How Co-dependency
affects our children

We can't tame what we can't name...
and we can't help our children if we can't
admit we have a problem...and that problem
is co-dependency...

Feather pen

Part Two:

More Of The Big Picture....
How Co-dependency Affects the World...
and us and our kids

In This Book "The Co-Dependent Parent"...Barbara Cottman Becnel...The Author talks about the importance of "Free Yourself by Freeing Your Child." Barbara Cottman Becnel has served as a public policy analyst in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. She is the author of "Parents Who Help Their Children Overcome Drugs"..."An excellent, non-shaming book on how to improve relationships with our children."

"Melody Beattie"


The Good Parent

You are likely reading The Co-Dependent Parent because you want to stay abreast of whatever information is available to help you raise healthy, well-adjusted children. You probably consider yourself a good parent. You work hard and try hard, because you want to do the very best for your children. You may not understand, however, what being a good parent really means. The definition is not as clear-cut as it may seem. More likely than not, what you see as being good parenting is really co~dependent parenting. In fact, the five primary beliefs that underlie what most adults consider to be good parenting often are symptoms of co-dependency:

1. I must control my children.

2. I am superior to my children.

3. My children owe me for what I do for them.

4. I must be a perfect parent.

5. My children are more important than I am.

Each of these co-dependent beliefs has a healthy counterpart in the model of behavior for truly responsible parents. However, it's easy to confuse what is normally considered "good" parenting (read "co-dependent" parenting) and responsible parenting. Some of the distinctions are very subtle, which accounts for why so many of us parents have been slow to diagnose our behavior as co-dependency. Taking heed of these distinctions, however, is critical to preparing your child for a successful transition to adulthood.

Since most of us are co-dependent parents to some degree, don't be surprised or alarmed if you recognize yourself in one or more of the following examples. Having the courage to identify your co-dependent symptoms is the first step in your recovery, and the first step toward helping you begin to raise your child as a healthy, responsible human being: a truly strong, free person.

I Must Control My Children

Many mothers and fathers who consider themselves the best parents insist on having ironclad control over their children.

Given the challenges of today's environment-easy availability of drugs and the prevalence of gangs in urban areas-it's understandable that parents would want to stay on top of their child's every movement. Demanding control over others, however, is a classic symptom of co-dependency and leads to some very unhealthy results for both the child and parent.

This is a co-dependent category with which I am quite familiar. As a parent I often handed down edicts with little explanation and insisted that my son obey. I believed this was good parenting because I felt that as a female head of household I needed to be tough to control my son. I also had the strong conviction that any decision I made was the correct one and thus should not be challenged-especially by a child. My son's adaptation to my co-dependent parenting was to suppress his anger toward me and to keep me from knowing what was really going on inside him.

Occasionally, though, he would punch his fist through a wall or a dresser, attributing his action to some minor frustration. When such explosions occurred I was always puzzled.

Underneath it all, parents who believe they must control their offspring are parents who want to make themselves right and their children wrong. These are parents who want to win at every turn. There are a number of unhealthy or dysfunctional consequences for the child who is raised by a controlling parent. One possible outcome is that the child rebels. A rebellious child wages a continuing war against his parents, wants to win every round of the battle, and feels he is right.

Another possible outcome is that the child will do as my son did in response to my controlling behavior: hide his true feelings. Such a child is likely to feel anxious and may want to seek revenge.

(The first time my son punched an object, it was my favorite antique dresser, which remains cracked to this day.) Some children react as my sister did to my mother's insistence on controlling the household: they give up and feel that life is unfair These children believe they have no control over their lives.

Dominated by that belief, my sister became a drug abuser and in other ways demonstrated a lack of self-discipline. Other possible symptoms are the tendencies to evade responsibility, to lie, and to steal.

In contrast to the good parent's desire to control, mothers and fathers who follow the responsible parent model believe that their children can make many of their own decisions and should make as many of those decisions as maturity allows.

Responsible parents encourage choices so that their offspring can begin to develop problem-solving skills. Children raised by this type of parent gain self-confidence and are eager to contribute and to accept responsibility. These children become resourceful people.

I Am Superior To My Children

Mothers and fathers who feel superior to their children typically act out that behavior in very subtle ways. These are parents who covertly dominate, and thus control, the lives of their children. Parents who need to feel they are superior generally lavish their children with gifts and opportunities to do things that are beyond the wildest dreams of most other children. On the face of it, that's a pretty noble motivator, and it's easy to see why parents fall into the trap of believing such behavior makes them good mothers and fathers.

