While everyone is susceptible to becoming codependent, parental codependency is more insidious due to the nature of the relationship. A parent can be codependent with their child(ren) even when the child is perfectly healthy. This codependence leads to failure of a child’s ability to fully thrive as a healthy, functional adult. This is because the codependent parent doesn’t allow the space or consistent discipline the child needs to develop adult skills.

When the instinctual urges for parents to protect their young become an addiction to that child, it can cross the line into dysfunction which will harm the entire family. This, coupled with denial, can become a lethal combination if your child becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol. Denial means you refuse to see how your actions with your child are harming them, yourself and other primary relationships.

According to Wikipedia, “Codependence is a complex pattern of excessive selflessness and preoccupation with another person that does not serve both people optimally. Codependency (or codependence, co-narcissism or inverted narcissism) is a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways that negatively impact one’s relationships and quality of life.”

Signs You Might be a Codependent Parent

Denial is the worst symptom because refusing to see there is a problem will keep you from getting help you need to truly benefit your child. Denial shows up in many forms; however a good indicator is if others have told you they feel you are codependent. See if you can recognize any of these other signs:

Obsessions. In fact, codependency is the disease of being addicted to another person. Just like any other addiction, you can become obsessed to the point you become more “married” to your child than you are to your spouse. You might feel constantly and immediately defensive if anyone questions how you might be harming your child more than helping.

Dependency. The fear of being rejected or abandoned by your child is so strong that you allow him/her to cross your boundaries, break rules and become an alpha figure in the household instead of maintaining your parental authority.

Intimacy problems. You have a fear that if you remain closer to your spouse that it will interrupt your addiction to your child. Your sex life will suffer – your spouse might seem resentful for feeling neglected and not treated with the respect a spouse deserves.

Painful emotions. You feel torn between doing what you feel is right, and doing what you feel will placate your addiction. The thought of your child becoming distant or angry with you, versus, exerting healthy boundaries and rules creates distress to the point where you will allow your child to become undisciplined and possibly even rude/disrespectful to you and others in the home.

Low Self Esteem. This could look like you only feel happy about yourself if your child is happy with you. If they aren’t happy with you, you worry and feel as if you are a failure.

People pleasing behaviors. This can show up as feeling stress if you need to say “No”, or keep consistent rules and boundaries with your child. If you are married, you may notice there are problems because instead of supporting your spouse, you feel defensive against him/her when he/she is requesting that rules be followed or some other discipline be put in place.

Poor Boundaries. You set rules and then allow them to be broken without consequence; you feel responsible for your child’s feelings and problems or blame them on yourself or others. You might become closed off from other family members because your focus is set so narrowly on your child.

Reactivity. Your defenses remain high and if anyone questions what you are doing, you feel attacked and “misunderstood” in your role as a parent.

Caretaking. You do more for your child than what is age appropriate or healthy. For example, if you find yourself reminding your young adult child about basic self-care or other tasks, such as showering or brushing his/her teeth, that is more than likely a huge red flag that you are codependent. Also, you will have a tendency to put your child’s care ahead of your own even when they are old enough and should be becoming more independent.

Control. You find yourself becoming controlling and manipulative with others in your family. You may have the tendency to change everyone else to fit into your dysfunction, or finding fault with them if they refuse to follow suit.

Dysfunctional communication. You might portray dishonest traits thinking you are “protecting” your child, or you are caught up in manipulating others in a way that requires you to cover up, hide or otherwise shade the truth.

Addictive personality disorder. If you have other addictions such as alcoholism, the addictive tendencies can easily cross over into other forms of addictions.

While these are signs that you are a codependent parent, they are not a diagnosis. However, if you could recognize yourself and feel you might be a codependent parent, help is available. Make no mistake, codependency IS a disease and is classified as a relationship addiction. There are 12 Steps programs available including Al-Anon, Families Anonymous, Nar-Anon and others. You might also wish to seek the help of a family or personal therapist.

Please don’t underestimate the damage codependency can cause, to you, your child and the rest of your family. In the case of your child being an alcoholic or addict, the most effective parenting methods will seem contradictory and difficult, more so if you are codependent with your child. However, getting help for yourself will allow you to better effectively help your child.