Are you a codependent parent? Do you have an enmeshed relationship with your adult child?
Codependency can be a problem in any type of relationship. However, it can be especially hard to spot in parent-child relationships.
In this article, we’ll explore symptoms of a codependent parent-child relationship and ways to create a healthier relationship with your adult child.
Healthy parent-child relationships.
In Western culture, we expect that young adults will separate from their parents emotionally and physically. They’ll become independent and capable of taking care of themselves, making good decisions, and solving their own problems. Essentially, our adult children won’t need us to take care of them as they did when they were little.
As children grow up, they individuate from their parents; they develop their own identities—figure out who they are, what they believe, how they want to spend their time, and so forth. As teens or young adults, they no longer see themselves as extensions of their parents, but as separate people who can think and act according to their own values and priorities.
Codependent parent-child relationships.
When a parent has a codependent relationship with their child, this developmental process is interrupted. A codependent parent doesn’t encourage independence and separation because they don’t think their child is capable or they aren’t emotionally ready to let go.
Signs you might have a codependent relationship with your adult child.
1) Your life centers around your adult child:
- You’re overly involved in your adult child’s life, enmeshed, or overly attached to your adult child.
- You’re hyper-focused on helping or fixing your child’s problems.
- You worry about them constantly.
- You regularly lose sleep, feel anxious, or are sick because of an issue with your adult child.
- You can’t relax and enjoy your own life, or attend to your own needs, unless your child is “okay”.
- You give up other relationships or activities because you’re so focused on your child.
- You do things to prevent your child from suffering, even if it enables your child to continue harmful behaviors or hurts you.
- You feel responsible for your child’s happiness.
- You have trouble saying no to your child and lack boundaries.
- You might “walk on eggshells” and try not to upset your child.
2) You encourage dependence rather than independence
- You do things for your child that they can reasonably do for themself.
- You treat your adult child like they’re still a child.
3) You’re controlling.
- You give unsolicited advice.
- You think you know what your child should do to improve their life.
- You use guilt or passive-aggressive behavior to get your child to do what you think is best.
- Your child complains that you’re intrusive or bossy.
4) You act like a martyr.
- You’re resentful of how much you do or give to your adult child and feel your child is ungrateful.
- You complain, but don’t make any changes.
- You may have trouble admitting when you’re wrong.
- You feel angry, sad, and worried.
5) You’re overly reliant on your child for emotional support.
- Your adult child is your only or best friend.
- You treat your child like your therapist, oversharing inappropriately with them.
Help, but don’t enable.
It’s normal for parents to help their adult children. And there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with it.
Many people receive financial assistance, emotional support, and guidance from their parents during adulthood. And this can be beneficial when the adult child wants help and is also working to improve their life (not expecting their parents to do it all for them).
However, if you identified with several of the signs of codependent parenting listed above, you’ll want to be sure that you’re helping and not enabling.
Signs of enabling include:
- Helping your child causes problems for you. This might include feeling resentful, causing you financial problems, or taking away from other relationships or activities.
- Helping your child causes unintended problems for your child. This might include rescuing your child, so they don’t experience the negative consequences of their actions. Doing this repeatedly prevents your child from maturing and learning adult life skills. As a result, your adult child may feel like a child, angry, or incapable.
- Your “help” isn’t wanted or appreciated. You’re forcing solutions, help, or advice on your child, but they don’t want them.
Encourage your adult child to be more independent and self-sufficient.
As children mature, they become more capable and need their parents less. Even though this can be bittersweet, it’s a good thing!
Everyone wants to feel capable and confident. And this only happens when parents take a step back, stop micromanaging, and allow their children to make mistakes and experience the natural consequences of their actions.
With that said, people are differently-abled and not everyone can live independently and manage their own life. If you’re concerned that this may be the case for your adult child, I encourage you to speak with a professional who can help you determine the appropriate level of help and involvement for you to have in your adult child’s life.
Manage stress and take care of yourself.
Parenting can be stressful—and sometimes heartbreaking—especially when your child is struggling. And if you’re a codependent parent, you may get so focused on taking care of your child that you forget to take care of yourself.
Below are some self-care tips for codependent parents.
- Create healthy separation. This doesn’t mean abandoning your child. For example, if your child is ill or needs assistance, you might step away but arrange for someone else to be the point person.
- Give your adult child some emotional space. You don’t need to know everything that’s going on in your adult child’s life.
- Cultivate other relationships and sources of support.
- Schedule time for self-maintenance (exercise, medical and dental appointments, haircuts, etc.)
- Have fun regularly. Engaging in hobbies, recreational and social activities are good for your health—and you deserve to enjoy your life!
- Connect honestly with other parents who can relate. Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous meetings can be a good place to form such connections. You may want to look for meetings especially for parents.
What to read next.
- 10 Stress Management Tips for Busy, Overwhelming, and Difficult Times
- Self-Care When You’re Overwhelmed
- Codependent Parenting: Breaking the Cycle
- The Difference Between Codependency and Caring
©2021 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Canva.com.
Learn more about how to end codependent relationships
Navigating the Codependency Maze provides concrete exercises to help you manage anxiety, detach with love, break through denial, practice healthy communication, and end codependent thinking. It was written by Sharon Martin, a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience helping people overcome codependency, people-pleasing, and perfectionism and find their way back to themselves. For more info and to view sample pages, click HERE.