It’s not just clutter
Almost all of us begin by trying to help our parents. The first question most children ask is “how do I make them see?”
The number one reason children seek help is because our parents deny that anything is wrong. But we know things are not ok.
Trying to help our parents often leads us on a wild goose chase, trying to solve problems that are not ours to solve.
Children do not cause hoarding disorder (HD) or hoarding behaviors.
Children are not the solution.
You cannot control the weather, either. It cannot be your fault, or your responsibility.
And yet many of us are desperate to save our parents.
When we try to help our parents, it is usually instead of seeking help for ourselves.
We are everywhere redefined as supporters, helpers, caregivers and erased as dependent children. We are told how to help our parents instead of how to find help for ourselves.
As young children, parents define the world.
Often, we remain lost and trapped in their disorder, believing our only hope depends on saving them.
We grow up believing it is our responsibility to save our parents from themselves.
Imprisoned in shame and secrets, there is nobody else.
Trauma festers unrecognized, leaving us vulnerable to perpetual retraumatization, conflict, hopelessness, resentment, and estrangement.
We do not seek help because of "clutter," or even mental illness.
We seek help because nobody can cope with problems that are ignored or misdefined.
It often appears that hoarding is “the problem.” But by definition, our problem is not hoarding disorder.
That's our parents' problem.
Children seek help because parents’ problems fester out of control and we cannot turn to them.
Lots of parents with HD, and many adults with many challenges, tragedies, and traumas do seek help. Many parents can and do mitigate the impact of adult problems on vulnerable, dependent children.
But children seek help when parents don't, drowning us in their problems instead.
Our parents are largely unable to cope with the impact of HD on their lives and their parenting, often because they deny, minimize, and avoid as their coping strategy.
Many people with HD do not force anyone else to live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions or deny and avoid their problems until it destroys their family.
Children are not driven to seek help because parents have HD.
We seek help because our parents don't. Professionals often report 2-3 times more inquires come from concerned family members than from individuals with HD because of the distress hoarding causes to families.
Our parents have parentified us, turning their problems into ours, instead.
HD is not the cause of family dysfunction. It is merely the face that it wears.
Many parents do face their problems. Others don't.
They may become severely impaired, imprisoning themselves and their children in trauma, instead.
In many cases, parents repeat cycles of trauma and the unhealthy relationships they learned growing up.
Our childhood trauma -- emotional, physical, and developmental abuse and neglect -- is often cloaked in parents’ unmanaged, unnamed mental illness.
It was not long ago that hoarding disorder was unrecognized.
Most of us, as well as our parents, and others we turn to, still grow up in a world where there are only “packrats” and “crazy cat ladies.”
We do not grow up knowing our parents struggle with mental health even when we know something is wrong.
Despite the spectacle on TV and increasing recognition about hoarding behaviors and hoarding disorder, our problems remain invisible. We've been forced to navigate denial, invalidation, and misdirection alone.
Googling our way through the world, we discover hoarding and think we have found the answer.
Lost in our parents' problems, we cannot see our own.
Instead of the answer to our problems, most of us find misinformation, alienation, and retraumatization, and do not see our experience anywhere.
Professionals everywhere urge us to help our parents and ignore children's needs.
Talking about "clutter" may be destigmatizing to some and it also feels like denial, invalidation, gaslighting, hoardsplaining, silencing, all of which frequently trigger and retraumatize many children who have experienced abuse and neglect and struggle with unrecognized complex trauma.
But you are not crazy, and you are not alone.
The constellation of parenting behaviors, family dysfunction, and living conditions pose great challenges for children, throughout our lives.
When children seek help, we don’t need help with hoarding disorder, psychoeducation, or hoarding specialists, any more than children need rehab for their parents' drug addiction.
To us, the mismatch is obvious.
Imagine addiction professionals demanding compassion and patience from traumatized children to extract more and better caregiving for parents who deny their addiction, and the impact on their dependent children, while imprisoning them in a meth lab?
Imagine addicts forcing children to shoot heroin with them, and denying the abuse?
Illness never forces anyone to abuse or neglect children.
See Research with HD Relatives and Help for Children and Families.
Health and safety are the preconditions of compassion and understanding. Health and safety for vulnerable, dependent children must come first.
Compassion and understanding must be reciprocal. Nothing else will do.
Of course, you feel hopeless, frustrated, and alienated when professionals in hazmat suits demand patience and compassion from children forced to live in hoards, then return to their safe, comfortable homes, shaking their heads at our “negative,” “resentful,” “unhelpful” feelings.
Many experience institutional betrayal by mandated reporters on top of invalidation that not only diverts us from healing trauma, but continually retraumatizes instead.
That's not compassion and understanding, to us.
Those days are over. You’re here now. And we’ve got your back.
At MYCOHP, your hope is in your hands.
You can break the cycle, no matter what your parents do.
At MYCOHP, we put the needs of developing, dependent children first.
We understand your complicated and conflicted feelings.
We never judge you.
We never mistake children for helpers, supporters, or caregivers.
We will never ask you to give more understanding than is given to you.
Or to forget everything you had to overcome to get here.
See Complex/Childhood Trauma and C-PTSD for more information about childhood trauma and assessment tools to meet your needs.
To hear more from COHPs about the challenges we face, see: VOICES.
To learn more about what’s out there and our alternatives, see Research with HD Relatives and Help for Children and Families.
See also: Frequently Asked Questions.
MYCOHP and COH, Inc. run two private, confidential, peer support groups for minors/youth and adult children of hoarding parents. To join, email us at:
MYCOHPemail@example.com (up to 21).
ChildrenOfHoardersfirstname.lastname@example.org (18+, formerly Yahoo ).
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