(Re-post & Updated from January 2019)
What causes codependency? Am I an enmeshed parent? I have to be honest, I have gone down the rabbit hole on the topic of becoming a codependent parent. Shortly after separating with my ex-husband, I began to identify a change in my parenting style. Parenting alone caused a sense of fear and a need for acceptance which created an emotional relationship dependency and an extreme, maybe somewhat unhealthy, attachment to my children.
Prior to marriage, I had gone through several life experiences that left an emptiness in my soul which longed to be filled with acceptance and worth. These events helped to mold me into a mother that parents carefully, is very sensitive to the needs and thoughts of her children, and constantly analyzes how her actions will affect her young. Being a newly divorced and navigating through single parenthood, along with past experiences, created a sense of insecurity which began to flow into my parenting style.
What Causes Codependency?
My Experience with Becoming a Codependent Parent
My childhood was typical of many other blue collar American kids from divorced homes. Mom and dad were split, remarried, and worked very hard to give me an ideal life. As with many other children of divorced parents, I found myself in between families a lot. I had a loving father, mother, brother and sister 10 hours away in Mississippi and lived with a loving father and mother in Chicago as a single child.
The Southern Life
I spent my school breaks in the car, driving down south or in a plane seated with a flight attendant. During the summer I would mascot at my brother and sister’s softball games, go swimming, eat popsicles and oatmeal cookies in the backyard, play for hours upon hours with my siblings and cousins without a worry in the world. In Mississippi, I lived the life of a child with siblings. My mom stayed at home and my dad owned his own companies. I got to experience the perfect, conservative, southern style life. Reflecting on those summer days brings happy tears. The memories are so bittersweet now that my brother has passed.
Life in the North
My home life in Chicago was ideal as well but in a completely different way. I had two parents with great jobs. My father worked out of town and would come home on the weekends to shower me with gifts, take me for ice cream, and teach me to drive his car. It felt like Christmas every time he came home. During the week, mom worked about 45 minutes away as a controller for a big company. She is super smart and very accomplished. She held down the fort while dad was working away. Because my parents worked so hard to provide a super awesome life, during the week I was alone a lot. In the mornings, I would fix my breakfast and get myself to the bus stop for school. When school was over, I would catch the bus home, grab an afternoon snack, and watch 90210.
Where do I Belong?
While my parents did EVERYTHING to make my life the best it could be, the older I got, the more I would wonder where I actually belonged. My life in each family setting was so drastically different. Eventually my mom and dad in Chicago split and I packed up and moved to Mississippi for good. I wasn’t involved in sports like my siblings. Living in the south, I dressed like an urban chick in a valley of polo tops and hair bows.
It was during my childhood that I learned to be a chameleon. I learned to conform as a social survival mechanism in order to be accepted. I believe that this is where I developed my ”yes man” mentality. I worked hard to make others smile, to not rock the boat and to always fit in. My mom in Mississippi pulled strings and got me a very “undeserving” spot on the cheerleading team to help with my transition. She called her friends around town to set up “hangouts” with me and their kids so that I would have friends before starting high school. I was super appreciative but felt out of my element. In order to cope, I began to fly JUST ABOVE the radar, flying low enough to be known but also high enough to remain unknown. I was afraid my new peers would find out that I wasn’t actually a southern girl, sucked at cheerleading, and that they too would decide that I really didn’t fit in with the crowd. I believe that this may have been the foundation to my future of becoming a codependent parent.
A Product of Divorce
It was my unique childhood that made me so independent as I was able to learn individually from each of my parents, however growing up in this family setting made me more cognitive to the feelings of my sons. The thought instantly brings tears to my eyes to think that my boys could ever be confused as to where they fit in. Eventually their father and I may remarry (other people.) Will they feel like they are in the middle? Like neither home is truly their home? The struggle with how to prevent this from happening is real. Jack refers to our home as mommy’s house. I always tell him that “Mommy’s house is YOUR house and daddy’s house is YOUR house as well. You belong in both homes.” Worrying about their feelings to excess has contributed to my development as a codependent parent. I have also began to realize that my happiness depends on their happiness.
It can be the most exciting time of your life but can also bring you to the most excruciating time of your life. The fact of the matter is, I felt like my marriage was very unbalanced.
Rejection was the biggest theme here. Because I always longed to feel like I fit in and really wanted to be truly known, I placed unrealistic expectations on my partner. I thought that having a family of my own and being married would give me purpose and a security on a deeper level.
I had attached my worth with accomplishments. I had it in my head that if I got a degree, won awards, opened business after business, achieved the ultimate success, I would be worth more in my husband’s eyes which would mean that I would be loved more. So, I went back to school for a bigger title. I opened more stores. I purchased a home and name brand cars. The more I did, the more he seemed to brag about me and the better I felt…for a short while. I felt like Stewart on MadTV…”Look what I can do! Look what I can do!” Eventually, I became tired and it all caught up to me.
Maybe I put too much pressure on my husband, or expected this unrealistic type of partnership that didn’t actually exist. Regardless of my idea of what was happening in our marriage, the resentment set in. I was devastatingly let down and the hope of having that “ride or die” person that I could be so openly transparent and raw without judgement, died.
