The Developmental and Adaptational Implications of Generational Boundary Dissolution: Findings from a Prospective, Longitudinal Study
Generational boundary dissolution in parent-child relationships is a construct that has been variously defined; descriptors include parentification, spousification, filial responsibility, role reversal, and role equalization (see also Kerig, this volume). These terms are not all interchangeable, but what they have in common is their shared characterization of a type of relationship disturbance in which the typical parent and child roles become distorted or even reversed. For example, generational boundary dissolution in the form of parentification can characterize families in which the parent assumes a child-like role and/or the child is drafted into an adult-like role, becoming the parent’s partner or caregiver. Long recognized by clinicians as a potentially pathological family process, these forms of relationship disturbance have also become the focus of empirical attention, and studies have shown links between boundary dissolution and psychosocial maladaptation (e.g., Carlson, Jacobvitz, & Sroufe, 1995; Fullinwider-Bush & Jacobvitz, 1993). For example, boundary dissolution is often related to other risks to child psychosocial development, including maltreatment (particularly sexual abuse) and inconsistent care, parental substance abuse, illness, and divorce. It is generally understood that the premature assumption of adult responsibilities by a child that often characterizes boundary dissolution is a stressor which taxes developing competencies and may compromise meeting the child’s own developmental needs. Furthermore, growing evidence of the intergenerational transmission of boundary dissolution (e.g., Fullinwider-Bush & Jacobvitz, 1993)
points to potentially pervasive and long-lasting effects of parent-child relationship disturbance, contributing to the motivation for continued study in this area.