As a parent, it's normal to crave a close bond with your child throughout their younger years, adolescence, and adulthood.
But certain words and actions can stunt your child's mental and emotional development and turn a precious parent-child relationship toxic, even into adulthood, therapist Kristie Overstreet told Insider.
"Any good parent wants to help their child out. But when it comes to codependency, that parent takes all the independence away from the kid, so the kid doesn't learn how to do anything for themselves," which can lead to a lack of self-confidence and healthy boundaries later in life, she said.
According to Overstreet, a codependent relationship is one in which one or both partners rely on the other to validate their opinions, emotions, and identity.
But there are red flags that can help you to identify — and, ultimately, curb — this tendency, including passive-aggressive behavior and placing blame on your child for your emotions.
When your child breaks a set rule, you might reprimand them to enforce good behavior.
But if you blame your child for missteps you didn't previously explain, or consistently say (without a clear reason) that they were the cause of your anger, frustration, or sadness, it can lead to codependency in the long-term, Overstreet said.
It's normal to make a misstep like this from time to time. If you apologize for your words, and explain to your child what you wanted in a calm matter, that's fine.
But if you say, "I'm not wrong," "You're always the one that's wrong," or "I don't make mistakes as a parent," you're wading into unhealthy territory, according to Overstreet.
"They don't admit when there's a wrongdoing, versus teaching the kid, 'Hey, when we're wrong, we'll say we're wrong, apologize, and we try to do different,'" she said.
Similarly, showing passive-aggressive behavior, like eye-rolling, slamming a door, or giving the silent treatment when your child misbehaves can foster a codependent relationship.
Overstreet said these actions teach children they shouldn't be in touch with their emotions or share them honestly.
If repeated, passive-aggressive behavior can stunt a child's ability to have positive communication in future relationships, according to Overstreet.
She said if a parent is upset or angry at their child, they should say they're taking a walk alone. Once the parent cools down, they can calmly explain their feelings and any punishment that might be necessary to create boundaries and accountability.
Another sign you could be codependent on your child is the extent to which you lend them a hand.
Although offering help with a tricky math problem or teaching a new skill to help around the house can boost a child's confidence and sense of self, offering too much help can have the opposite effect, according to Overstreet.
"Then you've got a kid that grows up to ask everybody else for their opinion versus, 'What do I feel like I need to do?'" Overstreet said.
Instead, ask your child what they could use help with, and let them decide for themselves, she suggested.
Codependent parental behavior can continue into adulthood, according to Overstreet, and it often manifests as a lack of boundaries.
A common way codependent parents do this is when they ask their adult child when they'll be having children of their own.
"It can be fun in jest, however, if you've got a codependent child growing into this codependent adult, the relationship with that mom is now like, 'Oh, wait a minute. What is wrong with me? Maybe I do need to have kids and put pressure on myself,' when they're not actually ready," Overstreet said.
Another way codependent parents affect their grown children is through physical boundary-crossing, according to Overstreet.
If you feel like you have free reign over your child's life and show up at their house or work unannounced or call and text them until they respond, it could mean your identity is unhealthily intertwined with theirs.
According to Overstreet, these behaviors hinder your child, no matter their age, to live and think independently.
Taking a step back, on the other hand, and scheduling a time to meet up or talk on the phone signals you have both a strong bond and individual lives.
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