This list features the many creative ways parents justify an addiction to a child. Note that a child does not have to be neck-deep in problems for parents to be addicted to “helping” them.

It's possible for people to be addicted to other people—including their child. Any age child.

See if you can relate to the phrases that follow. The first part of the statement is what parents consider socially acceptable.  What’s in the parentheses indicates what’s really going on (and why the enabling cycle is so hard for the parent to break):  

  1. My mantra is: “I do this and that because that’s what a good parent does.” (My kid has a lot of growing up to do and I’m too uncomfortable about that fact to let him go.)
  2. If only I could figure out how to motivate my daughter. (I’m afraid if I push her she might harm herself or sink into a real depression.)
  3. She’s just a little immature, that’s why I [do her laundry, do her homework, clean her room, bribe her, etc], you know, to keep her on track. (She’s completely unmotivated and if I don’t do things, nothing gets done.)
  4. Well, I got suspended from in high school and I turned out alright. (I know on a gut level he’s different from me, and that so are his problems, but he’ll say it’s a double standard if I confront the behavior realistically.)
  5. His father is so critical; I have to be the safe parent. (I feel needed and in control when my kid comes to me and not the other parent. In fact, I kind of like it.
  6. Her mother stopped calling after the divorce. So what if she’s Daddy’s Little Girl—isn’t that what every daughter needs? (I feel guilty and responsible for my daughter’s poor relationship with her mother; but it’s really me who can’t tolerate her pain—it’s easier to spoil her and buy her things.)
  7. My kids use the hell out of me. (I’m afraid to say no to them.)
  8. My middle name is doormat. (A part of me wishes my kid would get himself into real trouble. Then he’d know how good he has it.)
  9. I can’t say no to my kid—I just can’t! (I hate it when she’s mad at me so I try to keep her happy with me.)
  10. A good parent does everything for their kid. That’s what family is about. (People will judge me as an inadequate parent if my child struggles.)

Did a part of you cringe as you read the list?

It’s often anxiety and feelings of not being worthy that lead parents into “doing” for their children. “Doing” is not the same as loving. If you have found yourself frustrated that all your “doing” has yieled little—results, gratitude or both—you may be what some would call “addicted” to your child, or addicted to the activity of “doing” for your child.

It’s likely been going on a long time.

It may come down to the fear of losing control.

Help from a licensed therapist can assist in honing in on the parent’s fear (which may or may not actually have anything to do with the child). Calming your own anxiety about outcomes regarding your child (a child of any age) goes a long way in helping to make difficult situations more manageable. The more you try to control, the more out of control you will likely feel and the less manageable the situation will likely become.

Some things to think about:

What revs up your anxiety? What is difficult for you to sit with and watch unfold?

Does what you do help in the long run? Or create new problems that need solving?

Knowing that when you judge or criticize another person—perhaps your child, if he or she is an adult—it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about your own need to be critical, why do you do it? Does it provide a way to stay “connected” albeit via negative energy?

When your child does something that makes you feel uncomfortable, do you have to say something? Does saying something always help? Really? Is the term: “I’m entitled to my opinions” one of your favorites? You may be entitled to your opinion, but that doesn’t mean you need to verbalize it.

Think for a moment and try to be honest with yourself. Might you be holding on to relieve your own anxiety? You may find that the momentary action of  “doing” takes the focus off of your perceived (or nebulous) fear—perhaps of losing control, of losing contact with your child, of not being important enough, of feeling left out and alone, or, ironically, of being held responsible for something that is not your responsibility. It’s that last option that fuels the former ones, too, and makes them increasingly unmanageable inside yourself.

Give yourself space to think about the question of whether or not you are addicted to your child. If you find yourself giving reasons for why you do this or that, it may be a sign that you are a bit too involved. We’re not talking about the things that a parent does that are age-appropriate for the child. We are talking about enabling behaviors that “look” like helping or loving, but are really just ways for you to try to control.

Again, speaking to a licensed therapist can help you redefine your role, and get your life back. The question is…are you ready for that?

About the Author

Meredith Resnick, L.C.S.W.

Meredith Resnick, L.C.S.W., is a health writer and licensed social worker. She is also the mother of two adopted daughters.

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