Problems arise because there is another, less visible, motivator at work: superior parents overprotect and spoil their children because they really want to control their kids' lives. These parents place their children in an inferior position by leaving them ill-equipped to fend for themselves, depriving them of developing skills to acquire anything on their own.

One Los Angeles mother I spoke to who falls into this category completely supports her 20-year-old daughter, even though the daughter is employed and lives on her own. This parent had her daughter's new apartment completely remodeled and has made it her responsibility to keep it clean; she bought her daughter a car and pays the auto insurance; she purchases her daughter's clothes, and supplies her with vacations to places as far away as Hawaii. As a result, the daughter has developed virtually all of the possible unhealthy outcomes of being raised by a parent who feels superior to her child. Because she tries to spend as much on herself as her mother does, and also buys too many expensive presents for her close friends, this young woman has accumulated enormous credit card debts. On the other hand, she feels life is unfair and pities herself when others won't give to her the way her mother gives. She is rarely willing to take responsibility for her actions; she blames others instead.

Mothers and fathers who have learned how to become responsible parents reject the superior parenting models in favor of helping their children develop self-reliance by exhibiting a belief in the child's competency. These parents believe they are no more and no less worthwhile than their offspring; consequently, their children grow up believing in their own equality and the equality of others. Such parents also believe it's important to show their children respect by encouraging independence and by expecting the children to contribute to the efficiency of family operations-by doing chores, for example. Responsible parents expect their adult children to stand on their own two feet.

The following excerpts from a memo published in the "Dear Abby" column of the Los Angeles Times on August 4, 1989, illustrate this point:




Since the subject of loaning money has come up from at least half of you this week, we decided we would let you know our feelings about this.

We will not loan any of you money except in the case of a bona fide emergency (severe illness, accident, etc.). Each of you has been blessed with intelligence, good health and the ability to earn a living. What you choose to do with your time and money is up to you. . . . This probably puts us somewhere between minus 10 and zero on your popularity scale, but we feel this is the best thing for our family.

We love each of you dearly and want to do for you what we think will benefit you most in your lifetime.

My Children Owe Me

Some parents, who consider themselves good parents, believe it's okay to demand excessive time, money, and devotion from their children because they are the sole providers for their offspring-because they are the parents, pure and simple. It's not too difficult to understand why parents might feel this way.

Raising a child is a major investment of time, money, and emotion. A parent can expect to spend thousands of dollars and countless hours helping the child develop her full potential.

In virtually any other type of relationship that involved the expenditure of as much cash and energy, a cost-benefit analysis certainly would be undertaken before a dollar was spent or a tear shed. With children, of course, calculations of that sort don't apply. Still, parents are human, and when we work hard for our children we are prone to want them to return the favor, or at least acknowledge the effort.

We fail our children, though, when we adopt the attitude that they owe us for what we do as parents. In this way, we teach our offspring that what we give comes with undeclared strings attached. Because they feel exploited by their parents, children from such households learn not to trust anyone-and they learn to exploit others.

My father, for instance, often told us kids there was only one thing he wanted from us: respect. Such a comment was always followed quickly by: "But I feel every parent is entitled to respect no matter what." In practice, what he said translated into this: as long as we were taken care of, he expected respect from his children no matter how he behaved toward us. Frequently I felt guilty if I didn't meet his demands when he felt I owed him something.

Father saw this approach to parenting as a way of instilling solid values in his children and thus being a good parent. However, his belief actually worked against the best interests of his children. The message we got was that respect did not have to be earned and was one-sided: we had to respect our father; he did not have to respect us.

Mutual respect is the guiding principle of mothers and fathers who subscribe to the responsible parenting model of behavior. These parents promote equality among their children and avoid creating situations and conflicts that might lead to their offspring feeling guilty.

Children from these families freely respect their parents and themselves. They are generally more social than their youthful counterparts who are members of families where "debts" must be repaid by the child on a regular basis. These children tend to be more sod al because they are more trusting and less manipulative of others. Not surprisingly, more people like them.

I Must Be The Perfect Parent

Some mothers and fathers believe that a good parent is a "perfect" parent. Such parents want to provide the best possible role model for their children, which is admirable.

Yet, there are huge potential pitfalls in trying to accomplish the impossible. First, we are all human, and, by definition, imperfect. Therefore, the parent who is striving for perfection is an unhappy person who has placed herself in a lose-lose situation: no matter how hard she tries, she cannot attain perfection.

In addition, perfect parents tend to make those around them unhappy because they often demand perfection from their children as well as themselves. These are the parents who push their children to win Little League games, whether or not the kids show athletic talent, and who push them to earn straight A's in school, whether or not the children are capable of producing such a report card.

