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Two Signs You Have a Codependent Parent
At twenty-five years old, I am often startled that the quicker the year passes, the closer I am to the 30s of my life than my 20s. In a daze, I wonder how in the world so much time has passed when day-after-day things seem to happen so slowly.
Quick or slow, happy or sad, summer or winter, one thing that has remained constant over the years is my parents’ selfless love expressed for me. While we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, and I had my share of tearful moments, they raised me in an environment in which I could faithfully make decisions on my own but also honored them fully.
Raising me in the Church, my parents were adamant that my relationship with Jesus Christ needed to be my choice and decision; though it was life to them, they would not force religion on me. They also gave me boundaries but always encouraged me to branch out as I grew. As a teen and young adult, my mom always said, “Go hang out with your friends, Amber. Spread your wings. Lighten up, Lucy.”
Although I loved and still love spending time with my mom and dad, it is their encouragement to make decisions on my own that helped me to grow and develop into the young adult I am today. While I do not have all the answers and will not claim to have them, I am thankful that my parents truly embodied what Proverbs 22:6 preaches.
Unfortunately, not all children are blessed with this type of relationship.
What is a Codependent Parent?
According to Healthline (2020), a codependent parent is defined as “one who has an unhealthy attachment to their child and tries to exert excessive control over the child’s life because of that attachment.”
Unlike my situation, parents who express codependency with their children rarely advise them to make decisions independently for fear that they won’t make the right ones. If we look to Scripture on this point, however, we can see that though children obey their parents, parents also need to free a gradual release of responsibility.
Proverbs 22:6 in the KJV notes: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, KJV). Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:2 reiterate this point similarly: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Ephesians 6:2, NIV). Ephesians 6:4 of the NLT furthers the importance of this gradual release: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:2, NLT).
Codependent parents form an unhealthy attachment with their child at its best but eventually learn to let them make mistakes and grow in independence. At their worst, codependent parents can be found in a variety of parental relationships. A mother may become too attached to her daughter, and when the daughter moves out, she realizes her marriage is in shambles. A father might solely depend on his son for his well-being rather than his spouse, resulting in dysfunction.
Two Signs You Have a Codependent Parent
While there are many signs you have a codependent parent, two principal characters are control and manipulation.
As a daughter who suffers from the need to control herself, I feel for parents who suffer from this codependent attribute.
In her featured Desiring God article, Boundaries Will Not Cure Codependency, Rosaria Butterfield (2019) notes that while controlling parents are a prominent issue, children who suffer from this mentality will only continue to participate in similar relationships that follow suit. Josh Squires (2017) respectively contributes, “when people come from unhealthy homes, they can come with foundational issues. Ones which can cause problems throughout life if they are not dealt with in a healthy manner.”
In any codependent relationship, parent and child, child and friend, friend and coworker, the issue is not that one person seeks to control; it’s how they exercise that behavior.
For a parent, this sense of control depends on the relationship with their child. Over-involvement, inappropriate caretaking, and an inappropriate shouldering of responsibility are all typical behaviors of control. Feeding on a cycle of neediness, children with codependent parents may recognize the inability to make their own decision as their parent seeks to maintain every decision made. While parents nurture, guard, protect, and advise their children, they must allow them to grow up, make their own decisions, and mature.
Beyond the ramifications of control, undealt with codependency can lead to more severe issues such as manipulation, dogmatic behavior, and victimhood.
Codependent parents typically express manipulation by using passive-aggressive behavior, projection, and generating guilt. While being passive-aggressive in and of itself does not indicate that your guardian is codependent, it’s a response that children need to be aware of, accordingly.
Surpassing indirect aggression towards a child regarding disagreements or in general, codependent guardians express control by projecting their feelings on their child to avoid them themselves. They are also known to generate guilt with the hopes that they will pressure them into behaving, acting, or caving to a decision, behavior, or decision that needs to be made. Codependent parents thus exhibit dogmatic qualities: an inability to be wrong, ignoring established boundaries as an adult, and denying that an issue exists when confronted. They feel that any decision that does not align with theirs is invalid and does not seek to understand their children’s needs to be heard and loved.
While not all parents are codependent, it’s essential to teach the signs of recognition for relationships. No family or set of caregivers is perfect, and mine certainly isn’t by any means. However, if you feel that your parent is codependent with you, it’s time to take the problem to prayer and seek resolution. Practical steps look like talking to a counselor, seeking advice from a trusted friend, maintaining self-care, setting appropriate boundaries, stepping back, listening, and ultimately seeking God in the process.
Honoring a parent with codependency can be difficult, but doing so means showing grace and compassion regardless of the disagreements and growing pains. Recognizing the issue, forgiving your parents, setting appropriate space and boundaries, and love are what restoring these relationships will take. Especially when it comes to leaving the nest and growing up, those who suffer from codependent parents must work on healing these relationships before they create new families of their own.