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Are You Enmeshed With Your Children?

By Dr. Margaret Paul
June 23, 2008

Are you limiting yourself and your children by being over-involved with them? Discover if you are enmeshed with your children.

unloving parenting, problem childrenThe Encarta World English Dictionary defines "enmesh" as "to entangle somebody or something in something from which it is difficult to be extricated or separated."

Are you entangled with your children in a way that is limiting both you and your children?

Parents may enmesh with children when they want control over their children and they want their children to take responsibility for them. By over-involving themselves in their children's lives, they hope to tie their children to them in such a way that their children feel guilty over their parent's pain and responsible for it.

There are various ways a parent may enmesh with his or her children:

  • When parents don't have a strong sense of their own identity, they may over-identify with their children. This means that they are over-invested in their children's performance, such as grades, sports or talents. We've all seen the enmeshed father at his children's sports events - yelling at the coach or at the child, or the enmeshed mother of a child who is on stage, screen, or doing commercials. The parent who screams at a teacher for their child's bad grade is another example of an enmeshed parent. The parent who insists that their child goes to med school when the child really wants to be an artist is another example. Rather than supporting the child in following his or her heart, the parent threatens a withdrawal of approval to control the child.
  • When a parent is devoted to being a victim and not taking responsibility for their own feelings, they may cry, yell, blame, and in various other ways "pull" on their children to make themselves happy. A parent who sits in a chair with a miserable look or walks away crying pathetically is pulling on his or her child to connect with them and fill their emptiness. Since they are taking no responsibility for themselves, they are a bottomless pit, and nothing the child does really helps. Eventually the child may shut down to the parent, distancing themselves because they don't want to be controlled and they don't want responsibility for their parent's feelings. The parent ends up getting the opposite of what he or she wants.
  • A parent can also make a child responsible for his or her physical health. "If you do that, you will give me a heart attack," is the kind of guilt-inducing statement that this parent might make.
  • Some parents get their sense of identity by being right. They not only believe they are right; they believe they have the right to impose their views onto their children. Rather than supporting their children in being true to themselves, they make their "love" dependent upon their children following their religion, their politics, their sports, their interests or their values.
  • Some parents use money and things to gain the control they want. By threatening to withdraw financial support, they attempt to force their children into becoming what they want them to be. They want to be able to brag about their children as a way of enhancing their own diminished sense of self.
  • Finally, a parent may be enmeshed with their children because they are taking responsibility for their children's feelings. Rather than taking care of themselves and role-modeling personal responsibility for their own feelings, they are over-involved with making sure their children are happy - trying to take away every sadness, every hurt, or every moment of boredom.

Enmeshment Serves No One

Enmeshed, over-involved parents often want to blame their partner or someone else when their children don't perform to expectations, or their children pull away, or rebel with drugs, alcohol, or an eating disorder. This parent wants to deny the fact that he or she has been a poor role model for taking personal responsibility for his or her own feelings and wellbeing.

If you are enmeshed with your children, the way to heal is to do your own Inner Bonding work, developing your loving adult and learning to take responsibility for your own feelings. You children need you to be a role model for personal responsibility rather than trying to control them.


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