Often these parents are very concerned about what others think, and they are always hypercritical, finding fault with their children and most anyone with whom they come in contact. I, too, have suffered from the malady of wanting to be a perfect parent and thus have spent much of my life being critical of my child's imperfections.

Recently I got my comeuppance when I was finding fault with mistakes my son had made and he abruptly asked: "When you were my age, didn't you make a lot of the same mistakes?..."

...Children who are raised by perfect parents tend to grow up feeling that they are never good enough. They generally worry about the opinions of others and work as hard at becoming perfect as their parents did. These are children who spend a lot of time discouraged, feeling like failures.

I really resonate with this description. I have spent much of my life depressed because I believed I didn't measure up. Despite my many accomplishments, which include graduating from college in two and a half years, summa cum laude, I still felt that nothing I achieved was good enough. I always felt I should have done better, I could have done more.

Mothers and fathers who practice healthier parenting accept that they are human and, by so going, dare to be imperfect. These parents set realistic standards for themselves and for their children. They focus on their strengths and on their children's strengths. They are patient and less concerned with image than are parents who strive to create a perfect (co-dependent) household. Children raised in this healthier environment learn to focus on the task at hand, instead of fearing or anticipating failure, or second-guessing their every move. They tend to view mistakes as a challenge to keep trying until they get it right. These youth have the courage to try new experiences, and they are considerably more tolerant of others.

My Children Are More Important Than I Am

Not long ago a friend called me, very upset. He wanted some feedback on something his wife had just done. Their 21-year-old son, who had lost his driver's license because of drunk driving, wanted to attend a meeting across town for which he was now late.

Earlier, his sisters had waited to take him with them to the meeting, but he had decided to visit his girlfriend instead. Now he was home and demanding that his mother drive him to the meeting. She was tired and didn't feel like making the drive, her husband didn't want her to make the drive, but eventually her son browbeat her into doing what he wanted.

I have spoken to this mother on more than one occasion, so I know her parenting philosophy: she believes that a good parent should meet virtually every need or demand of her child. 'After all," she reports, "they didn't ask to come here, so as parents we should do every single thing we can for them." This is a co-dependent parent who earnestly believes that her children are more important than she.

This idea permeates our culture. We've all heard tales about mothers who went hungry to feed their children, and about parents who have drowned so that their children might live. So it's no wonder this mother feels the way she does. Becoming a slave to your child, though, trains your child to disrespect the rights of others. Parents who feel guilty about saying no to a child are teaching their children that it's okay to be self-centered.

When parents overindulge the child and give in to every whim, the child learns to expect the same treatment from others. But that rarely happens in life, which will lead to the child having poor social relationships. In addition, such children are likely to get into trouble with the law, since they have little respect for authority and expect immediate gratification.

Children raised in families run by responsible parents have good social relationships because their parents teach them that all people are important, including parents. These children show their parents respect, and the parents reciprocate. Responsible parents refuse to be doormats for their children. They know when to say no, and won't hesitate to do so.

Their children expect to contribute to the well-being of the family rather than to foment dissension. Responsible parents, then, are rewarded with healthy children who grow up to become healthy adults.

Three Paths To Responsible Parenting

If you have been making some of the same "good" parenting mistakes I have made, along with thousands of other mothers and fathers nationwide, don't despair. This book is focused on three main ideas that will help you recognize and manage your symptoms of co-dependency. The tools needed for recovery are available to everyone: perseverance, strength, and the courage to work hard to change your behavior and thus your child's future. These three main ideas are:

1. Parents need to understand and accept that they are the most important role models their children will ever have.

2. Parents need to know and accept that most parents are co-dependent to some degree; with that knowledge, they can begin the process of identifying their symptoms.

3. Parents need to understand that recovery from co-dependency is possible and to understand what recovery really means.

Parents As Role Models

As a mother or father you will continue to have an impact on the emotional life of your daughter or son long after your death. As a parent, you are the most important role model your child will ever have. The family is a complex system in which every member's development is in some significant ways related to every other member's development-especially in the interaction between parent and child. Family therapist Virginia Satii, formerly with the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, explains in her chapter "Family Systems and Approaches to Family Therapy" in the anthology Family Therapy: An Introduction to Theory and Technique:

You arrived where you are right now and became the person you are at this moment in time because of a three-person learning system-a male and a female forebear, and yourself. If you did not actually have one of these persons on the premises, their images were on the premises. We also know that every child comes into this world only with the ingredients to grow and not a blueprint already developed.

