Impact on a child when they are made the surrogate partner

Psychologist Kenneth M. Adams, PhD explains the impact an inappropriate relationship with a parent can have on a child's longterm emotional health
Parenting Advice | Impact on a child when he or she is made a surrogate partner to a parent
KidsInTheHouse the Ultimate Parenting Resource
Kids in the House Tour

Impact on a child when they are made the surrogate partner

So what is the impact on the child if they're playing the role of a surrogate husband or a wife to a lonely parent both as a kid, a child and then also later as an adult is really important to understand. As a child, I think that one of the things that happens for the child is they feel special. So they don't automatically feel exploited or used. They feel propped up on a pedestol that mommy is turning to me. I'm special to mommy. I could impact her. I can make her feel better, so there's a draw into wanting to be raised up as a special kid and there's a certain amount of attention that they get from that role. The trouble is, is they begin to feel accessably responsible for all the nuanced and oh, obvious pains and difficulties with a parent, and they begin to tune into the parent at a cost to their own needs when the in fact, it should be reversed, right? Parents are responsible for tuning into the child. Obviously, we all do that imperfectly, but in general that's the formula, right, is that you want to give more attunement to your kid than he's giving to you and that kind of helps them kind of grow up and so forth, but when the child is burdened or when the child is responsible for making you feel better, and he begins to feel trapped, engulfed, guilty, and angry, but no place to go with it. So he has to keep it quiet while he's daddy's little girl or mommy's, you know, little boy, or man of the house, so he begins to act in the role, you know? So he begins to function as somebody that he thinks his parent needs him to be or her to be, but not really who he is. So then later in life, when let's say he gets married, let's say it's a son with his mother, he's learned to be loyal to his mother. He's learned to be attuned to his mother, so initially the new woman in his life, his wife feels very special because he has learned to be very attentive to her, but when she begins to increase her needs for committment around family or making decisions, he begins to experience that often or she as engulfment, intrusion and often times we'll back away from his primary partner and redeclare loyalty to his mother. So that it's not uncommon for that child to grow up still very linked to the mother or father, whether they're alive or dead and it happens more if they're alive, their main loyalty is with the parent and the wife or the partner, or the husband gets the backseat in the relationship, and it causes alot of problems.

Psychologist Kenneth M. Adams, PhD explains the impact an inappropriate relationship with a parent can have on a child's longterm emotional health


Expert Bio

More from Expert

Kenneth M. Adams, PhD

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Kenneth M. Adams, Ph.D., CSAT, is a Licensed Psychologist, the Clinical Director and Founder of Kenneth M. Adams and Associates in suburban Detroit, Michigan, as well as a faculty member at the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals. As previous Clinical Director for the Life Healing Center in Sante Fe, New Mexico, a residential treatment center for trauma and addiction, Dr Adams created the first inpatient program exclusively for partners of sex addicts. In addition to maintaining an active clinical practice, Dr. Adams is a national lecturer, workshop leader, and consultant in the areas of child abuse, dysfunctional family systems, and sex addiction. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed publications, the books Silently Seduced and When He’s Married to Mom, as well as co-editor of Clinical Management of Sex Addiction. In 2011, Dr Adams received the “Carnes Award” for “outstanding work in the field of sexual addiction and compulsivity”. He is a certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), a CSAT supervisor, and CSAT training facilitator as well as an Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) practitioner. Dr. Adams is a member of the American Psychological Association, Michigan Psychological Association, Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), and International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) as well as an advisory board member to SASH and IITAP, and an editorial board member of Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention. For more on Dr Adams visit


More Parenting Videos from Kenneth M. Adams, PhD >
Enter your email to
download & subscribe
to our newsletter