When Children Raise Parents

Imagine. A quaint little home down the backroads of Mississippi. A mom. A dad. Two daughters. Two sons.

A completely balanced family full of tall brunettes and blondes with blue and green eyes.

Do you have the picture?


Now throw in some harsh words, physical violence, drugs, alcohol, and poverty and you have my lovely family.

DISCLAIMER: I truly love my family of misfits and have no regrets about my upbringing. I am who I am because of it. 

What does it mean when a child raises a parent? It means that the children are more responsible than the parents and are forced into a more adult role than they should be at such a young age. Heard the term 13 going on 30? That’s pretty much it concerning many aspects of life. These children must give up their youth to focus on issues and concerns that would normally burden a middle-aged adult (some issues are even dealt with that most people never have to face).

There’s a few traits that children who take on the parental role at a young age develop.

They are either eminently responsible or tragically irresponsible.  

There is rarely an in-between. They grow up with so much pressure that, when they actually do become adults, they either thrive or crack under the pressure of responsibility.

They know how to lie.

Unfortunately, this is abundantly true. Growing up with so many atrocities going on behind closed doors has taught these children to keep secrets and know how to tell a convincing lie. Having to explain bruises and the aroma of drugs on their clothing becomes second nature. Those are the easy lies. The harder ones come when mommy and daddy come up to the school and pull you out of class so that they can “take you to lunch.” And by “take you to lunch” they mean take you somewhere so that they can use you to pass a drug test. Also, having to explain to your friends time after time why you have to hang out at their house instead of yours has taught you to be creative. 

They know how to keep a secret.

In addition to lying, these kids can keep their mouths shut. Keeping their parents secrets has trained them to keep the deepest, darkest stories to themselves. You can trust them with any information, because they probably have more detrimental secrets of their own. So if you just HAVE to tell someone that you slashed your exes tires because you saw them with your best friend, spill it to the friend that raised their parents. Chances are this story sounds like a sunny day in the park compared to the stuff they keep behind tight lips.

They become jaded.

Emotions aren’t exactly their favorite things. It’s hard to find it in themselves to care about minuscule issues that fail in comparison to the things they have been exposed to growing up. Sad because you can’t afford that new car that you have been dying to get? Try scraping up change just to afford to buy dinner for that night. Mad because your parents grounded you over getting detention? Try fearing the beating you would get just because you didn’t clean the house “correctly,” mostly because your parent was in a bad mood.

They are hard to love.

Again, their emotions aren’t exactly cookie cutter normal. They may seem really into you one day, and the next they will be scared to death of getting into something serious. Remember, this is not their fault. The only relationship they have really seen first hand is dysfunctional and unhealthy, to say the least. They are most likely deathly afraid of getting hurt, and putting that much power into someone else’s hands isn’t a walk in the park for these people. They have worked their whole lives to be independent and different from their parents, so trusting someone enough to give them a relationship that is a complete 180 from what they have seen proves to be difficult.

They develop defense mechanisms.

The walls they put up are as timeless as the Great Wall of China. They have been adding brick by brick every time they get hurt to avoid pain again. Some may use humor to avoid serious conversations or vulnerability, while others may lash out in anger. I guarantee each child that raises their parents has one of these. However, if you’re lucky and realize these people are worth the trouble, you may be able to pull a Berlin Wall circa 1989 and tear down their walls.

They aren’t judgmental.

They will love you for who you are, whether that be crazy, vain, sensitive, a hard ass, etc. They realize that people do not get to choose their surroundings, and the past definitely shapes personalities. They tend to be the best friends because they are loyal and honest and accept you for who you are. This is not to say they aren’t opinionated (because they definitely can be and will tell you like it is), but they do this out of love not judgement. They’ve probably seen it all and will love you through your faults.

They are strong. 

And motivated. And understanding. And willing to do anything they can to not end up like their parents. They have an appreciation for life that others do not. They don’t let small things bother them because they have had to deal with big things their entire life. It takes pretty detrimental news to get them startled, and they know how to deal with these situations when they happen. Even better, they know how to use these experiences to better themselves in the future.

Stay Classy,



2 Comments Add yours

  1. toccopolasam says:

    Well written and painfully truthful. How brave you are my dear. Many share your history and can’t write about it, you gave them a voice and permission to feel.

    Liked by 1 person

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