When Narcissistic Parents Expect Their Children To Be Their Parent

Narcissistic parents often expect their children to care for them rather than the normal course of events where parents care for their children.  They expect their children to meet their emotional needs, listen to their woes, make them happy when they are sad, fix their problems & more.  This is called parentification, parentalizing, emotional incest or covert incest.  (For simplicity sake, we’ll use parentification in this article.)


While parentification may not sound all that bad, its effect on children can be devastating.  Children feel responsible for their parents, which burdens them with the false belief they are responsible for everyone in their circle as adults.  That type of responsibility is incredibly stressful, no matter a person’s age, & as everyone knows, stress can cause a plethora of physical ailments.


It also robs children of their childhood.  Parentified children aren’t allowed to hang out with their friends.  They have their parents to take care of instead.  Basically these children are living an adult life in their childhood.


Parentified children also are depressed.  They often feel like failures for not being able to fix their parents’ problems, & narcissistic parents only make this feeling worse by blaming their children for not being able to accomplish the impossible.


These children often carry a great deal of anger inside, too, yet are unable to express it.  To be angry at their parents feels so wrong since their parents have made it their job to protect these parents.  Since expressing that anger is wrong, as far as the children are concerned, the anger gets stuffed inside & often manifests in very unhealthy ways.  It can come out as self destructive ways (such as addictions) or other destructive ways (becoming abusive towards other people).


Parentified children have a right to be angry.  They have been subjected to an incredibly cruel & insidious form of abuse by their own parents.  And, to make matters worse, unknowing people compound their pain.  They tell the children how lucky they are to have such a close relationship with their mother or father.  Some people compound the guilt & responsibility on their child by saying things like, “I don’t know what your mom would do without you.”  “You have to be strong for your dad- he needs you.”  These kinds of things only make a child feel ashamed for having any complaints about the relationship, extra responsible for the parent they shouldn’t be responsible for in the first place & angry that they have been forced into this position.


If this describes you, you are NOT alone!  Many people have been the victims of parentification, in particular children of narcissistic parents.  I’ve been through it myself & sympathize with your pain.  My parents came to me ever since i can remember with complaints about each other & even wanting me to fix their disagreements.  I still have moments when I think of it that I get angry.  And you know something?  It’s ok!  Being abused in any way, shape or form isn’t right.  It’s ok to be angry about the unfairness of abuse & being forced to live with the painful effects, such as PTSD or C-PTSD.


The best way I’ve learned to cope is to go to God, & tell Him about what I feel.  He truly understands & gives me a lot of comfort.  I also have friends who have been through the same thing & understand.  Sometimes one of the most helpful things for me is when they get angry over something I went through.  That can be so validating!  What my parents did wasn’t right, but, as a typical child of narcissists, I’ve always felt guilt for being angry with them.  Although it’s diminished a great deal, it’s still there a little.  Someone else getting angry about what my parents did helps me to understand that it’s ok to be angry about what they did & to realize just how wrong it was.


If you’re still in a relationship with your parent who indulges in parentification, you are not in a good place.  Until such time as you decide to end this relationship, if you decide to take that step, you will need to learn ways to cope.  Narcissists don’t accept boundaries like normal people, so you will need to get creative.  Whatever you do, do NOT tell your parent, “It hurts me when you talk about/do that.  Please don’t do it anymore.”  Statements like that are like throwing gas on a narcissist fire.  They will mock you for being oversensitive or do the behavior more often just to hurt you.


Instead, try changing the subject.  Since narcissists love to talk about themselves, you can use that to your advantage.  Ask your narcissistic parent something about herself.  How is her job going?  How did her last doctor visit go?  Has she talked to her favorite cousin lately?  It’s really not that hard to get a narcissist to talk about themselves.  Why not use it in your favor?


Suddenly have to go.  You just looked at the time & you have to go.  You don’t owe any explanations- you just have to go.


Ask if your parent has talked to someone else who has been through something similar about this situation.  After all, that person knows a lot more than you do & no doubt can help your parent more than you can!  Let them think that you’re only suggesting this because it helps them in some way, not you.


Whatever your situation with parentification, I truly wish you the best.  I pray you find effective ways to cope with your parent or are able to release any false guilt you may feel for no longer being in that situation.



Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Christian Topics and Prayers, Mental Health, Narcissism

28 responses to “When Narcissistic Parents Expect Their Children To Be Their Parent

  1. Hi, I just found your site yesterday and really appreciate the information you’re sharing. I am currently going to therapy for a lot of issues I had with my parents. My mother acts very helpless and expects people to fix her problems for her. I believe my dad is a narcissist, which my counselor and I speak about. I was just reading through this article and felt like my mom’s neediness sounded similar to the parentification behavior. Could she be acting helpless due to my fathers control over her for so long? Or could she herself also be a narcissist? Thanks for your help!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Scarlett! Nice to meet you!

