There are some common misunderstandings about what codependency is. It used to be that when one heard the term codependency, it was associated with being in a relationship with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. The term codependency is now more commonly associated with being emotionally dependent on others in relationships. While we are all emotionally dependent on others to some degree, when we make decisions that go against our value system in order to avoid rejection and anger, we are creating a codependent dynamic within the family system.
As parents, we want to avoid family dynamics that perpetuate codependency. Research (1999) indicates that patterns within the family system can be passed down through generations. Parents need to be aware of codependent patterns within the family system so that they can recognize when it’s necessary to break the cycle. If the cycle continues and is passed down as codependency patterns within the family system, the children may be likely to enter into codependent relationships and pass codependency patterns down to their children as well.
Some behaviors for parents to be aware of in order to recognize and avoid perpetuating codependency patterns include:
Being too rigid: When parents are so controlling of their children’s behavior that children don’t have the opportunity to explore their own choices, parents send a message to their children that they aren’t responsible for their choices and that someone else has all the power. Their children may then be more likely to choose relationships where they feel powerless.
Using your child to get your needs met: Parents need to ensure that they get their own needs met in other areas of their life such as hobbies, work, and relationships so that they don’t live vicariously through their children. Parents who live vicariously through their children risk sending their children the message that they must have their parents’ approval. While it is normal for children to go through a phase where they seek their parent’s approval, the need for parental approval could carry on into adulthood.
Acting on the desire to solve their problems: When children talk about their problems, parents need to listen more without offering advice as opposed to becoming reactive and/or trying to rescue children from their problems. If given the opportunity through a safe place to explore their feelings and options, children may be more successful at learning how to solve their own problems. Parents can provide support to encourage their children to be creative in finding ways to solve their problems.
When parents come up with a plan of action instead of allowing their children to develop a plan of action, they are interfering with the opportunity to develop problem solving skills. Children then receive the message that they are not capable of solving their own problems and that someone else needs to solve their problems for them. As adults, they could potentially be more likely to enter into relationships where they are told what to do.
How Can Parents Avoid Perpetuating Codependency Patterns Within the Family System?
In order to avoid passing down codependency patterns within the family system, parents need to facilitate children in developing a strong sense of self. By implementing some of these practices, parents can be proactive in helping their children develop a solid and healthy sense of self-esteem:
- Be mindful of their safety, but give children the freedom and opportunity to solve their own problems.
- Don’t emotionally neglect children.
- Don’t be overly controlling or overly pampering. Doing so may result in some children creating a dependency on others and an inability to make independent decisions, while other children take on too much responsibility and are forced to give up their childhood.
- Be mindful of your own patterns of behaviors such as passive-aggressive comments, giving children the silent treatment, disrespecting children’s boundaries, or being dependent on children for emotional support.
- Encourage positive self-talk.
- Teach children that value doesn’t come from pleasing a parent.
- Parents need to practice self-care and ensure they are taking care of their own needs. This will help a parent avoid building resentment that often gets turned inward.
Burris, C. T. (1999). Stand by your (exploitive) man: Codependency and responses to performance feedback. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 18(3), 277-298. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224867940?accountid=1229