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A women divorces after many years of marriage. Realizing she is now without another adult in the home, she turns to her 12 year old son and says, “You are all I have now.”
In another scenario, a father prepares to go on a business trip. Just before hopping a cab to the airport, he looks at his 7 year old boy and says, “You’re the man of the house while I am away. Take care of your mother.”
In still another home, 15 year old boy’s mother spends a lot of time telling him she is unhappy with his father; that she is always lonely and left to care for everything on her own. She is so thankful for her son, her “secret confidant.” He feels important and does what he can to make her feel better. He also learns to hate his father.
Parentification and emotional incest is a common theme in many dysfunctional homes. It often begins when a mother, who is supposed to be the caretaker of her child, reverses the roles and makes the child responsible for her emotional needs. It is a subtle and often overlooked form of child abuse.