There is an old saying: “anyone can have a child but not everyone can be a parent”. These wise words are very true and can be applied to a lot of the parenting we all see day to day. The parenting style applied to a child’s development is crucial in creating a fully functional adult. However, for various reasons, many adults are stuck in a codependent phase that their parents willingly or unwillingly kept them in.
All children naturally enter a codependent phase. This starts at about six months and continues through crawling and walking when they are exploring the world more and more. This stage relies on the parents creating a safe, risk free environment where the children can be shown boundaries, emotional regulation and appropriate behaviour. This calls for understanding of child development and most of all understanding age-appropriate behaviour. If successful bonding has taken place in the first six months, this stage is easier negotiate by the child in a sense of security. Children often become overwhelmed with all the new sensory input from exploring and many would at some stage seek dependency and reassurance again. This is thought to be the the basis of the “terrible twos”, a stage that is often mishandled and misunderstood. Many parents feel a sense of isolation from their child when this happens. Unhelpful advice often blames the child for “doing it on purpose” or “hating the parents” or is “sick and needs medicating”. The simple fact is that the child needs connection and guidance and the comfort of physical touch with the parents. This is not a time to stand back and allow a child to cry it out. They certainly do not know what they are doing and emotions can be overwhelming. The world is a big place for a toddler and they need help and guidance, not punishment and adult egos placed on their little shoulders. However, if the codependent phase can be navigated successfully by child and parent, it sets the path for later independence in a secure fashion.
The above scenario often goes wrong and the results are devastating for the child’s development. The first issue is that bonding might not take place. This could be for various reasons, parents overwhelmed, sick, tired, depressive, financial worries or anything that might take focus away from bonding with the child. We don’t need to spell out the effects of abuse or neglectful, punitive parenting here. One can only imagine what that does to the process. Bonding sometimes happens too well and some parents find it difficult to “let go” and allow their child to move into exploration.
What the child “naturally” wants to do is not always on the agenda for the parents. Some will train the child to either be totally codependent so that they can “parent” the parents or potentially look after them later or will use the child as an extension of themselves, pushing the child to be everything they weren’t. This “ego” based parenting will eventually mean that the child will detach for its own protection. All of the above will “steal” a child’s self-esteem, promote self-blame and will guarantee that codependency will be ultimately transferred onto future partners and relationships.
Recovery will often mean bonding with someone (usually a therapist) who will set limits on the relationship, promote autonomy, boundaries and self sufficiency. It’s just a shame that for many people it has to be done as an adult.