It is not uncommon in a family unit for its individual members to form sub-alliances with one another. In simple terms this may look like a father and a teenage daughter, or a mother and her teenage son almost functioning like a married couple. The father may unload his emotional issues or stressors on his daughter, and she in turn may become his predominant strong source of support. They may understand one another and feel deeply protective of each other. In fact many a time in family therapy it would seem that the actual wife is sidelined and even somewhat invisible. That is a whole different article about the marital dyad, yet I am focusing in this article on the effects on the child.
When is this dyad between a parent and a child an issue?
It can become an issue when the child may be assuming too much of the parents stress. The child may in fact almost be "parenting" and supporting emotionally their parent. This is enormous pressure and has long term implications on the child into adulthood.
Sometimes this oversharing of pain, anger or fear that a parent may place on a child, is planting the seeds in the child performing the role of "caretaker" or "nurturer" in all their future adult relationships. Caring for others on its own merits is a positive attribute, however when we have become accustomed to being in this familiar role of supporting others (not learning equally to lean on others and take from others) it creates imbalanced adult partnerships. Many of my clients whom are navigating unhealthy adult relationships, have a history of assuming the role of always placing their own needs last. They have a history of taking care of all their partners whims, desires and life goals; mostly at the cost of their own. However when they are able to address their childhood family patterns it is not uncommon to see these seeds of being the full time listener, giver and supporter planted in childhood.