I felt like I wasn’t good enough and rejected. There was nothing I could do or attain to be “THE ONE” in his eyes…or maybe it was the other way around? There was nothing he could do to MAKE ME FEEL like the one.
In Search of Happiness
After the divorce, I began to lean on my boys for happiness. I started to show signs of an enmeshed parent. Of course I NEVER spoke of the split to my boys, but I began to revert. For example, before the divorce, I had my kiddos soundly sleeping in their beds at night. After the split, nighttime was very lonely for me. I began to use my children to fill the void, proposing movie night where we would snuggle up in my bed and do movies and popcorn. I felt like I had friends. I felt like I mattered. I know no matter what, my kids will always love me, but parenting your children like they are your buddy takes away important development lessons and is just plain unfair. After a week of movie nights and staying up late with my miniature friends, I realized that I needed to deal with this loneliness on my own. I did not want to become a full fledged codependent parent.
The boys needed the healthy bedtime routine that had I worked so hard to instill before the divorce. Instead of reverting their routine, I needed to keep them on track and establish a healthy routine for myself. I began to workout, paint, interior decorate…anything I could do to minimize my emotional dependency and the development in becoming a codependent parent. This was my first big step to getting my feet planted back on the ground.
Loosing a Sibling
While sometimes I feel that my children are all I have, the fact of the matter is, my boys are NOT MINE. They are God’s. He just gave me the blessing of bringing them in to this world. I learned this the hard way when watching my mom grieve over my brother’s death 5 years ago.
Sure they look like me and have inherited the same gestures and some personality traits, but just in the time that it took me to deliver them into this world, they can be taken away. This whole notion has me being the ultimate helicopter mom. I am constantly terrified that if I take my eyes off of them they will be kidnapped, hit by a car, be in an accident, drown, catch on fire….it is a worry that haunts my head every single day. Even when they go to my parents house, I worry about the worst. Not because I don’t trust my parents, but because my boys are my little lights and any freak accident could snuff them out. I know this sounds insane and I am not denying my bit of “crazy” when it comes to my kids. The thought that we are not promised tomorrow has me idolizing their every move. I can’t be the only mom out there like this? Can I? (A Piece of Me Lost in 2014 – a post about my brother’s death)
What is Codependency?
Definition: excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner or loved one, typically one who requires support.
Enmeshed parenting – a style of parenting that can cause problems in your child’s successful development of their own personality, ethics, and values. Your happiness or pain is determined solely by your children. You need to know everything about what your children think and do.
“Hi Guys…My name is Alex and I am a codependent parent.” Whoa! Pretty crazy huh?
I give myself a pat on the back that I noticed it on my own. I shame myself because, if it continues, this is ultimately trapping my kids and depriving them of a full, unsheltered life. Don’t worry, I have been making cognitive changes over the past few months and am well on my way to nip this dependency in the bud.
If you are a codependent parent or relate on any level, especially single moms, I have discovered some fixes.
Fixes for a Codependent Parent
Don’t take things personally.
Honestly, I don’t have a problem with this. Kids will be kids and unintentionally say hurtful things. I do know some moms who have verbalized that their children do hurt their feelings and as a parent, and we cannot let this happen. Try to understand the cognitive level and development of their little unexperienced brains compared to your brain and don’t let it get to you. They love you unconditionally. Know this always.
Stop Associating the Key to Your Happiness with Others
This one hits home. While I can’t imagine life without my kids, I do know that I was happy once before they were born. Which proves that I can be happy, independently of their emotions or thoughts. Of course they mean the world to me and as a mother, I will celebrate in their joy and feel troubled with their sadness, but it doesn’t mean that I need to rely on them for happiness. It’s simply not fair.
Spend Time Alone
This is one of my favorite things to do even though I don’t have much time for it. Whenever I get the chance, I plan an little date with myself; cooking, trying a new wine, painting, learning a new hobby or trade. I always come out feeling empowered, more appreciation of myself, and with a sound mind. Spending time alone and being present with yourself is the ultimate food for your soul and self recognition.
How to Tell If You are a Codependent Parent?
Want to assess where you are or if you even fall on the codependency scale?
“Common symptoms of codependency include:
- Low Self-Esteem: Having feelings of shame and worthlessness
- Poor Boundaries: Often feeling responsible for others’ joy and happiness. You may have a hard time saying “no” or putting your needs first.
- You go above and beyond to instill peace in your relationships.
- You feel responsible for others and their actions.
- You feel that you are responsible for your husband or wife’s happiness.
- You have a fear of being alone, rejected or abandoned.
- You do not trust easy.
- You seek others approval to feed your own self-worth.
- You do not like change and have a difficulty adjusting.
- You often doubt your decisions.
- Your moods are controlled by the thoughts and feelings of those that you surround yourself with.
Want to learn more on the topic? I love Positive Psychology’s view on codependent parenting.
When I identified my emotional changes, I was able to redirect my focus and actions to avoid becoming a codependent parent! I am constantly learning new ways to regain my independence and to become the best mother that I can be. My main purpose is to shower my sons with love and affection, preserve the innocence in their life, protect them at all cost, teach them morals, instill kindness, introduce them to worship, and to be their fearless leader. With prayer and guidance the codependency is diminishing and my confidence is creeping back on top!
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