A Backwards Relationship: Parasitic Parents


  1. an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense
  2. a person who habitually relies on or exploits others and gives nothing in return

There are many family dynamics and each family is unique. There are no perfect families and no way to make any family perfect. However, though all families will have some problems, there are some that harbor toxic, nigh-unshakable parasites — the ones with the most power in the family: the parents.

The first thing to note about all of these conditions is the parents’ inability to care about their child past their own wishes. In all of these scenarios, the parents wish to be taken care of or be paid attention to. If the parent(s), someone who should be giving unconditional love, is unable to or unwilling to give this care or love, then not only do the children suffer but the spouse may also be affected, if they are not also a parasitic parent. Let’s look at a couple of conditions that may cause this undesirable toxic relationship not only between parent and child but also between spouses. Today, I will be breaching the sacred pedestal of parenthood, and especially, the immunity of mothers.

As a side note, I want to say that I have experience with my mother in regards to having a narcissistic parent. In her case, she was a covert narcissist and although I always knew there was something not quite right about the things she was doing and saying, I didn’t have a name for it until a few years ago. I am glad that I am still young and that I was luckily out of her influence during some of my critical periods as a child (I lived with my grandparents as a young child before coming back to America to start kindergarten).

1. Munchausen Syndrome

Munchhausen syndrome is often confused with hypochondria. Munchausen syndrome is different in that the “victim” knows that they are not actually sick but they purposefully fake symptoms or even create symptoms to get the care and attention that they want through self-harm or self-sabotage. Hypochondria, on the other hand, is the compulsive thought that you are sick with something. In that case, there is no ulterior motive besides just believing that you’re sick.

Munchausen isn’t as directly physically harmful as its by Proxy variant but it is nonetheless emotionally and mentally draining and depending on the age of the one giving the care, financially draining too.

When a parent is so swept up in their own imagined aches and pains, they have no time left for their child. In fact, their child is going to be their most devoted caretaker. Their need to be looked after and fawned over at all times exceeds any of their ability to care about their child. They will constantly demand attention and complain about being dizzy or nauseous or having a headache. If not paid attention to enough by their child, the parent may complain that the child was ungrateful or wants the parent to suffer and die. The main goal of the parent is emotional manipulation of the child and to tie the child to them so that they can get an automatic lifetime supply of attention and care.

A persistent, unshakable leech who feeds off of sympathy and guilt.

Usually, Munchausen and Munchausen by Proxy syndrome are caused by the parent’s own emotional problems. They may come from a dysfunctional family background themselves.  Perhaps they grew up in a family environment where they only receive attention and love through being sick (this is especially prevalent if a parent had Munchausen by Proxy syndrome which we will talk about in a bit). They may feel threatened by the possibility of abandonment or neglect. Whatever the case is, though, if they don’t admit to having this condition, then there isn’t going to be any way to treat it.

For more on this, see here.

2. Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome

The difference between this condition and the Munchausen Syndrome is in who is “sick”. A proxy is something that is substituted for something else. In cases where parents have Munchausen by Proxy syndrome, they fake or create sickness in their child rather than themselves.

With Munchausen by Proxy, the child’s health is compromised in order for the parent to receive the sympathy they want. When the child is sick, the parent might say something along the lines of, “I’m so worried. I don’t know what to do if ____ doesn’t get better. I haven’t been eating or sleeping properly for the past __ weeks!” to which other people would say something like, “I’m so sorry. I really hope ____ gets better soon. You’re a great mother/father. This must be so hard on you. ___ is lucky to have such a caring, devoted mother/father.”

Of course, this condition, like with Munchausen syndrome is hard to properly diagnose, especially if you’re just an observer but one of the tell-tale signs is if the child’s symptoms get better when the parent is separated from them and then dramatically gets worse when the parent reunites with them.

The children of such parents may grow up to have Munchausen syndrome because they felt that the only way to get attention and care is to be sick, which is a behavior that is learned from their parents. Since a parent with Munchausen by Proxy syndrome only sees their child as a way to get sympathy, if the child isn’t sick or refuses to pretend to be sick, then the parent won’t get what they want and they will actually get upset with the child. Thus, the child learns that the only way to get the care that they need is to be sick and of course, this wreaks havoc with a child’s development, both physically and emotionally… that is, if they survive out of infancy. In many cases of Munchausen by Proxy, if the child is an infant and there have been cases where the child was killed in the process of the parent trying to get the emotional fix that they need.

This condition can be found in both mothers and fathers but since mothers are usually the parent that has the most impact on child-rearing, there are more instances of mothers having this condition than fathers. This condition, on the whole, is rare but when it does happen, like with the case of Marybeth Tinning (see here), the public banish it as an abnormality and they like to think that the guilty parent was a psychopath or some such. The thing is, these are people who normally don’t have homicidal tendencies. These are the parents that just care more about themselves than about their children.

Here’s a short clip of a couple rare instances where this condition has been caught on film:

For more on this condition, see here.

Continue reading on page 2. (Coming up: Codependent and Narcissistic Parents)

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