What You Need to Know About Caregiving and Role Reversal

We live in a society where the youth are placed on a pedestal. Young men and women are worshiped by people of all age groups, and the trend does not seem to be slowing down any soon. 

Movies, TV shows, online tabloids, etc all seem to be catering to the millennials and gen Z. Needless to mention, ageism has affected the elderly. This has left today’s senior folks isolated and lonely.  

With the world turning a blind eye to the problems and issues faced by the elderly, we as caregivers must act with compassion. Parent-child role-reversal occurs when an adult son/daughter treats his/her elder parent like a child. 

Caregiving and Parent-Child Role Reversal

Parent-child role reversal (also known as Parentification) occurs when an adult child has to provide eldercare to his/her aging parent. 

Usually, the adult child voluntarily takes on the role of a caregiver. But, it is not uncommon for a parent to force their adult child into this role in corrupt ways (guilt-tripping, manipulation, etc).

In addition to helping with the activities of daily living, the adult child fills the emotional void experienced by his/her elderly parent. This is where the parent-child role reversion is said to have reached its peak. 

Parent-child role reversal occurs naturally in the case of families with an elderly person with a medical condition such as Dementia. Adult children may be obliged to provide care even to healthy seniors at a late age. 

But, parentification is also seen in families with a mentally ill elderly parent. In some cases, both parents suffer from mental health problems.

The natural development of the adult child gets hindered as they spend most of their time caring for their loved one. This can lead to discontent. This is where a caregiver begins to treat his/her elderly parent as a child. Or at least they feel the need to take control by force(and not empathy). 

Here’s an interesting study on the subject of parent-child role reversal:

In this study, researchers looked at something called “role reversal” between parents and their kids. It’s when a child tries to act like a parent and takes care of their parent’s emotional needs, like being a friend or caregiver. This can be a problem because it can cause issues in a child’s development.

Imagine a family with a mom, a dad, and a baby. The researchers watched 45 times when they all played together. In four of those times, they saw something called “role reversal” happening. It means that instead of the parents taking care of the baby, the baby was trying to take care of the parents, like telling them what to do or being too grown-up.

To understand this better, think of it like this: Imagine you’re playing a game with your parents, and suddenly you start telling them what to do in the game, like you’re the boss. That’s a bit like role reversal.

The researchers also found that in these families, the interactions were kind of like a team-up between the baby and one parent against the other parent. So, it’s like the baby and one parent are teaming up, and the other parent feels left out.

To make it even simpler, think of it as if you and one of your parents are in one team, and the other parent is on a different team. That can cause tension in the family.

In this study, they also looked at how this role reversal develops over time. They did this by studying some specific cases in more detail. They found that it can become a bigger problem as the child gets older.

So, in a nutshell, this study showed that when kids start acting like parents and taking care of their parents’ needs, it can cause issues in the family, like making one parent feel left out and causing tension. It’s like a family game where the rules get mixed up, and the child tries to be in charge.


Caregiving and role reversal are synonymous. Whether you like it or not, you do have to do the thinking for your elderly parent. In doing so, you might feel like your parent’s parent. You might feel superior to them. But do not browbeat, boss around, or give orders. This is where you must show empathy.

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