Codependency and Parenting: Break the Cycle in Your Family

Girl Having Argument With Mother At Candy CounterThere are some common misunderstandings about what codependency is. It used to be that when one heard the term codependency, it was associated with being in a relationship with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. The term codependency is now more commonly associated with being emotionally dependent on others in relationships. While we are all emotionally dependent on others to some degree, when we make decisions that go against our value system in order to avoid rejection and anger, we are creating a codependent dynamic within the family system.

As parents, we want to avoid family dynamics that perpetuate codependency. Research (1999) indicates that patterns within the family system can be passed down through generations. Parents need to be aware of codependent patterns within the family system so that they can recognize when it’s necessary to break the cycle. If the cycle continues and is passed down as codependency patterns within the family system, the children may be likely to enter into codependent relationships and pass codependency patterns down to their children as well.

Some behaviors for parents to be aware of in order to recognize and avoid perpetuating codependency patterns include:

Being too rigid: When parents are so controlling of their children’s behavior that children don’t have the opportunity to explore their own choices, parents send a message to their children that they aren’t responsible for their choices and that someone else has all the power. Their children may then be more likely to choose relationships where they feel powerless.

Using your child to get your needs met: Parents need to ensure that they get their own needs met in other areas of their life such as hobbies, work, and relationships so that they don’t live vicariously through their children. Parents who live vicariously through their children risk sending their children the message that they must have their parents’ approval. While it is normal for children to go through a phase where they seek their parent’s approval, the need for parental approval could carry on into adulthood.

When parents come up with a plan of action instead of allowing their children to develop a plan of action, they are interfering with the opportunity to develop problem solving skills.Acting on the desire to solve their problems: When children talk about their problems, parents need to listen more without offering advice as opposed to becoming reactive and/or trying to rescue children from their problems. If given the opportunity through a safe place to explore their feelings and options, children may be more successful at learning how to solve their own problems. Parents can provide support to encourage their children to be creative in finding ways to solve their problems.

When parents come up with a plan of action instead of allowing their children to develop a plan of action, they are interfering with the opportunity to develop problem solving skills. Children then receive the message that they are not capable of solving their own problems and that someone else needs to solve their problems for them. As adults, they could potentially be more likely to enter into relationships where they are told what to do.

How Can Parents Avoid Perpetuating Codependency Patterns Within the Family System?

In order to avoid passing down codependency patterns within the family system, parents need to facilitate children in developing a strong sense of self. By implementing some of these practices, parents can be proactive in helping their children develop a solid and healthy sense of self-esteem:

  • Be mindful of their safety, but give children the freedom and opportunity to solve their own problems.
  • Don’t emotionally neglect children.
  • Don’t be overly controlling or overly pampering. Doing so may result in some children creating a dependency on others and an inability to make independent decisions, while other children take on too much responsibility and are forced to give up their childhood.
  • Be mindful of your own patterns of behaviors such as passive-aggressive comments, giving children the silent treatment, disrespecting children’s boundaries, or being dependent on children for emotional support.
  • Encourage positive self-talk.
  • Teach children that value doesn’t come from pleasing a parent.
  • Parents need to practice self-care and ensure they are taking care of their own needs. This will help a parent avoid building resentment that often gets turned inward.


Burris, C. T. (1999). Stand by your (exploitive) man: Codependency and responses to performance feedback. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 18(3), 277-298. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Maude

    November 17th, 2015 at 8:09 AM

    Coming from a home where I was taught that the only way for anyone else to be happy was dependent on me, that was hard and I never wanted my own children to feel that they had to be such pleasers. It is one thing to teach them to be kind but it is a hard lesson to unlearn when you start to see that it is not your job to make others happy, they have to do that.

  • Liam

    November 18th, 2015 at 7:16 AM

    It is a very sad and I would dare say selfish parent who would use their child to get the things that they want. I don’t understand people who do this, I guess that it is what they have learned so they are continuing the behavior but it really is very sad for the children who get caught up in this.

  • Lori

    November 18th, 2015 at 7:28 PM

    There is no manual on how to be a good parent. Each child is different. I did the best I could do, with what I had. I think I exceed my expectations. I didn’t assume I had. I was ecstatic when I found that both of them are heading in the right direction. While being considerate of others and taking good care of themselves. I couldn’t ask for more. Right?

  • Merritt

    November 19th, 2015 at 8:01 AM

    We shouldn’t ever make our children feel like they have to support us, that is our job

  • terrence

    November 23rd, 2015 at 8:01 AM

    I thought this only applied to when someone has a drug problem or addiction

  • Stasia

    November 24th, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    It’s my way, I pamper my kids because I love them and I guess in the hopes that one day they will do some of the same for me.

  • Trey

    November 26th, 2015 at 9:40 AM

    You don’t break that chain now, they will be tethered to you forever and you to them.
    Part of being a good parent is teaching them to do it on their own

  • Christi

    December 8th, 2015 at 9:26 AM

    Excellent reminder to not give away your power. Thank you.

  • Ramey

    September 29th, 2016 at 1:05 PM

    The problem that I have found in codependent discussion is the affect it has on the child. Where this is a problem is it too focuses on the flaws of the child growing up in a codependent environment instead of how parents can acknowledge their mistakes and let go of control allowing for a healthy home life. It seems to me that being in denial about the parents abusive behaviors and blaming the child for who they were born to only perpetuates the problem. When mental health professionals are feeding into the parent’s manipulation’s, it makes it impossible for anyone to get their parent help. Thank you.

  • Saki

    April 26th, 2018 at 12:18 AM

    I just needed to comment on one of these self-help forums. Currently 24, recently moved away from a house with co-dependent parents, but… I made the wise yet dumb choice of picking up a puppy together with my mother tomorrow. Thanks forum and article, you gave me the strength to somewhat make it through tomorrow even while I’m pretty much obliged to spend three excruciating hours with my codependent, manipulative mother. My mother also suffered from a toxic household. Dear God, World, let this chain of misery end. It’s imperative to let your child meed his childhood needs when he indeed hasn’t fully transformed into an adult. That’s not the only way he’ll be able to healthily address his needs as an adult, but perhaps a very desirable way in learning how to do so.

  • Mike

    May 5th, 2021 at 4:59 PM

    I lived in a house where phrases like parents “living life through the child”, “passive-agressiveness”, “silent treatment”, learning only “someone else can solve problems”, and not “teaching children that value doesn’t come from pleasing a parent” definitely applied to me (along with half this article). I went to the college my parents wanted me in, took the degree they wanted, graduated in 7.5 years with a 4 year degree. I’ve been in two emotionally abusive relationships, one 2 months and the other 2 years. I don’t hate them, but I realize the role this played. I recently found massive problems with management at my workplace and am wanting another job, but thinking about it causes me to shut down for days, cry (and I almost never cry), panic, and become flooded with reasons why I’ll fail. Any advice?

  • Sara GT

    May 6th, 2021 at 9:03 AM

    Dear Mike, at GoodTherapy, we have a directory of therapists that might be able to assist you. Please feel free to search our directory to find therapists in your area by entering your city or ZIP code into the search field on this page:

    Once you enter your search criteria, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who may be able to help. You may click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information.

    If you need help with this search, please feel welcome to call us. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Mountain Time, and our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext 3. Kind regards, The GoodTherapy Team

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.


* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.