Another indicator for exploring family-of-origin issues is the presence of pseudo-maturity in children in the family or a history of over-responsibility from childhood to adulthood. Pseudo-maturity occurs in families when a parent becomes unable to adequately perform the executive management functions of the role. This may occur if a parent has substance abuse or other addictive behaviors, a personality disorder, a major physical or medical challenge, or be diverted from the responsibilities of the role by excessively demanding challenges. Such challenges include caring for a significantly or profoundly emotionally/psychologically or physically disabled family member. Per family systems theories, the abdication of parental responsibilities and behaviors leaves a vacuum in the family dynamic that one or more of the other family members will fill. In a two-parent family, severe behavior by the first parent will often draw the attention and energy of the other parent. This can occur whether or not he or she becomes over-responsible to compensate for the first parent's under-responsibility. The second parent has been called the co-dependent, the co-alcoholic, the co-addict, or the enabler. With both parents preoccupied in a nuclear two generation family, the only family members available to step up to fulfill parenting responsibilities would be the children. Older or oldest children are typical likely candidates to take on a pseudo-parental role. Cultural traditions may also prompt certain children, older girls in the family for example, to take the pseudo-parental role. The two primary versions of pseudo-maturity are of the responsible one or hero and of the nurturer. The hero assumes responsibility for the day-to-day functioning of the household and meeting family members' daily needs. This may include meeting the needs of the under-functioning parent.
Heath at eight years old tucked his mother into bed at 8:30pm every night after dinner. His mother was overwhelmed with financial stresses and two jobs trying to make ends meet as a single mother with three children. After putting his mother to bed along with his younger brother and sister. He returned to the kitchen to clean up after the dinner he had made, and to make lunches for his mother, himself, and his two siblings for the next day. Somebody had to do it, and there was no one but Heath to do it. So, he did it. Heath did well at school, was class president several times, and participated in many clubs. As an adult, he remained an extremely competent worker who excelled at problem solving. He was great at any number of work challenges and could manage multiple household and child demands. Unfortunately, he could not competently manage his own life and psyche, including eventually his marriage. The other common pseudo-mature role assumed by a child for an emotionally absent parent is that of the nurturer. As the hero manages the practical needs of the family and family members to avoid functional decompensation, the nurturer manages the emotional needs of the family members to avoid psychological decompensation. Donnell as the oldest daughter of an immigrant family had already become the babysitter for her younger siblings as her parents worked long hours at their little café. When her parents became more and more disconnected from each other and diverted their attention to their respective sexual affairs (and her father with his other family), the younger children became more emotionally distraught and needy. With mom and dad working all the time and then going "visiting" in the evenings, Donnell changed diapers, wiped runny noses, and soothed crying children through the night… the day… and her entire childhood. An extremely sweet person, everyone benefited from her kindness. She took care of everyone. Her wife loved how she showered her with attention from the time they first started dating. Unfortunately, she nurtured everyone else but not herself. Unable to nurture herself or even ask for it, she sunk into a depression that she hid relatively well for many years. She turned to soothing herself with food. A good fifty pounds overweight and without sexual desire, she carried on until her wife finally brought her into therapy.