For some parents, the need to feel needed is never more completely satisfied than it is while caring for a baby.
These parents—often very young mothers who feel that they, themselves, were never mothered—mistake the baby’s clingy, crying, sucking, wide-eyed wonder as emotional fuel. This parent feels loved and lovable, valued and competent and fulfilled, so long as the baby needs her.
The “infantilized” child is taught to never let go. His neediness and dependence are rewarded by a disturbed parent’s distorted needs. Like adultified and parentified children, the infantilized child relishes his role in his mother’s life, no matter that his development quickly falls behind that of his peers, and no matter that he fits less well into the larger world with each passing year.
The infantilized child is sometimes mistaken as socially, emotionally or cognitively delayed, as autistic or overwhelmingly anxious or otherwise in need of intense supports. As long as he remains in the infantilizing environment, these observations may be correct, but they are effects, not causes. They are the way that a disturbed parent gets her selfish needs fulfilled.
In one bizarre and uncommon twist on this theme, a needy parent finds fulfillment when her child is ill, even to the extent of intentionally making him sick. Doctors are consulted, tests are performed, emergency rooms and hospitals are involved, all to solve the mystery and support the helpless parent’s desperate pleas.
For this parent, the professionals’ interest and attention are mistaken for feeling held, refueling her need to keep the child ill. is is called factitious disorder or Munchausen syndrome by proxy.