Someone who patiently listened to her child read their first "chapter" book in school.
Someone who checked for "monsters" under the bed.
Someone who was a shoulder to cry on and gave words of advice.
But somewhere along the way, when my son's depression was so severe that he couldn't get out of bed or all he could think about was dying, I became a different kind of parent.
A parent that made choices for my child.
A parent that followed him at every step.
A parent that was utterly devoted to her child to the detriment of my own self, a co-dependent parent.
The co-dependency didn’t happen overnight, it was a gradual immersion that developed out of necessity. Then it became easier to do everything for my child instead of risk upsetting him or causing him anxiety.
My co-dependency reminded me of a time when my son was 7 or 8 years old and he went snorkeling with his father and me. He enjoyed snorkeling and was a good swimmer, but I still made him wear those inflatable armbands. We started in shallow water and then ventured out to deeper water. My son was fine at first until he realized that he couldn’t touch the ground and he panicked. In his panic he thrashed around, grabbed at me, and pushed me under the water. He was on top of me when I surfaced, shoving me under again. When I came up the second time coughing and gasping for air I knew that I risked drowning if I didn’t react quickly. It wasn’t until I pushed my son away from me and allowed him to swim on his own that I was safe.
This story summed up my co-dependent relationship with my son. He needed to “swim” on his own. It was no longer safe or healthy for me to continue supporting him in the way that I had.
If I continued to run his life, he would continue to let me, and he would not learn how to take responsibility for himself and grow emotionally. It was a lesson both of us needed to learn.
With the help of a counselor, I learned how to communicate with my son without feeling like he always wanted something from me. It helped me validate him, rather than try to solve his problem, and when I didn’t know what to say, I would tell him I didn’t know what to say. He accepted that answer easier than I had thought he would.
Our relationship changed from an enabling one to a nurturing one. This shift didn’t happen immediately, it was a slow process spanning several months, but it did happen. While maintaining boundaries, I was able to let my son handle decisions for himself, validating him and allowing him to feel pride in his accomplishments.
When I remained strong, I showed my son that he could be strong too. I knew he would have to make serious choices for himself and his health in the future, when he was on his own, and with each decision he made now, the future ones became attainable.
A co-dependent relationship is not a healthy relationship for either party. Stand back, let your children learn from their mistakes while making choices on their own. Allow them to become the independent, self-sufficient adults they need to be.