Why do people get over-attached and totally consumed with another person’s life? We see this pattern often with parents and children. The parent tries so hard to make the child’s life happy and stress-free, but in the process they may neglect themselves and/or do not allow their children to grow and learn on their own. Of course providing guidance, nurturing, and comfort is healthy and appropriate, but as the child gets older there should be less care-taking and more coaching. We want our children to succeed in life and we also want to protect them from bad experiences, but there is a fine line between a healthy loving relationship and one that is unhealthy and codependent.
Sometimes parents try too hard because they feel guilty about something the child had to experience like divorce, health problems, emotional difficulties, or a dysfunctional/uninvolved parent. We may inadvertently overcompensate because we feel bad for our child, but our efforts may hinder their ability to mature, deal with stress/conflict, and learn to master the skills necessary to respond constructively to bad events in life. We may fear that they are unequipped to deal with negative emotions and conflict on their own so we intervene. Unfortunately children may absorb that message which won’t build confidence in their own efforts. Of course, every situation is different, but ultimately we want our children, based on age-appropriateness, to master skills, learn how to deal with their emotions, and work through conflict. Even adult-aged children can sometimes be enabled, overprotected, and given too much based on our own unresolved issues. So what can we do?
If we are in an enmeshed relationship either with a child or another adult, it usually implies that we take on responsibilities that are not ours to take. For example, we pay for things or buy gifts in an effort to reduce the other person’s emotional pain or to show our love, but it prevents them from having to budget or pay for it on their own. Or maybe we assume a task or chore of theirs so they will stop their tantrum behavior or stop complaining. It can be very difficult to let our children fail or experience emotional pain, but not allowing that to occur can produce more problems, since enabling is disabling. We need to work on boundaries, limiting setting, and saying no. Also working through our own unresolved issues may help us in the ways we interact with our family. Sometimes being overly helpful is a way to avoid dealing with our own problems. Lastly, work on being assertive, direct, and approaching conflicts when they arise. This will produce better results in the long run. We love others not just by doing for them, but also by letting them do for themselves.