Codependence: The addiction to others’ emotions. Well, that’s one of many definitions. It’s a dynamic so deeply ingrained in the family that it’s “normal.” It’s how one should live, how one should interact with others.
The Roots of Codependence
Sometimes it comes about organically. Generations ago, Great-Great Grandma married an alcoholic…an abuser…a narcissist...you name it. In order to cope, quite logically she began using the set of techniques we now call “codependence.” Not only did she model these techniques, but she taught them to her children. “When your husband kicks out the door,” she warbled, paintbrush in hand, “a good wife patches and paints it.” (Or not!)
Her children learned the lessons well, going on to marry troubled, abusive spouses of their own. After all, it felt normal. They and they alone were uniquely qualified to help this troubled person who, they were sure, they could rescue. (Ego!?)
And so, the beat goes on. And on and on and on.
It’s one thing to have a codependent relationship with your spouse and other adults. But when you have it with your child!? You’re introducing them to a world of hurt.
I know. I was there.
As I see it, codependents are “fixers.” They honestly believe that it’s their responsibility to fix any negative emotion experienced by those around them. They can’t be happy unless everyone around them is happy. While appearing unselfish, the core of their codependence is inherently a selfish. “Fixing” brings them happiness…and a sense of power.
I should know. I am one. Luckily, my husband calls me on it.
But when it comes to their precious children, codependents are hyper-fixers. When their children are young, they can pretty much fix anything. With a toy or a cookie, all tears are dried and the sun shines again. As Thackeray wrote, “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.”
And therein is the problem. Codependents get off on their godlike powers. But at some point, it should end. Mama should step off her pedestal and let Baby learn to deal with their own emotions, handle their own bullies, make their own mistakes, practice making their own choices (right and wrong), etc.
With codependent parents, not…bloody…likely. Uh-huh. Ain’t happenin’.
Couched as love and concern is their desperate need to be needed. Scratch under the surface, and you’ll find it’s all about them, baby.
Angry Baby, Codependent Mother
The mother/child relationship is inherently codependent. It has to be otherwise, well, none of us would still be here! But problems arise when a mother is too enmeshed with her infant’s emotions.
Take, for example, an unhappy (non-colicky) infant who cries a lot. Now, the jury is out about why she’s screaming her head off after being fed, diapered and loved. A confident mother will do her best and leave the rest. A codependent mother takes it personally as a judgment on her as a mother and a person. She’ll fuss, fume, cry and in every way add to her baby’s original angst by becoming upset herself…which may have had a lot to do with why her baby is crying in the first place.
All parents both celebrate and grieve each step in their children’s path towards maturity and independence. But to a codependent parent, it’s taken to a whole new level.
Take weaning, for example. The parent enjoys cuddling a happily suckling baby so much, weaning is out. Even mother cows love their calves enough to give ’em a firm kick to encourage them off the udder and onto the pasture. Mother birds love their babies enough to push their fledglings out of the nest so they’ll discover, “Hey! I’ve got wings! Whee! Flying is fun!”
Not so a codependent parent!
They need to be needed so much, they handicap their child under the guises of “love” and “care.” There’s many a miserable, rage-filled, hate-filled Mama’s Boy man “loved” and “cared” into spending his entire life playing video games in Mama’s basement! How she cried when he talked about leaving! How she hated the few girlfriends he brought home to meet her. So, eventually, he just gave up and she love-bombed him again.
I don’t call that love, do you!?
Attempting to Grow Up
This dynamic is carried out of the nursery as their child grows up. They enjoy having their child at home so much, they put off schooling as long as the law allows. They may homeschool just for this reason. They’re so worried about their child’s safety, that age-appropriate milestones are out. It’s called Infantilization and it stinks!
The list goes on and on. Oh, they may say it’s all about their care for their child, that they make decisions merely for their child’s good, based on their level of maturity…but that’s not the whole story.
It’s about them, the needy parent.
Not a Fan
That’s why I’m not a fan of so-called attachment parenting and helicopter parenting. Hey! I lived it. In many ways, it sucked…and I’m still trying to recover from it.
Don’t project your need and codependence onto your child, stunting them as a person. That isn’t love. It’s the height of selfishness. A selfishness that will breed so much anger in your child, they may walk away from you…forever.
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