May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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My Wife Is ‘Parentifying’ Our Daughter

Dear Dr. Chani,

I would love to hear your opinion on an argument I am having with my wife about our daughter. My wife frequently asks our eldest daughter to do all of the motherly responsibilities around the house. I am concerned that she is putting too much of a burden on our daughter’s shoulders.

Since we’ve been married, my wife hasn’t been inclined to do much work around the house. She grew up in a home with a full-time housekeeper, and she was never asked to pitch in. I had assumed that when we got married, my wife would make supper and do laundry, as did most mothers I knew. Yet, I was surprised to find that she had no motivation to do any of it.

I hired cleaning help so I could avoid arguing about it. But my wife has never held a job and has spent the last 16 years shopping and entertaining herself during the day. She often buys takeout for supper, or the children fend for themselves. I am usually at work until late at night, so I eat supper at the office.

Now that our eldest daughter is 15, my wife asks her to take care of a lot of the things I would expect my wife to do. Our daughter cleans up from supper, bathes the younger children, puts them to sleep, and more. She is amazingly mature and responsible, and does everything pleasantly. But I am worried that she is juggling too much. She just started high school and I don’t want her grades or her social life to suffer.

My wife says that if our daughter had a problem, she would speak up for herself. She even told me that although I am a lawyer, I am not our daughter’s lawyer.

I am very disappointed in my wife’s immaturity and selfishness. If I had known that she would never grow up, I wouldn’t have married her. At this point, I have resolved to stick with our marriage, even though her laziness and self-centeredness make me crazy. I try to make things peaceful for the sake of our children, but how can I protect my daughter? Should I get involved or stay out of it?


Concerned Father

Dear Concerned Father,

I can understand why you are dismayed by your wife’s unwillingness to do household work. It sounds like you had expected her to take care of the household responsibilities while you focused on working long hours as a lawyer. Unfortunately, she had different expectations. At this point, your daughter seems caught in the middle, as your wife relies upon her to take care of nightly tasks that need to get done. Although the thrust of your question seems to be about your daughter, there are really two parts to your question: How do you deal with your relationship with your wife and how do you take care of your daughter’s needs?

It sounds like you harbor a deep resentment towards your wife. While it is admirable that you have been trying to “keep the peace” for over a decade, it is likely that you, your wife and your children are still affected by this dynamic. I encourage you to explore ways to think about your situation and adjust your dynamic so that you and your wife can grow closer.

You envision your wife as “immature” and “selfish.” Although it may seem that your assessment is objectively accurate, there is usually more than one way of understanding a situation. As difficult as it may seem, your goal is to find out your wife’s perspective and try to understand it (not necessarily to agree with it). One way to do that is by asking your wife about how she views the household chores. As your wife shares her point of view, try to keep an open mind and avoid judging her. You can gain a lot of insight by truthfully trying to understand her. You can ask her open-ended questions like: “How do you feel about doing xx (examples of household tasks)? Why might it be difficult for you to do xx? What was your mother’s role when you were growing up? What was your father’s role? How do you feel about their roles?”

You might discover a whole new world when you begin your conversations. You might find that your wife would want to do more of the housework, but she lacks the inner strength and resources to do so. She might lack executive functioning skills. She might be suffering from low self-esteem. She might even have a form of depression. She might have internalized the message from her home that household responsibilities are demeaning or a demonstration of a specific socioeconomic status. If you come to your wife from a place of genuine interest in her, you can discover completely new perspectives. This can be a turning point in your conversations. You may find that you have a greater understanding and empathy for your wife. It can also help you determine steps you can take to improve your situation.

Now let’s discuss your daughter’s needs. You are concerned that your wife is “parentifying” your daughter by asking her to take on a maternal role toward her younger siblings. Parentification depends on the extent of what a child is asked to do. An older child can be given jobs and chores at home so she can pitch in as part of the family and learn responsibility. Yet it goes too far when a child is asked to assume the role of a parent, especially if it interferes with her functioning as a healthy teenager.

So what can you do for your daughter? You might be tempted to consider hiring someone to help your wife in the evenings so that she would not need to rely on your daughter. Yet, while that would take the burden off of your daughter, it could convey a message to your daughter that you do not feel she should help at home. This might perpetuate the hands-off approach to household work that your wife demonstrates, and would negatively influence your daughter. It sounds like you want to cultivate your daughter’s generosity of spirit and pleasant approach to helping at home while making sure she is not too strained to be a social and successful teenager.

It is best if you can partner with your wife to find the right balance to ensure that your daughter is not stressed by all of her responsibilities. Ask your wife to sit down with you as a team to speak with your daughter and to ask her how things are going and what adjustments need to be made. Let your wife know that the goal of the conversation is to find out what your daughter feels capable of doing and what tasks you may need to find someone else to do.

Working through these issues with your wife, and approaching your daughter together to make sure she has the right balance of responsibility and support can help you improve your relationship with your wife and take proper care of your daughter.

Wishing you much success,


Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships and provides free relationship resources at Reach out to her at [email protected]. Check out her new class on Shalom Bayis and Intimacy.

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