      Thank you! I’m glad my site is helping you. 🙂

      The situation you’re describing with your parents sounds to me like your father is an overt narcissist, your mother a covert one. That is a pretty common scenario. Narcissists find each other & marry, & mostly it’s an overt & a covert rather than two overts or two coverts. One of each works out well for them both. The overt can be the center of attention while the covert abuses people in the background in a much quieter way. Plus the covert can gain attention by looking like the innocent victim of his/her overt spouse, the long suffering, good person who puts up with an abusive spouse. This is the situation I grew up in- my mother was an overt narcissist, my father covert. Everyone thought he was a great guy & so good to put up with her, but truth be told, he was just as abusive as my mother, just in less obvious ways.

      I hope this helps you! ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      • Wow thank you so much for this information. You described their situation very well. My mother plays the victim card and likes to be helped. She just shuts down and acts like she can’t do simple things so people always feel the need to care for her. I’m just beginning to notice this because I am going to therapy now. I’m glad to have your site as another resource!

        Liked by 1 person

        • That sounds all too familiar! I really recommend reading up on overt & covert narcissists. It’ll clarify things for you quite well.

          Here’s a link about narcissism on my website & if you scroll down, there’s a link on this page to a description of overt & covert narcissists: http://cynthiabaileyrug.com/Narcissistic-Personality-Disorder.php

          I also have a facebook group if you’re interested. It’s called Fans Of Cynthia Bailey-Rug. It’s full of very kind, supportive people with a LOT of experience with narcissists. You’re welcome to join if you’re interested. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

          • Thank you for the link, I will read it! I am relieved to find validation in the issues I’ve been trying to figure out for years. I don’t have Facebook, but if I start one I will head over to your group. Thank you for all of this information!


            • Isn’t it a huge relief?! Finally you see that you aren’t crazy & you aren’t the problem & it lifts a huge weight off your shoulders 🙂

              You’re very welcome! Glad to help! I wish you the best with your situation!

              Liked by 1 person

              • YES! I was just talking about this with my husband and told him how this knowledge makes the weight lighter! I always catered to my moms helplessness and stifled my anger. Thank you so much for all of your help!

                Liked by 1 person

                • Good!!! So glad to hear that! The truth really does set us free. 🙂

                  Now to create a plan to deal with her & help yourself heal.. it won’t be easy but you can do it!

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Thank you, I appreciate it! I am actually excited to set healthy boundaries so I can start moving forward with my life.


                    • Awesome! You go girl!!

                      I will warn you though.. narcissists HATE boundaries & it can be harder than you think. Even covert narcissists who appear all meek & whatnot can be tough when faced with boundaries. My father (covert) got very good at gaslighting & criticisms after I started setting boundaries with him at first. I never would’ve expected that from him. My mother (overt), yes, but not him. So just giving you a heads up on what could happen in your situation.


                    • That’s helpful to know! I have another question if you don’t mind. My mom is overly apologetic and super sensitive. And appears really fragile and shuts down anytime there is anything difficult or demanding. How can you tell the difference between when they actually need help and when they’re trying to get you to do something for them? She’s a little confusing to figure out for me.


                    • I don’t mind. 🙂

                      Notice the details in the circumstances. Covert narcissists get that way when someone confronts them on their behavior or if they aren’t getting their way or maybe someone is trying to get them to do something they don’t want to do.

                      Don’t worry… narcissists are confusing creatures. In time though, the more you learn about narcissism, the easier she’ll be to understand

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Yeah she acts that way when I try and encourage her to become independent. It’s a complicated situation but she shuts down and gets highly reactive emotionally. It’s hard especially because I am very empathetic.


                    • ahh… that explains it. She doesn’t want to become independent. She wants to be taken care of, like so many covert narcissists. By becoming reactive, she’s trying to shut you down. My father was the same way & it is incredibly frustrating!


                    • I’m sorry your father was the same! It’s such a hard situation because it makes me feel like a bad person for not being willing to just give in to her “needs”.


                    • Thank you!

                      I understand totally. You feel so obligated to cater to her, because that’s your mom & you’ve had a lifetime of training. It’s maddening! But it helps to keep in mind how she is.. she doesn’t want help, she wants rescuing. Rescuing isn’t your job.


                    • You’re right! That’s exactly what my therapist said too. I can offer help to teach her independence but if she doesn’t accept it isn’t my job to rescue her when she can take care of herself.


