I need to confess before I begin this blog on co-dependency that I am a young mom of a two-year old daughter and a 7-month-old son. I am NO expert in raising children! I am writing this from my own struggles as a parent and as a mental health professional. I am a humble parent who is trying to figure out the whole raising children thing along with the rest of the parents out there. Now that we have that established, what exactly is co-dependency?? The definition in Wikipedia defines it as “a relationship imbalance one person enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. Among the core characteristics of codependency is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity”. Now that definition does not exactly define every parent child relationship. Parents can definitely over function for their children who struggle with addiction and mental health issues. But what does that look like in day-to-day life? The best definition I heard from another counselor on codependency is where do you begin, and I end? The two become so enmeshed you cannot tell them apart. As a parent that does not sound so bad does it? I mean we love our children A LOT! We fight so hard to get our kids in our families. That can be through infertility struggles, adoption, foster care, pregnancy complications. I spent weeks on bed rest with both my children to make sure they got here safely. As parents we will do anything we can to protect our children and keep them safe. That is not a bad thing. I am not saying we should not do those things. What I am saying is what happens when we start to over function for our children? And as parents can we identify when maybe we are the ones who are struggling to let go? Let me explain.
Last spring when we were in lockdown, I needed to go to see my OB since I was pregnant with our son. We had spent weeks together as a family. My daughter had only seen my husband and me. She had been in day care but was too young to understand why she had not been back. We were not allowed to take our daughter with us to the appointment, and I had been on bed rest which meant my husband felt like he needed to take me to my appointment. We had some friends graciously offer to watch our daughter. They have a daughter a month younger than my daughter so she would have someone to play with. Y’all. I was so anxious! I was sure she would struggle. How would she cope away from us? Surely she needed us 24/7. The idea of her not being with us made me anxious, but I thought that meant she was not going to be alright away from my husband and me. Well, the morning of our appointment we drop off our daughter and we walk her to the door, and I am waiting for the tears. She walks in and DOESN’T look back!!! She could not have cared less if we were leaving. I am sure she was actually glad to have a break from us! That was a bit of a reality check for me. My daughter was not the one struggling, I was. I was anxious to let her go, but I was putting that on my daughter who obviously must be just as anxious as me. Now I understand that is a small example, but don’t we do that on so many different levels with our kids? Our child wants to drive but surely, they are not ready. Is it really the child who isn’t ready or is it the parent who isn’t ready? Your child wants to explore colleges out of state, but you are almost certain they cannot handle that kind of change. Maybe your child can handle it and you are the one who cannot handle the change. I do not say that to beat parents up. I say that so as parents we can humbly admit when we are putting our stuff on our kids and then hopefully stop doing that! Our kids are far more capable than we give them credit for. As I write this I am assuming all parents have this struggle. This may not be a struggle for everyone, but I am willing to bet it’s a struggle for many. Our kids are smart, problem solvers, resourceful, and so many other great things. Yes, they can make stupid decisions. And they will. That is a guarantee. Our goal in parenting is not to protect them from every bad thing that could possibly happen to them as much as we would like to. Our goal in parenting is to protect where we can but also to produce kind, resourceful human beings who can think for themselves. That means letting them fly out the nest a bit to develop a sense of who they are in this big world. If you are a believer then that means releasing them to the Lord and walking out what it means to trust the Lord with our children. God loves them so fiercely. Our heavenly father wants good things for them just as we, their earthly parents, want good things for them. If you have walked with the Lord, you know he does not protect us from every bad thing from happening. I do not have all the answers to why he allows certain things to happen. That is a whole other blog post, but he does allow us to be molded and refined. That only happens through adversity and tough things in our lives. We must be able to do that for our children too to allow them to grow and become the people who God has created them to be. This is not easy at all!! It is probably one of the hardest things we do in this life. We are given these sweet, helpless babies and literally keep them alive by feeding them every 2-3 hours those first few months of their lives. Then in 18 years we are supposed to say good luck out there! Hope the world doesn’t beat you up too much! I know that is not exactly what we do, but what I am saying is this will be tough. But can we think of the gift we can give our kids if we can separate from them just a little bit. If we can step back and realize maybe our fear and anxiety really says more about us than it does about our kids. That does not mean we allow our kids to do anything and everything. We set boundaries and teach them how to be productive members of society, but we also allow them to step out and test the waters a bit. If you tell them 500 times to get started on a project and they wait till the day before to start it then it looks like they get to be up all-night working on it or they fail. That sounds harsh, but our kids need to fail when they are with us in a safe environment. Which means if they fail outside of our homes, they will have practice with what it looks like to get back up and try again.
Parenting is hard! Am I right? This is coming from someone who has spent a little over 2 years in this role. I am sure the problems get bigger and harder with kids. At least that is what I hear. But you know when I sit with enough clients, they really just want their parents to listen to them and hear them. They want to feel like what they have to say is important and to be invited into the discussion of how to manage their lives. Our kids have what it takes to learn and grow, we must allow them the chance to show us. And when our kids fail, we will be there waiting with arms wide open and large amounts of grace to say “Wow that must have hurt. Is there anything you would have wanted to do differently?” I think we would be surprised by how our kids respond to that kind of parenting. Parents you can do this! And if you really have problems with how to separate yourself from your kids please seek counseling. We love to help parents identify what is theirs to carry and what is their kids to carry. We can help you lighten the load!
Mary Kate Cortez