Holding that first baby in my arms I felt my heart enlarged ten sizes. I was in love. A deep “I will die for you right now”, kind of love. I still feel that way about my children. Maybe too much?
Hovering Codependent Parent
There is the caricature of the stay-at-home mom who lives for her children–she dotes on them, shows up at all the school and church functions, waits on them hand and foot and drives them everywhere. Most of all she believes her little angels can do no wrong. Typically the codependent parent is the woman who lives her life through her child. (Find more background in Codependent: What is it? and Counter Dependent the Other Codependent).
We can all laugh and say “ha ha” I know that person, but it is certainly not me. I don’t have time for that nonsense.
What if it is much deeper than that. What if the codependent parent also looks like this:
- A parent who is never wrong
- A parent who has a victim mentality
- A parent who must maintain control often by manipulation
- A parent who has trouble with intimacy
- A parent who never listens
Codependency with Your Child
A fresh new babe brought into the house of a family does not know any different. The family they grew up in is the norm. What that family does is what all families do until the child begins to see and understand a bit of the outside world.
This is also true for parents who were once children in their own families. Often the manipulation of the codependent parent is subtle:
- I am doing this for your own good.
- You want a good job right?
- I just want what is best for you.
- I just don’t want to see you make the mistakes I made.
Then there are the more overt actions of never acknowledging that a child is a separate person. That he/she is a person with feelings, dreams, and ideas of their own. In the most difficult cases, the parent sees the child as an extension of themselves. Someone to fulfill them as a parent and to give them love, significance and security.
When the Roles Reverse
A parent’s main job in life for a child is to provide for them physically, emotionally and spiritually. They do this by showing love, significance and providing security.
Where the child gets stuck is when the role is reversed. The immature parent demands that the child do that for them. Because the child does not know any different and the parent is their sole source of support and knowledge of family; the child complies.
This kind of codependency lays a heavy burden on the child that could last a lifetime. The radio show Prairie Home Companion depicts such an adult relationship between a codependent parent and adult child.
Hope For Codependent Parent/Child Relationships
If you are parenting a child right now, here are areas to look at:
1) Do you have hobbies and activities without your children that are fulfilling?
2) Do you model and practice positive self-talk and self-care?
3) Do you demonstrate and tell your child that they are valuable because of who they are not what they do. God made them unique and special in His image.
4) Do you allow your children to experiment with ideas, activities, thoughts, and talents that you may not agree with but don’t shame them for trying.
5) Are you comfortable with failure, yours and theirs?
For adult children of codependent parents
1) Read, read, read, after a lifetime of confusion about your role, you may need more time to come to terms with who you are and who you want to be in the parent/child relationship.
2) You may want to go to a Codependents Anonymous Meeting. There you can see and hear what other people share about their family of origin and the family they raised.
3) Set boundaries on the present relationship with your parents. A great resource for this is Dr. Robert Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud, Boundaries: When to say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.
4) If you were raised by codependent parents and are raising children right now, seeing a therapist about your part in the codependent process can save heartache later.
Leaving a Legacy of Health
Leaving the past unhealthy relationships in the past is the greatest legacy you can leave your children.
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
~ Kahlil Gibran