Individual, Family, and Community Education ETDs

Publication Date



More than 133 million Americans are living with chronic conditions and this number continues to rise (Partnership for Solutions, 2004); by 2020, it is estimated that 157 million people will suffer from chronic illnesses (Anderson, 2003), a large percentage of whom are in their child-rearing stage of life. Incorporating concepts from family systems and family development theories, this exploratory study examined the impact of maternal chronic physical illness on children. Specifically, it examined the extent to which length of illness and symptom severity of fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis; mothers age, educational level, and marital status; perceived effects of the illness on parent, child, and parent-child interactions; and parent and child's perceived availability of and satisfaction with support are related to the child's parentification. Two-hundred mothers and their oldest child, aged 11-17 years, answered the researcher-developed questionnaire that had been mailed to them; youths also completed the Parentification Questionnaire — Youth. Results indicated that parentification was greater for older children, females more than males, and boys whose mothers had the illness longer. Higher parentification scores also were obtained by children whose mothers reported lower satisfaction with support and who felt more burdened by their illness. Lower parentification scores were obtained by children who reported greater satisfaction with their support, said that they felt closer to their mothers, and whose mothers reported that they felt closer to their children. Implications of these findings for preventative strategies and intervention are discussed and suggestions for future research presented. To date, little attention has been paid to the impact of mothers' chronic illness on their children. This study suggests that to reduce parentification in children whose mothers are chronically ill, increased support needs to be offered at all levels of the family system - the mother, the child, the mother-child dyad, and the family as a whole.


chronic physical illness, parentification, parental illness, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, young caregivers


University of New Mexico Student Research Allocations Committee; University of New Mexico Graduate Research Project and Travel Grant

Document Type




Level of Degree


Department Name

Individual, Family, and Community Education

First Advisor

Shipman, Virginia

First Committee Member (Chair)

Nagel, Liza

Second Committee Member

Rifenbury-Murphy, Deborah

Third Committee Member

Hossain, Zia