                    • Exactly. It’s hard when you feel it’s your job to rescue your parent, but it really isn’t your job. Even before I learned about NPD, I realized he got something out of being my mother’s victim, which is why he refused all offers for help. After learning about it, I realized covert narcissists like being the victim since it gets them pity & attention.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • That sounds exactly like my parents too. This has been really helpful for me to hear your story. I’ve gone crazy trying to figure out why my mom, give so much help and support, still picks to stay with him out of all her options.


                    • Glad my story helps you. It seems like mine is pretty typical, so I guess the good part is many people can relate & learn from it.

                      Once you learn about NPD, your mom’s behavior makes a lot more sense (in a dysfunctional way), doesn’t it?


                    • Yes it does! So much more!

                      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. You hit the nail on the head, again.

    I remember when I was two years old, after my parents argued, my dad would grab me up and hold me in his arms and say “You still love me, don’t you, Linda? Even if nobody else loves me, my Frin-Lin does.” Frin-Lin , my dad told me, meant “Friend Linda.”

    Later, when my father was at work, my mom would put my two-year-old self to work right alongside her, dusting, cleaning, cooking, and folding laundry. As we worked, she would confide in me as though I was her clisest friend. She especially liked to reminisce about an old boyfriend she had before she met my dad, telling me how wonderful he was and how much better life would be if only she had married him, instead of my dad.

    Great bedtime stories for a two-year -old, right?

    The parentifying only got worse as I grew older. I was an only child until the year I turned seven, when my mom had twin girls. Fifteen months later she had a severely handicapped little boy, and a couple of years after that, when I was ten, she had another boy. So guess who became a “mommy” at a very young age?

    By the time I was twelve, my mother did not make any major decisions without asking my advice. Which made everything that ever went wrong, my fault. Dad being arrested, and our home being foreclosed on without his income, was my fault because, when mom asked me if she should call the police, I said yes. Dad being hospitalized and meeting the nurse he had an affair with and married as soon as my parents’ divorce was final: this was my fault again, because when my mother asked, I said yes, divorcing my abusive father was the right thing to do. And the list of things that were all my fault goes on and on.

    My heart goes out to any child who is parentified. I am sorry you went through that, too, Cynthia. When you are a parentified child, everything becomes your responsibility. And anything that ever goes wrong is all your fault.


    • Your stories always break my heart.. I am so very sorry you went through the terrible things you did at the hands of your so called parents! Their behavior is simply disgusting!

      Your father’s behavior after he & your mom fought reminds me of my mother’s. When I was little & my parents fought, she would grab me, lock us in my bedroom, hold me & cry. That sort of thing puts such a burden on a child & makes that child feel so responsible for the parent! I don’t think they have any clue about that & being narcissists, no doubt wouldn’t care anyway.

      And making you the “mom” to your younger siblings… that is a major pet peeve of mine. My best friend experienced that too, & now that she’s in her 40s like me, she’s seeing the damage it caused her. It’s incredibly unfair & cruel to do to a child!

      Big hugs to you Linda.. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      • Aww, thank you. Your sweet caring validating comment warms my heart.

        Yes, your mother holding you and crying after a fight with your dad, when you were a little girl, that’s a huge scary burden. My dad would cry, too. It’s just sad and wrong all around.


        • It's truly sad & wrong. I can't imagine how these people think that sort of thing is ok. It's one more of those things I can't seem to grasp about NPD. I mean, I understand they lack empathy, are incredibly self centered, blah blah… but at the same time, some of their behaviors are just impossible to comprehend, if that makes sense. This parentification thing is high on that list.


  3. I really appreciate this. I experienced this and feel conflicted about feeling angry. I’m 29 and am just getting to the point where I can feel frustrated. I actually started my blog to describe the feelings and frustrations because I have pretty bad depression now and feel like I don’t have support. One parent I cut off at 14 and the other, I just can’t even imagine getting married and having her there, but she says if I elope she’s going with me because it’s her day too. I don’t know why I’m saying all of this but it’s hard to find people who experienced this. My partner didn’t have this and because like you said it’s insidious, it’s hard to explain.


    • I’m so sorry for your awful experiences with your parents!

      It’s good you started your blog because victims need to speak out. We can help other victims by telling our stories, the good, bad & ugly of it all.

      Just a thought for you.. my husband & I eloped & it was partly because of the mothers. I had NO doubt our moms would bond over their mutual hatred of me & make a wedding miserable. Even though he was in denial about how awful his mom was at that time, he agreed. We told them after we got back. Neither was happy but it was much better than having them ruin our wedding. Eloping is truly an option, so please remember that!

      I have a facebook group called Fans of Cynthia Bailey-Rug… you are welcome to join if you like. It’s full of kind & supportive people. No pressure of course- just making the offer. ❤


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