When Sons and Daughters Take on The Father Role - Destiny Connect

When Sons and Daughters Take on The Father Role

Many outwardly successful young people are drowning in crippling debt due to a misplaced sense of duty. We take a look at why this happens, and what you can do about it. 

By: Vangile Makwakwa

A few years ago, at a self-development workshop, I met a 24-year-old who was a recent graduate. As often happens when people meet me, we started talking about money. 

She told me that she was the first in her mom and her dad’s family to graduate from university and that she was overwhelmed by the responsibilities that come with this degree. She shared how she’s expected to attend every family meeting and how all the elders (uncles and aunts) in the family turn to her for advice. How she’s now the one that makes decisions on funerals and weddings. And how her mom leans on her and expects her to take over running the house. 

She felt like her mom was treating her like a husband and the other family members were treating her like an adult. At just 24 she needed the advice and support of the elders, but the roles were reversed. 

I keep hearing this from young women – they feel like they are taking on a father role in the family. 

The first-born filling the father role 

Some of us come from broken families with no father figure; we struggle with the “absent father syndrome”. We all know about the daughter who will try to replace her father through romantic relationships and even dating older men.  

But we don’t talk about the daughter or son who takes over the role of the father and feels obligated to help their mother carry the load financially. Often this will be the first-born daughter or son – they will often step into the role of the father, be responsible and become their mom’s wingman. 

They look after the kids and even get a job early so they can pull their weight financially. Suddenly their siblings are not just their siblings, they become their kids. 

The financial implications of filling the father gap at a young age 

These young people are amazing in all they do – no one can argue with that. However, the challenge they face is that they never get to be carefree and have no clue how to put themselves first. They started making grown-up decisions at a young age and learned to compromise the way a parent would compromise, so they have no clue how to put themselves first. 

They derive a lot of their value from being everyone’s rock and strength. And just like a father they can’t stop themselves from supporting their siblings and their mother. While they won’t say it out loud, they tend to feel alone because they are seen as the strong ones, as the ones that everyone lean on. Their strength is their downfall. 

Added to that their moms have relied on them for a long time, they also have a gaping mother wound because they had no “mom” so to speak. The mother wound can be defined as the psychological wounds we carry with regards our mothers, such as abandonment and not being mothered, and including how we remain loyal to or rebel against our mothers’ struggles and oppression as women. This wound can lead us to self-sabotage, feel guilty and refusing to dream bigger because we don’t want to hurt our mothers and have them envy us and then lose their love.  

Often the dutiful daughter who loves her mom will take on the father role to share her mother’s struggles and will learn to abandon herself and stop being a child. As she gets older the financial implications of this play out as her having a hard time saying no to family members, feeling responsible for everyone (especially siblings), trying to do it alone and not being able to trust other people (or the universe) to provide and support their dreams.  

This makes it hard to relinquish control and trust others to help them grow their businesses or teach them how to increase income, which greatly delays their financial freedom. They are also seen as the responsible one and tend to live up to this financially by trying to fix everyone’s problems so they are often silently drowning in debt. 

Their investment portfolios are also more focused on other people so they may overly invest in funeral policies, instead of aligning their financial vision to their strategy and focusing on financial freedom. 

Because they stepped into the father role out of survival, they may handle money from a survival stance rather than a thriving stance. 

On daughters who mother their mothers  

Sometimes, no one asks us to take on any financial responsibility. Instead we take it on ourselves and usually it’s linked to our mothers and it’s tied to the mother wound. We can sometimes find ourselves feeling guilty the more successful we get, and with no way to handle that guilt we find ourselves giving more than we can afford to our mothers. 

We find ourselves confused because we want to remain our mothers’ “little girls” but we’re experiencing so much more than our mothers ever had. Our adult lives are nothing like our mothers’ lives. We don’t want to outshine our mothers and make them question who they are. 

We’re scared that our mothers may disapprove of our success or even envy us that success and freedom, because… patriarchy! We understand that we have a privilege our mothers never had because they lived in a different time.  

And so, we feel obligated to over-give to make up for the unfairness of patriarchy and all our mothers gave up for us to have this life. We may even feel resentment for having to give more than we really want, which makes us feel even guiltier, so we give even more out of guilt and shame. 

Because how dare we feel that way about our mothers? 

Or we move back home so we can be closer to our mothers (and we don’t like it), or we leave our kids with our mothers, so our mothers always have someone with them. And the more we give financially and emotionally, the more complex our feelings get, and we find ourselves mothering our mothers out of obligation, love, guilt, shame, gratitude and resentment. 

Often we don’t know how to be honest about it so it festers and affects our finances and our relationship with our mothers. This is what makes the mother-daughter relationship so intense. 

How do daughters who have taken on the father role heal their situation?

Reparent your inner child 

You became an adult too soon and started parenting everyone else, when you yourself needed a parent, so you have to parent your inner child and heal her so that you can start setting boundaries around money and how you help people. 

Give yourself permission to be supported 

As a deputy parent, you learned to keep it together and look after everyone else and to do things all by yourself. Give yourself permission to be supported, especially where your personal financial goals are concerned. 

Change the way you help people financially 

You learned to solve people’s problems at a young age, now start helping people in a way that empower them and erases you from the equation. Learn to say no to some requests, especially from siblings or parents. 

Stop trying to save your mother 

This is very difficult, because often daughters that take on the father role see themselves as being in the ring with their mother. This makes it hard for them to differentiate between their mother’s emotions and their own emotions. Heal, so your mother’s pain doesn’t drive your decisions. 

Play and prioritise pleasure 

Pleasure is healing to the nervous system and research shows that play is critical to healing the inner child. 

About the author

Vangile Makwakwa is the author of Heart, Mind & Money: Using Emotional Intelligence for Financial Success and The Holistic Wealth Manifesto Workbook. She has a finance honours degree from the University of Cape Town and an MBA from the Simmons School of Management. Vangile started her personal finance journey by paying off $60 000 in debt and living a cash life. She’s the founder of wealthy-money.com, a company that helps women of colour heal ancestral money trauma. @vangilemakwakwa