For this article, the child is the offspring even in their adulthood
Codependence can take various forms in human relationships. We can develop a codependent relationship with our partners in a romantic relationship, with our friends, or with our parents. I have written about how you can stop being codependent in your relationship and how to help friends in a codependent relationship.
I want to address codependent relationships with parents because this is one major cause of inner child wounds. To develop into being fully functional adults, we need to reparent ourselves and we do this by healing our inner child heal.
What is a codependent parental relationship?
Often, this is a relationship where the parent feels the need to control a child’s life because they have developed an unhealthy attachment to the child. A codependent parent may either exert control, fail to draw boundaries, or rely on the child for emotional support.
Some of the signs of parent co-dependency are
A parent becomes so involved in a child’s life and wants to control it even when the child has developed into an adult. Often, this need for control by the parent leads to conflict as the child feels their autonomy is not being respected by the parent. It can lead to inappropriate caretaking even when it breaks boundaries.
Inappropriate shouldering of responsibility
A codependent parent does not believe that the child can fully take care of themselves. The parent feels responsible for the child’s feelings and emotions. Such parents want to control even how the child feels, how they behave, and try to soothe them when they are having an emotional challenge. When the said child is an adult, this can be inappropriate.
This is whereby the parent is being aggressive to the child but does it indirectly. For example, the parent makes snide comments about the child’s decisions or expresses negative feelings instead of directly addressing the problem. This can be hurtful to the child as they feel that the parent is always attacking them indirectly.
A codependent child wants their child to feel guilty about not doing what the parent expects them to do. Every time the child expresses the need for independence, the parent makes them feel guilty about it. The parent makes comments such as ‘you don’t care about me’ ‘you don’t listen to me’ and other comments to make the child feel guilty.
Codependent parents struggle with boundaries
A codependent parent will not accept that their child, even in adulthood, has a right to form boundaries. They get angry when the child demands the right to control their own time or resources. They want to be in a child’s life without acknowledging that in adulthood especially, a child needs independence. For example, a parent visits a married daughter without even calling first, claiming she doesn’t need to because she ‘owns’ the daughter.
They tie their self-worth to the child
A codependent parent lives through the child. They tie their self-worth to the child and do not have a life outside that of the child. They want to get involved in the child’s every aspect of life because they don’t have a life outside that of the child. If a child tries to be independent, the parent makes the child feel guilty about it.
How to break co-dependency with parents
If you have a codependent parent, you need to learn how to state and set healthy boundaries. Let your parent know just how much they are allowed in your life and what lengths they can’t go to. For example, you can let the parent know that they should ‘stay away from your relationship/marriage/career’ and let you make independent decisions in these areas.
Codependent parents want to push your buttons and watch you squirm and struggle with what they have said or done. When you learn to detach yourself from them, you stop taking things they say to heart or taking them personally. The more you learn to detach yourself, the more the parent will learn that they don’t have much control over you and start to let go and focus on something else.
Know that you are not responsible for their feelings
If you have developed a codependent relationship with a parent, you start to think that you are responsible for their feelings. You start to worry that if you do or say something they don’t approve of you will trigger their feelings. When you know and understand that you are not responsible for the parent’s feelings, you will learn to make more independent decisions without being influenced by the fear of what your parents will feel about your decisions.
Sometimes you might need professional help to break away from a codependent parent. Such a parent makes you so dependent on them that as an adult, you cannot decide without fear or need for validation. A good therapist should help you identify whether you have a codependent parent and how you can break codependency with a parent and live a more fulfilling life.
Be assertive and stand your ground
Sometimes you may need to open dialogue with the said parents and let them know how their behavior affects you. When they lash out or cry to make you feel guilty about the conversation, don’t allow yourself to be swayed. Be assertive and stand your ground and insist you will not have it any other way but to be heard. When you stand your ground, the codependent parent may be offended but they will start to respect you as an independent individual.
Stop enabling the parent
Sometimes you can enable a codependent parent because you are afraid of hurting their feelings. So you find yourself going with the flow as they try to control you and your life. When you choose to no longer enable their behavior, your relationship dynamics will change but for the better. It sways the balance of power and helps the parent realize how they are affecting you.
As I mentioned earlier, codependency creates childhood wounds that need to be treated. The way to heal our inner child is through reparenting. Reparenting is whereby you did not have the best of parenting and you choose to parent your inner child all over again to develop a fully functioning human. I have compiled some of the best books on reparenting and healing your inner child to help you deal with the different types of inner child wounds.