What exactly is an enmeshed parent?
There is a connection and, yet, a slight but decisive distinction between a helicopter parent, a narcissistic parent, and an enmeshed parent.A helicopter parent employs an excessively responsible parenting style that leads to overprotecting, overcontrolling, and over-perfecting their child.
A narcissistic parent is so possessive that their child basically exists to only fulfill their wishes and needs, often leading to the parent envying or fearing any independence the child shows.
And an enmeshed parent is so closely involved with their child that no boundaries exist, in effect, leading them to use their child as a replacement for a relationship with another adult friend.
Either of these unhealthy parenting styles can be detrimental to the child, causing problems in the development of their personality, beliefs, and values.
What loving parent would want to purposely cause pain to their child? None.
And, yet, how quickly things can process, and you may find yourself on the slippery slope of getting too involved with your child, prying into things that are private matters, or leaning on your child for matters that they cannot bear… they should not have to bear!
But if you didn’t do it on purpose, could it be you wandered into that territory unwittingly?
So, how can you tell?
The Telltale Signs of an Enmeshed Parent
Here are several signs to look out for. If you find you exhibit some of this behavior, then you may be an enmeshed parent.
- Your child is the center of your life. They are the sole purpose for everything you do. And you give them special privileges and gifts to show them just how important they are to you. If you have more than one child, you may even tell them that they are your favorite, or the most lovable or most talented of your children.
- Your whole energy goes into taking care of your child. Any happiness or agony is determined solely by how your child feels. Instead of taking care of yourself and your happiness, you throw everything into making them happy.
- You feel that your child is a better company than your spouse. Your child is your best friend, your source of emotional support. And you confide in them, telling them things that you should not burden them with.
- Your child’s behavior and achievements define your self-worth. You are deeply involved in all their activities or in developing their talents. And you take extreme pride in their abilities and successes.
- You are overly invasive and judgmental. You have an insatiable need to know everything your child thinks and does—”privacy” is a word you don’t seem to know. And any potential girlfriend or boyfriend of your child is never good enough for you.
Remember to be completely honest with yourself when evaluating your behavior. It won’t be easy, but it’s necessary.
The Potential Effects on Your Child
Unknowingly or not, an enmeshed parent is an expert in manipulation and guilt tactics. How can that type of behavior affect a child?
Lamentably, your child may learn behaviors from you that you never meant to teach them, such as:
- They may have a distorted sense of responsibility. Either they make everyone else responsible for their own feelings and neglect their own responsibility, or they feel responsible for everyone else’s feelings and ignore responsibility for their own.
- They may become depressed. Never learning how to take responsibility for their feelings can cause them to feel lost and empty inside, leading to helplessness and depression.
- They may experience serious relationship problems as adults. Feeling suffocated and unable to develop independence can cause them to lead an irresponsible lifestyle, filled with interpersonal problems and unhealthy coping behaviors.
Breaking the Pattern
Facing the cold, hard facts of one’s own behavior isn’t easy. But defining yourself through your child will only make them feel trapped—they end up being what you want them to be, instead of being themselves.
Taking a decisive step to breaking the pattern of enmeshment with your child, on the other hand, will do you as much good as it will them.
As a caring parent, then, it’s vital that you learn to determine your own self-worth. Making your child responsible for that is too heavy of a burden for them to bear. Instead, you must learn to take responsibility for creating your own happiness, developing your own passions, and finding your own purpose in life.
In other words, you must learn to love yourself!
Only then can you become a role model for your child for loving self-care. And only then can you truly connect with your child in a way that nurtures your bond.