Stéphanie Haxhe, a psychotherapist and lecturer at ULg, has published L'enfant parentifié et sa famille (1). This book examines the process of role reversal between parents and children in the family system, and is based on an import observation. Though professionals evoke the concept of parentification quite frequently, it is not well understood and is often applied either too hastily or too restrictively. In both cases, an inaccurate diagnosis is made and proper treatment is not provided. With the publication of this book, the researcher hopes to provide keys to understanding this psychopathology and suggests new avenues for better detection, as it is poorly identified all too often.
Better understanding for better identification
In L'enfant parentifié et sa famille, Stéphanie Haxhe, a lecturer at the University of Liège (Department of Systemic Clinical Medicine and Relational Psychopathology) and psychotherapist (ULg's CPLU- Psychological and Speech Therapy Consultation Centre and SVAG - Verviers Support and Counselling Centre), doesn't claim to provide an exhaustive definition of parentification. The context in which this complex organisational process appears cannot be established and defined with certainty, and then used as a framework applicable to all the family structures affected by this psychopathology. On the contrary, parentification appears in a specific context and as result of a combination of multiple factors. "The first and most important factor is the parent's need. The second relates to the child's sensitivity," explains Stéphanie Haxhe. Indeed, when the parent has unmet expectations, deep emotional deficiencies, a need for recognition that has gone unmet since childhood (particularly following the premature death of a parent), or has faced physical or emotional abuse or even neglect within a large family, they will transfer the weight of this trauma onto their child in the hope the child will fill their emotional void.
(1) Stéphanie Haxhe, L’enfant parentifié et sa famille, Toulouse, coll.« Relations », Erès, 2013.