This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Parentification in the Context of Diverse Domestic Violence Exposure Experiences




Tunkle, Caroline

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Human Development and Family Studies


Guided by family systems theory and Johnson’s typology of violence, the current study examined the parentification experiences of 25 young adults exposed to father-mother domestic violence (DV) using thematic analysis. This study integrates family systems and DV exposure literatures to explore variations in parentification roles and experiences in diverse DV exposure contexts (i.e., coercive controlling versus situational couple violence). Findings suggest that parentification is quite common in the context of DV exposure but the purposes these roles served varied, suggesting that parentification is indeed quite multifaceted. Analysis identified five main parentified roles: intervening to protect mothers from violence, serving as mother’s emotional support system, shielding siblings from violence and conflict, caring for siblings’ daily needs, and managing parents’ health and well-being. The young adults carried out these roles for various reasons including protecting their mothers and siblings from their fathers’ use of physical violence, feelings of obligation or due to a parent approaching them. Though parentification was common throughout these participants experiences, variations identified depended on the DV context such that those exposed to higher levels of coercive control and more severe acts of violence fulfilled multiple parentified roles, including intervening to protect their mothers—likely the most dangerous of the roles carried out. Discussion of explanations for why children likely took on parentified roles and the purposes they served in light of FST and DV exposure literatures, emphasizing the heterogeneity in DV-exposed young adults’ childhood experiences occurs.