Living with Children: A cure for ‘co-dependency’


“You’ve accused mothers of being in co-dependent relationships with their children,” she (a journalist) said, then asked, “What is co-dependency, exactly, and how does it apply to today’s mothers?”

Great question! One that cuts right to the core of America’s parenting problem. A co-dependent relationship consists of a well-intentioned enabler and a person who is being enabled. They need one another.

The enabler needs to do what she is doing in order to feel like she is rising to some external standard (in this case, being a member in good standing of the Good Mommy Club), and the person who is enabled uses the enabler to avoid taking responsibility for a portion (or in some cases, all) of his or her life.

The enabler teaches her victim how to manipulate her and the person who is enabled teaches his victim how to properly enable. The latter acts like a victim or helpless or both, thus helping the enabler feel needed. The enabler, however, feels put upon and frequently complains of the heroic lengths she is going to in order to save her victim from the consequences of his own choices.

“He is so darned irresponsible!” complains the enabler, alternatives being “He just can’t do it on his own” and “Without me, he would surely fail.” Thus, enabling masquerades as morally-superior self-sacrifice.

The problem is that the enabler herself is fooled by her own masquerade. In addition to being an enabler, she is also, paradoxically, a disabler. The more she enables, the more she disables, and the more convinced she becomes that her enabling is absolutely necessary.

These two people have constructed a drama in which they both play lead roles – a soap opera that automatically renews at the end of every season.

FACT: The more person A enables person B, the more person B behaves as if he/she requires enabling. And around and around they go.

The preceding description nails many, many mother-child relationships. In today’s America, when a woman has her first child, the sucking sound she begins to hear is the Good Mommy Club, an unspoken sisterhood in which maternabling (I made up the word) is celebrated.

The Good Mommy is defined as a female parent who does one maternabling thing after another, is always on the lookout for new opportunities to maternable, and nods enthusiastically (and maybe even vents a few tears) when Oprah says that being a mother is the hardest job in the world.

My mother, a member of the so-called Greatest Generation, was as far from being a maternabler as one can get. If anything, she erred on the other side of the coin.

Mind you, she caused no damage, albeit young JR certainly wanted her to think she was at times. Most of my peers attest to moms who were cut from the same cloth. Proof! Being a maternabler is not historically typical of mothers. Maternabling is yet another highly destructive post-1960s parenting phenomenon – miserably destructive to both parties.

Most moms who seek my help have either reached the bottom of the maternabling well or the end of the maternabling rope, or both. My prescription: STOP! All of it! Now! Today! Without preparation! Without apology! Just do it!

And no, don’t tell the child in question what you are doing or going to do. Part of the problem is that the explanations the maternabler gives her live-in tyrant are actually a means of seeking his approval.

Yes, just figure out what you need to stop doing and stop doing it … all at once. “Phasing” it in is excruciating for all concerned and all-but guarantees that the maternabling will continue, picking right up where it half-heartedly left off.

Here’s the good news: NEVER, when I’ve successfully persuaded a maternabler to STOP the maternabling, cold turkey, forever, has the child in question suffered anything more than temporary collapse.

“Temporary” may last several months, but when the child figures out that he will henceforth succeed or fail on his own merits, he chooses to succeed.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond:, Copyright 2019, John K. Rosemond]