Help for children and families?
When we risk betraying parents’ secrets to seek help, searches yield many public discussions of caregiver burden, not childhood trauma.
Journalists, hazmat cleaners, organizers, hoarding clinicians and researchers, tweets, blogs, and "listicles" everywhere tell us to "work on the relationship," misleading us to invest more compassion, understanding, and support in unhealthy, enmeshed relationships that frequently are not safe.
The common result is retraumatization.
We don’t urge domestic violence survivors to work on unsafe relationships.
Indiscriminately urging children to work on relationships without assessing safety first is just as negligent.
Over the years, we have repeatedly turned to HD professionals for help. Many of us have come to believe the approach to HD families is often a large part of the problem, and offers no solutions for children (see: Research with HD Relatives).
We have found our way despite these detours and so can you. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, alone.
The absence of candid, public acknowledgment of the challenges children face isolates, compounding shame, making problems fester, leaving desperate children with nobody to trust, and nowhere safe to turn.
Clearly identifying obstacles is necessary to address and avoid them in the future.
HD is now a distinct diagnosis and increasingly recognized mental health condition and public health issue, but there is still no public awareness of the range of experience children face, or the common trauma when children grow up feeling like homeless orphans in indoor landfills trying to raise themselves, and their parents.
But there is plenty of highly visible, feces filled trauma porn stigmatizing and exploiting desperate families, and children too young to give their consent, for entertainment and profit on television.
Children are judged and shamed for naming child abuse, expressing self-protective anger and resentment over maltreatment, instead of infinite patience, compassion, and understanding in the face of family trauma.
Many wish they had never been born and more actively struggle with suicidal feelings and attempts. Many are groomed for a lifetime of abuse and retraumatization.
Meanwhile, hoarding professionals consistently tell us our negative feelings, experience, and perspectives are not “helpful,” as if we exist for no reason but to help our parents.
Talking about "clutter" can be destigmatizing to some and it also feels like denial, invalidation, gaslighting, hoardsplaining, silencing, and shaming to many children who experience neglect and abuse.
There is no one size fits all. There never can be.
There is no universal language for all experience.
But we will always make room for you here, wherever you are today.
Reciprocal understanding is impossible when children are shamed, guilted, and silenced to appease parents, or hoarding professionals.
It fuels anger and resentment and further alienates and retraumatizes.
Developmental trauma is erased by organizations who note children’s “kind of funny perspective growing up” and offer tips like, “Remember you do have a choice not to live in the clutter at some point” or “Be aware that it is a disorder, but you do not need to suffer as a consequence” (https://hoarding.iocdf.org/for-families/how-hd-affects-families).
Children must find healthy ways to cope, but psychoeducation “to decrease the likelihood that family members trigger highly charged and dangerous or impairing behavioral incidents” is yet another example of the distorted, one-sided, victim-blaming approach that renders children invisible (see Research with HD Relatives, Chasson, 2014, 14-15).
Children are not responsible for parents unable to regulate their emotions and behavior.
Infantilizing adults with mental health conditions and parentifying children to compensate worsens enmeshment, fueling misplaced guilt and responsibility.
Offering "strategies to repair relationships damaged as family members attempt to force change" while ignoring family dysfunction, the inevitable asymmetry between parents and dependent children, and the preexisting damage caused by parents forcing children to grow up buried in feces, infestations, and disrepair does not help (https://hoarding.iocdf.org/for-families/webinar-helping-people-who-hoard/).
Blame-shifting is not help for families. It should come with a trigger warning instead.
We do not psychoeducate children or domestic violence survivors to stop "triggering" assault and battery. We don’t tell them to “remember you do have a choice not to live with beatings, at some point.”
We do not psychoeducate children to stop “forcing change” to protect themselves from pedophiles. We don’t tell them to “be aware that paraphilia is a disorder, but you do not need to suffer as a consequence.”
We do not blame children for "triggering" an addict's relapse.
We don't make children responsible for adults’ illness or behavior.
We don’t expect the oncologist to cure the family, nor to judge “unhelpful feelings,” complain of “difficult family members,” “negative attitudes” “resentment,” or to dismiss trauma as stigma, embarrassment, or “caregiver burden” while demanding more compassion, patience, and understanding, but failing to show any (see: Research with HD Relatives).
This is not compassion, empathy, or understanding to us.
Of course, you are frustrated when Research with HD Relatives and public conversations are full of recycled judgments of families filtered through parents’ interests in professional echo chambers, by professionals failing to acknowledge trauma and abuse, offering victim-blaming and psychoeducation about HD mistaken as help and support for families, unable to make the distinction, or to candidly acknowledge the challenges of professional tunnel vision and conflict of interest, all while telling children and families not to judge and blame.
