The Fine Line of Parenting: Are You Helping or Hurting Your Kids?
Don’t be frightened by the title. The Emotional Incest Syndrome is a positive and hopeful book that provides clear, healthy guidelines for promoting the best outcome for adults and children within the family structure. This book is relevant especially in today’s world of “snowplow parents.” Despite having best intentions, over-involved parents put undue pressure on kids while at the same time robbing them of the chance to learn for themselves and develop the skills needed for maturity.
Children have needs, adults have needs. Because of their dependency children need grownups to meet their needs until they can do so themselves. Love, structure, safety, and sustenance comprise the basics, but education, socialization, and skill development follow closely behind. Researchers say we are born twelve years premature because we can’t completely care for ourselves until adolescence begins. By age thirteen children have gained at least 80% of the knowledge they will ever have and can make most decisions quite intelligently if trusted to do so. Children have an uncanny capacity to learn; anyone watching a baby with an iPad will marvel at the intuition and competency immediately evident.
Consequences of Over-Parenting
When adults do for children what they can do for themselves, they rob the kids of the experience of learning and teach them to be helpless, dependent, incompetent, and entitled. If this doesn’t alarm you enough, over-functioning parents rob children of two of life’s most important skills: emotional regulation and mastery. When parents ease a child’s anxiety by taking away all stress, struggle, responsibility, delayed gratification, the child learns that other people have to alter their behaviors in order for the child to feel calm. They fail to learn emotional regulation—one of the most important skills in life.
There is so much to learn from this book, but the bottom line is: children fare best in families where adults get their adult needs met from other adults. Grownups need best friends, confidants, social partners, financial advisors, and sounding boards. Grownups need someone to meet their sensual, sexual, and affection needs; someone to be there for them; and someone to be on their side, in their corner, and make their happiness a priority. These needs are best met by adults, not children.
Healthy Family Systems
Children fare best in families where the adults have strong, loving, and supportive relationships from other adults. Parents who over-function, such as doing activities that kids can do for themselves, actually rob their children of learning and developing vital life skills. Being a parent’s primary source of support places undue burden on children, causing anxiety and feelings of insecurity as individuals, which can have life-long negative consequences.
In her top-selling book, The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to do When a Parent’s Love Rules Your Life, Dr. Pat Love discusses the sensitive subject of over-involved parenting and why a healthy family structure is so important. This book also provides a positive program for healing and realignment of the whole family system.
Parenting is about providing love, structure, protection, guidance, and instruction. A healthy family system has clear separation between adults and children.
> As a parent, consider the following questions:
- Have you taken items to school that your child forgot more than once in a semester?
- Does your child consider you his or her best friend?
- Do you say yes when you should say no because you don’t want your child to be mad at you?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you might want to read this book to make sure you are not over-functioning and blurring the protective boundaries between parenting and partnering.
> As a child, consider the following questions:
- Did you feel more like a parent than a child when you were growing up?
- At an early age, did you feel responsible for one of your parent’s emotional and/or physical well-being?
- Did one of your parents turn to you as a confidant about private adult matters?
- Do you feel tied to your parent out of guilt?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have had an over-involved parent and been part of a parent-child relationship described in this book. Reading this book can help you learn how to realign your present-day relationships in healthy ways.
Parents who are over-involved with kids do so for a variety of reasons. Sometimes as parents we over-function out of habit, other times we do it out of fear or just because we love to give and feel needed. But a child isn’t your best friend, social partner, or confidant; your partner (or another adult) is.
Relationships work best, for everyone involved, when boundaries are healthy, appropriate—and yes, even flexible. Enmeshment is a close parent-child bond where boundaries are blurred. A high degree of enmeshment is called “emotional incest.” Emotional incest is a surprisingly common but rarely identified style of parenting in which parents turn to their children, not their partners, for emotional support.
When parents turn to children to meet their unmet adult needs (best friend, confidant, scapegoat, emotional crutch), the children sacrifice their own self needs. As a “chosen child,” you were given a role you couldn’t refuse but one that belonged to another adult: satisfying your parent’s needs for intimacy, companionship, romantic stimulation, advice, problem solving, ego fulfillment, and/or emotional release.
To the casual observer, over-involved parents may appear loving and devoted, but being a parent’s primary source of support is a heavy burden for a child and can lead to long-lasting negative consequences. Fluctuating self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness, problems relating to their peers and maintaining friendships, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety are some of the common repercussions.
Another fallout from being an over-involved parent is neglect of the parent partnership. When the partnership is neglected—with time and energy consistently going toward parenting at the expense of the love relationship—this sends a strong message to the neglected partner and the children.
The good news is that being a good parent and a good partner are not mutually exclusive. The first step is to get the roles straight. Filled with hope and compassion, this book is a life-transforming guide to health and healing for understanding and resolving family conflicts and improving relationships both inside and outside the family system.