Women denied a childhood grow up less prepared for parenthood, suggests a new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
The team, led by behavioral psychologist Amy Nuttall at Michigan State University, studied 374 low-income new mothers, who reported having been treated as adults too early in life. According to the report, this experience, called “parentification” in psychology, is one in which a “parent turns to the child for nurturance or support, and overburdens a child with the responsibility of protecting and sustaining parents, siblings, and the family system.”
The team observed each mother starting in her third trimester of pregnancy and followed up with her in the years after childbirth. The team measured each mother’s knowledge and expectations of how her baby would develop in its early years, and also observed mom-kid dynamics at home.
Moms who had too much responsibility as kids were significantly less warm and responsive toward their kids. Compared to others, the mothers were less supportive toward their kid’s “need for exploration and independence,” and had less accurate knowledge of how their child would develop.
The negative effects of parentification is a rich topic in psychology, but Nuttall and her team believe the effects can be mitigated with more knowledge and intervention.
They note in their study that they only researched mothers (of whom 59% were single parents)—but that a history of parentification in fathers may actually yield different results.