At MYCOHP, you won’t get more of the same.
See also Complex/Childhood Trauma and C-PTSD
A hoard is no place for a child
Healthy parents do not imprison children in squalor and disrepair.
This is not merely “stressful,” and forcing children to live in hoards must be disentangled from having HD.
Imagine addicts forcing children, families, and animals to shoot heroin and refusing to see the difference?
Behavior rooted in mental illness may be no more malicious than behavior rooted in addiction and some parents are surely struggling to cope as best their knowledge, coping skills, and resiliency allow.
But it is also no more benign than children, or their parents, held hostage to unmanaged addiction while denying the obvious impact.
Mental illness does not cause and can never excuse child abuse and neglect. When parents cannot cope with their illness it is a risk factor for abuse.
Proper identification of the challenges children, and parents, face is not blame, shame, or stigma.
Failure to distinguish keeps children trapped and confused.
Nobody can remedy a problem that remains misdefined.
The impact of parental mental illness on children is already well documented, yet trauma involving HD is ignored by the field.
Children are often too young to name trauma and abuse. Trauma is frequently unrecognized, internalized, or minimized by adults because of the shame, self-blame, and the guilt it causes survivors who love and desperately wish to help and protect their parents, often despite abuse.
Actions, not intentions or motives, define neglect and abuse.
Forcing children to live in unsafe, unsanitary hoards under the tyranny of unmanaged mental illness is a screeching fire alarm the field ignores, often by reinventing the problem as missed playdates, sleepovers, and clutter, instead (e.g., MHA SF Consequences of Clutter or Birchall, Hoarding and Families).
See Voices if you want to know what children say about lived experience.
When child abuse and neglect (CAN) is not completely ignored, it is distorted as HD parents suffering the terrible consequence of "having their children taken away."
Hoarded children are treated as just another object, with no compassion or understanding of the nightmare children must live to be removed, or the impact of parents who are such an immediate danger to their lives that removal to foster care is the only alternative left.
Meanwhile, animals are simply "rescued" from cruelty and abuse.
Even supporting animal welfare workers takes priority over children forced to live in conditions described as traumatizing professionals (Demystifying HD).
Removing children is nothing but a desperate last resort.
Nevertheless, children are erased when protection is redefined as yet another injury to HD parents.
There is no room for children in that approach.
When we take their guilt trips to better serve our parents, work on relationships, offer a never-ending supply of patience, compassion, and understanding without reciprocity, the result is often sacrificing our health, pushing ourselves to collapse, so it is no wonder professionals see only “caregiver burden.”
Often severe retraumatization, further injury in a hoard, a medical, or psychological crisis, triggers Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) or exacerbates unrecognized, lifelong consequences of childhood trauma.
Retraumatization is often camouflaged by a baseline of constant family and relationship trauma compounding childhood abuse, neglect, and the developmental trauma they cause.
It may be unfair to expect unhealthy parents to raise healthy children in an unhealthy environment.
It is more unfair to expect children to understand, support, and parent themselves, and their parents, while ignoring trauma, neglect, or abuse.
Compassion and understanding must be a two-way street.
It’s extremely difficult for children to find remedies when professionals keep pushing psychoeducation to better serve parents instead.
But it is not impossible.
We hope you will join us.
Many parents, and children, may not have the resources, information, or support to do better.
The default must change.
If you want to help children and families, please stop blame shifting and pushing solutions for parents' problems on children and families.
Stop advocating for parents long enough to listen instead.
Show understanding and compassion before asking us to give more, and more than you ask our parents to give to us.
Psychoeducate parents about children’s developmental needs and repairing relationships they destroyed by burying children alive.
Parents are the caregivers, not dependent children.
Stop redefining children as helpers to label us unhelpful. We aren't extra appendages or caregiving resources to mold your agenda.
Psychoeducating enmeshed and traumatized children to better support parents is not help for families.
It is advocacy for people with HD. And that's great, but don't confuse it with help for us.
The bait and switch retraumatizes survivors and has destroyed good will.
If you won’t acknowledge the difference, we cannot trust you.
We think trauma assessments are a better place to start.
Trauma assessments can meet children, and parents, wherever they are, right now, and tailor solutions to their most urgent needs, not your available tools and theories.
No matter where you've come from, we welcome everyone with open arms.
The future is ours. We hope you will join us in something new.
We’d love to hear from you. You can reach us at:
It’s not just clutter.
To hear from COHPs about the challenges we face, see:
See also Complex/Childhood Trauma and C-PTSD for more information about childhood trauma and assessment tools that can aid you in addressing your needs.
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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DRAFT June 5