You’ve probably heard about codependency in romantic relationships, but it is actually very common in parent-child relationships as well. In this article, I will teach you what codependent parenting is and how becoming more emotionally mature can help.
What is a codependent child-parent relationship?
Codependency happens when one person enables another’s immaturity. It is a result of a dependence on external validation. Codependent parenting happens when an emotionally immature parent becomes excessively emotionally involved with their child. This programs the child to become emotionally immature as well, and to be excessively reliant on the parent. The overly dependent nature of the relationship enables each person’s immature emotional needs.
Emotional maturity vs. immaturity
Emotional immaturity is at the heart of codepedency. An emotionally mature parent has the ability to balance autonomy and connection, and differentiate thoughts from feelings.
Such parents have a great deal of control over their emotions. They have an inner locus of control, and can take responsibility for their own feelings. They don’t look outward for validation, but are able to self-validate. They stay true to themselves and their principles no matter who they are around.
In contrast, immature parent are controlled by their emotions. They feel that others are responsible for their feelings and vice versa. They look outward for validation and cannot self-validate. They also change who they are depending on which social group or individual is exerting pressure on them to conform.
Immature people tend to have unhealthy, codependent relationships. When things are peaceful, this kind of relationship can be comfortable. But when things go wrong, things fall apart.
They will try to find comfort in their relationships, but will be more likely to find the opposite. This is because their emotional immaturity will lead them to be more needy, controlling, and emotionally reactive. To find peace again, they give up their real self for the sake of the relationship. So even if they are able to have connection, it won’t be genuine or satisfying.
Relationships between emotionally mature people are more healthy and satisfying. They are able to solve problems effectively. This allows them to stay true to themselves, not needing to give up their principles to have peace.
Definition of a codependent parent
Problems in families usually stem from problems between parents. If the parents are dependent on one another without differentiated identities, they will initially be able to find emotional comfort in one another. But when they run into difficulty and the relationship is no longer emotionally satisfying, they cope in ways that bring about problems, such as:
- Marital conflict,
- Emotional distance,
- Dysfunction in one spouse, and
- Impairment of one or more children.
A family can have all of the problems to some degree, but will usually have one main problem.
Codependent parenting happens when the primary problem is the impairment of one or more children. The parent becomes dependent on their child, using this relationship as a replacement for their dissatisfying relationship with their spouse. You might be asking yourself, “Am I codepedent with my child?” Read on to learn what a codependent mother or father relationship looks like.
This usually starts out with a parent showering a child with attention and doing too much for them. This typically happens in relationships between younger children and their mothers. It often leads to an over-functioning/under-functioning dynamic, in which the codependent child’s development is impaired because they aren’t required to do things on their own.
This creates problems in the parent-child relationship. The parent is not able to truly parent the child because they need the relationship to be positive. If the child is upset with them, they won’t feel emotionally whole. So when a child’s misbehavior threatens this, they don’t demand good behavior from the child. Instead, they will act to preserve the positive relationship. They may give in to their demands, do everything for them, make excuses for their bad behavior, and/or give them all of their attention.
This is exacerbated by parents’ good intentions to be the best possible parents to their kids. They may feel that they were emotionally neglected by their own parents and want to give their kids the love they didn’t get. This will lead to an intense motivation to be the best possible parent to their children.
As a result of the parent’s excessive emotional involvement and hyperattentive parenting, the child is programmed to need the parent excessively, and doesn’t learn to be autonomous and capable. Both parent and child get their “needs” met in this relationship. The parent is able to feel whole because of a close relationship with the child and the child is able to feel whole because of the parent’s constant attention.
However, the relationship won’t be able to remain constantly positive, and the parent will likely oscillate between being permissive and authoritarian. This is because the child’s behavior will continue to get more needy and demanding and the parent will not be able to always be positive with the child. This can lead the positive over-focus to temporarily or permanently morph into a negative over-focus.
A negative over-focus often looks like parents teaming up against a child that they see as a problem. It is likely to happen after a child has developed negative behavior problems because of a parent’s over-functioning for the child. It can happen at any point, but it is typical of adolescence. This stage often requires children to do more things on their own and they experience added stress because of their emotional immaturity.
In this fused, codependent dynamic, the child is overly involved in the parent’s anxiety and is set in a position to inherit their immaturity. It prevents the child from learning to function on their own. It has been found to be associated with a lack of internal locus of control, and may also contribute to the onset of schizophrenia.