There is a fine line between healthy mothering and codependency. On one hand, mothers need to be attentive and responsive to the needs of their children – afterall, this is what helps them develop into healthy adults. However, some mothers take it too far and fall into the trap of becoming codependent on their children. They lose themselves with their sense of self being so wrapped up in their child, they don’t even know who they are anymore!
Codependency is a generational problem that often starts in childhood and if not addressed it is passed from one generation to the next and so on.
What is codependency and where does it stem from?
Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship dynamic where one person continually assumes the role of caregiver, sacrificing their own needs and well-being for the sake of the other. If someone asked you to ‘jump’, you’d ask “how high?”.
This one-sided arrangement can initially appear as being helpful, but it’s important to consider where this need to rush to one’s aid stems from. Oftentimes, codependent people have low self-esteem and an excessive need to please others. They may also have poor interpersonal boundaries that make them feel responsible for the other’s problems. As a result, codependent people find it hard to be assertive and struggle with asking for help themselves when they need it.
How do mothers fall into the trap of care-taking too much?
It can be a slippery slope with well-intentioned mothering slowly becoming codependency. It starts with wanting to be involved in every aspect of their lives and ends with being codependent on the child for validation and self-worth. This way of thinking leads to codependent mothers micromanaging every aspect of their child’s life or trying to live vicariously through their children.
Mothers who continually put their own needs aside in order to meet the needs of their children find themselves depleted, both physically and emotionally. This can lead to resentment, which is often directed at the very children they are trying to help!
A codependent mother may feel like she is the only one who can do things right or that her child will never be able to survive without her. Whilst this is true of babies and young children, as they get older it becomes problematic – especially during the teenage years. If codependent mothers don’t allow their children the space to grow and develop independently, they will typically struggle when they reach adolescence. Teens need to feel like they have some control over their lives and codependent mothers often take this away from them by constantly trying to do things for them or make decisions on their behalf.
What are the consequences of codependency in mother-child relationships?
There are a few dangers associated with codependent mothering. The first is that it can foster an unhealthy attachment between mother and child. This attachment is based on neediness and dependency instead of love and respect.
Another consequence is that codependent mothers often inadvertently teach their children to be codependent too. This means that they learn to rely on others to meet their needs and they have difficulty asserting themselves and setting boundaries.
Children are deprived of the opportunity to establish their own personality because their emotions and needs feel unimportant and disregarded.
Finally, codependent mothering can lead to feelings of resentment and bitterness, which can damage the relationship between mother and child.
Signs of a codependent mother-child relationship
There are a few signs that may indicate you have a codependent relationship with your child (or your mother had with you).
Putting their needs ahead of your own
Putting their needs ahead of your own, even to the point of sacrificing your own wellbeing, is a telltale sign. This often leads to codependent mothers neglecting their own needs all-together in order to take care of their children.
Difficulty enforcing boundaries
Finding it hard to enforce boundaries with your child, allowing them to get away with things that other children wouldn’t be able to, or if you’re always saying yes to their demands is another indicator.
Your self-esteem is tied to your child
Your self-esteem should not be dependent on your child, but codependent mothers often feel like their worth is based on their children’s achievements or whether they approve of them. For example, if you feel proud when they get good grades but feel like a failure when they don’t, then your self-worth is codependent on their success.
Manipulating emotions (either intentionally or unintentionally)
Codependent mothers sometimes try to manipulate their children’s emotions in order to get them to do what they want. This might be done through guilt-tripping, playing the victim role, or using emotional blackmail.
Sacrificing other relationships to be available 24/7
Sacrificing your friendships and hobbies in order to be available for your child all the time, is another sign of codependent behaviour and a trap many mothers fall into. Maintaining existing and separate relationships is a key component of a healthy mother-child relationship.
The Generational Mother Wound
The generational mother wound is the codependency that’s passed down from generation to generation. It often starts with a codependent mother who doesn’t allow her children the space to grow and develop independently. This codependent behaviour is then passed down to the next generation, and the next, and the next. It’s not until an individual recognises the patterns and does their own inner healing work, that the cycle can be broken.
Also of importance, is the possibility of the codependent relationship continuing into adulthood. Signs of a dysfunctional enmeshment with your own mother may show up in your mother’s entitlement to access or try control major aspects in your life (relationships, big purchases, career prospects and more). It may also show up as approval seeking from your mother in order to feel satisfied in your choices and feel good about yourself.
How to break the cycle and overcome codependency in mother-child relationships
The first step to overcoming codependency is acknowledging that it exists. This can be difficult for codependent mothers because they often believe that their way of parenting is the only way, or that they’re just being a good mother. However, it’s important to realise that codependency is not healthy for either party involved.
With your mother
If your mother is codependent on you; firstly recognise that you are not responsible for her emotional stability. As difficult as this can be, once you realise this, you allow yourself to step into your own power and live authentic, joyful, abundant lives…guilt-free.
Avoid the impulse to rush to her side to comfort her. Respectfully advise her that you’re no longer able to emotionally care-take for her.
Lastly, own yourself as an individual being – completely separate from your mother. Establish healthy boundaries with her, and communicate them assertively.
With your own children
If you’re codependent on your children; the first step is again, acknowledgement. A codependent mother often has trouble seeing her codependency, because she believes she’s just being a good mother (especially when your little ones are still so little!).
Firstly, practice self-care and start fulfilling your own needs. Instead of relying on your child to fulfill your needs, give to yourself.
Begin fostering age-appropriate independence in your child. Don’t overwhelm them, but little stretches give them the self-confidence to trust themselves and continue to develop.
Lastly, listen actively when your child talks to you. Show them that you’re interested and engaged in the conversation. Reflect back to them what you heard, and ask if that’s what they wanted to say.
What happens when we break the cycle?
Codependency is a learned behaviour, and as such, it can be unlearned. It takes courage to break the cycle of codependency, but it’s so worth it for the sake of your relationship with your mother, and your own children. When we break the cycle of codependency, we open up the possibility for healthier, more fulfilling relationships with our mothers and our children. We also set an example for future generations, showing them that it is possible to break the cycle of codependency. By doing our own inner healing work, we can create a ripple effect that has the potential to change the world.