Virginia Satir, Family therapist, formerly with the mental research institute in Palo alto, California stated that this blueprint has to be worked out for the child by the parents as they go along: "Obviously, the blueprint depends upon the way in which the male and the female adult [the parents] hand down, or over, to their child the directions for how he is to grow." So, as parents we are the primary architects of our child's blueprint for growth. To that end, the blueprint that we develop for our child becomes a foundation that will last a lifetime. That blueprint, however, is based upon the blueprint we assimilated from our parents and, for that reason, may or may not serve our children well. In every chapter of The Co-Dependent parent you will be reminded of how your behavior shapes the behavior of your child, and how you will be emulated or rejected by your son or daughter even when you are not aware of the messages you send.

Are You A Co-Dependent Parent?

Often we are not the role models for our children that we would like to be. Sometimes we understand where we went wrong and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we even think we're doing the right thing for our children but find out later that we triggered a reaction in our offspring that was the precise reaction we were trying to avoid. Chapters 3 through 7 describe in detail five models of dysfunctional families whose members are clearly co-dependent in a variety of ways:

(1) the Demanding Parent, (2) the Critical Parent, (3) the Overprotective Parent, (4) the Disengaging Parent, and (5) the Ineffective Parent.

Demanding, dictatorial parents give the message, "I am the boss and you are my subordinate." In this case, the child believes the parent is saying, "It doesn't matter what you think; do it my way."

Critical parents are demanding parents, but more than that, they give their children the message, "You don't do anything right"-and their children believe it.

Overprotective parents often try to compensate for all the things they didn't have during their childhood. Smothering, overprotective parents give their children the message, "You can't do it, at least not by yourself." These parents also frequently make the statement, "I don't want my child to do that. I wasn't permitted to do it."

Disengaging parents are unavailable or preoccupied. They may be too sick, too tired, or too busy. Disengaging parents are usually people who received very little, if any, parenting and attention as children. Because they were not adequately loved, loving is hard for them. They give their children the message, "You are not terribly important to me."

Ineffective parents are frequently alcoholic or drug-addicted; sometimes they physically or sexually abuse their child. These parents tend to ask their children to assume adult roles that are beyond their emotional range, such as raising younger brothers and sisters, getting Dad to bed after he has passed out, and calling work to lie for the parent.

Ineffective parents abandon their children each time they use alcohol or drugs. The message these parents give is, "I am not able to give you what you need. I am overwhelmed."

Read this section of the book with a receptive mind, and don't be surprised if you recognize yourself in one or more of these chapters. Most of us are co-dependent parents on some level. Don't berate yourself for uncovering your status (self-flagellation is a co-dependent trait, by the way). Instead, you should congratulate yourself for the unveiling, since having the ability and courage to identify your symptoms of co-dependency is the first phase of the recovery process.

Understanding Recovery

Luckily, learning how to manage your co-dependent behavior is not magical, because if recovery involved some esoteric process, it would be less attainable. The good news, then is that recovery is possible if you are willing to rely on a more down-to-earth resource that dwells within each of us-and that is courage. By turning every page of this book, you are challenging yourself to acknowledge the truth about your co-dependent symptoms and accept that they have had, to some degree, a negative impact on your child.

All is not lost, however. Steven W. Cawdrey, headmaster and co-founder of Spring Creek Community, a Montana therapeutic boarding school, reports, "It has been my experience that virtually 100 percent of the time, when the parent changes, the child changes-no matter how old that child happens to be. I have seen adult children change dramatically for the better once the parents started to monitor their own co-dependent behavior."

To that end, as a parent, you will need to accept that you are human and that recovery does not mean you have reached a state of perfection. Quite the contrary. Healthy families need not be perfect, only courageous and knowledgeable enough to take on the challenge of managing their imperfections.

And Always Keep In Mind The Most Important Factor

  "What we live with we learn,
and what we learn
we practice, and what we
practice, we become...
and what we become
has consequences"...
AND almost always, I have
found, who we become
has little to do with who
we were meant to be.

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(Est. 4.15.96)

DISCLAMER: Before you start to look at the material that I have assembled for you I want to make clear that I claim very little original authorship here. Even where I don't give credit I probably should because there are very few original words of wisdom left in recovery. I want to especially thank Terry Kellogg, whom I do believe has a lot of original stuff, John Bradshaw whom I believe has the ability to synthesize others material better that anyone I know, and I guess if we wanted to be completely accurate we should not quote the serenity prayer out of content nor without giving credit to the author. I also want to give permission to anyone to use anything on this site for the benefit of recovery as long as they do not make any more money off of it. This offer only extends to what I have the right to give.

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