When my mother came home from the hospital, the push for me to walk on eggshells was even stronger than when we would visit her. Now that she was home, we couldn’t be too demanding on her time. If we needed something, we should get it ourselves. Going from child to adult was expected to be a quick, overnight transition. ‘Take care of your mother,’ was a phrase that my father and grandfather repeated.
It was unfair the level of adulting was asked of me, of any of my siblings, for that matter. The expectations were too high to do things that, quite frankly, most adults aren’t great at doing. But that was the expectation, take care of your mother so that she can keep getting better.
How was I supposed to figure out how to adult when I was a kid of eight years? Who in their right mind would think that it is okay to ask that of children? Whew. I get angry now just thinking about how much pressure was placed on us to mature way beyond our age. What else could we do except to do it?
“A parentified child is one that has taken on some or all of their parents’ responsibilities. Out of necessity, the child becomes the parent, and the parent acts more like a child. Parentified children take responsibility for practical tasks like cooking, cleaning, and paying bills. They put their younger siblings to bed and help them with homework. Kids become parentified when their parents can’t/won’t fulfill their responsibilities. This often happens when a parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol or is seriously mentally ill. Even if the parent is physically present, they are incapable of parenting and acting like a responsible, mature adult.” 1
Stop Being a Child
The pressure to make sure that nothing fell through the cracks that everyone was taken care of was immense. I was the third of four kids, so the pressure was on me, but it was on my older siblings even more. We were supposed to take care of each other, and we did, but we began to resent each other for it.
We resented each other because of the pressure put on us by the adults in our lives. I resented them for suddenly becoming the parental figure. And they resented me because I was their younger sibling. After all, I needed them to take care of me. It was a rift that created an ‘each kid for themselves’ thought process. That rift would eventually be used against all of us by my mother’s emotional abuse.
I know that I rebelled against all of that. I don’t have specific recollections of instances, but I am sure that I did. For one thing, I didn’t know how to be that responsible for items that I had never had to think about before. I mean, before then, the adults in our lives had taken care of much of that kind of stuff. And as an empath, I sensed the resentment and felt bad and angry about how they felt towards me.
Let the Scapegoating Begin
I was angry, no doubt about it. The unyielding pressure surrounding me daily to take care of my mother was immense. I pushed the boundaries. And because I pushed against the unfair expectations of adults and subsequently my elder siblings, I was labeled a troublemaker, aka the scapegoat.
I was the third of four children. The first three children are two years apart, and the youngest is five years younger than the third, which is me. That made me the youngest of the siblings who became responsible for the daily household.
I was close-ish in age, but I wasn’t capable of the level of maturity that my elder siblings had. But I was expected to have that. It was another way to feel less than and to feel stupid, and to feel like I was always behind others because I didn’t understand.
Once You Adult
It started with being told to ‘take care of your mother,’ but it never ended. Never. I can’t even count all of the times my grandfather would call and remind me of how I am supposed to take care of my mother, how I needed to stop causing trouble, to stop being selfish, to stop, and be a better kid.
What he and other adults, including my mother, were telling me was to stop being a child and take on the role of an adult, which meant that I was supposed to take on a part that my brain was unable to do. It wasn’t that I wasn’t ill-equipped; I did not have the equipment yet.
Here is the other side of that, once you force adulting on a child, you can’t go back and then treat them like a child. It creates so much confusion. I was confused. And that confusion created conflict, both within me and with adults around me. I was so out of place everywhere I went.
Take Care of Your Mother
Who else would take care of our mother? My father? The abusive narcissist that pushed and pushed her mentally and emotionally until she broke? That guy? Nope. He was not there for us. He put on a great show in public, but it would have been better behind the scenes if he weren’t there at all.
So yes, I understand why so much was expected of me, of us, growing up. My mother did need to be cared for. There wasn’t anyone else that could do that. He was the last person to be in charge of her treatment. But as her husband, that was his role.
I have had recent conversations with people who seem to expect children to be more mature than the adults in their life. I don’t understand why people seem to think that way. Kids are supposed to be kids, and adults, well, adults.
But somehow, somewhere along the way, the high expectation of children acting like adults is the expectation. Don’t make kids be more than what their brains’ maturity and development allow them to be. It is unfair, and it doesn’t make sense when you think about it. I mean, really think about it.
Fun Fact About Me
When I was working on my undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico I worked at Memorial Psychiatric Hospital in Albuquerque. I worked specifically with adolescents with behavioral disorders as a psychiatric technician.
I was also captain of the Emergency Response Team (ERT). If any of the patients exhibited behavior that was considered dangerous to the health and welfare of other patients and staff the ERT would be called to de-escalate the patient. I have many stories from my time at the hospital.
Memorial Psychiatric Hospital sadly closed its doors many years ago. The historic building sat empty for many years. Eventually, it was renovated to become a boutique hotel. And yes, I have stayed there. My room was on the second floor where I used to work.