Codependent on Our Dependants
By Bonnie Hoover
I’ll never forget holding my seconds-old daughter in my arms for the first time. After five years of longing, crying, and praying for the Lord to give us a child, Josie was finally here. She was so tiny, helpless, and dependent on us for everything. But that was okay with us. She was the gift we had been asking God for. In fact, her name means “God will give.”
As difficult as the five-year struggle was to bring a child into our lives, we can look back now and see that God was etching a truth into our hearts that He didn’t want us to forget. Both of our children are a blessing from the Lord, but neither actually belongs to us. They are only entrusted to us to steward for a fourth of their lives. Maybe we should have found a name that means, “God will lend.” As much as God allowed us to walk through to ingrain this truth in me, you’d think it would be easy for me to remember. But it’s not.
These children emerged into the world helpless, needing my assistance for everything! As exhausting as that is, there’s something deep down in my “mama-heart” that feels validated by the fact that someone or two someones need me. Even at ages eleven and nine, Josie and Colby depend on me to make their worlds turn efficiently. They look to me for food and clothes, help with homework, transportation EVERYWHERE, medicine and snuggles when sick, protection when they are afraid, comfort when friends are mean, guidance when they can’t navigate relationships on their own, and stability when nothing else in life seems to make sense. They are called “dependents” for a reason. They depend on us for EVERYTHING. I think that’s why it’s easy to get sucked into the snare of becoming codependent on our dependants. Not even my husband needs me for all of that! But, is it healthy to live in this type of relationship with our children?
In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus was talking with some religious leaders, and He drew their attention to the words written in Genesis. “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” This passage is so rich with wisdom about marriage, but even about parenting. Let’s break it down into simple terms to answer our question about codependency on our kids.
“and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” v.5b
God designed husbands and wives to cleave to, stick to, become one with our spouse, NOT with our children. A husband and wife make a family, then bring children into it. When we allow ourselves to become so connected to and intertwined with our children’s emotional and relational needs, we are giving them a place that God designed only our spouse to hold in our lives. This becomes problematic for the marital relationship. Our intimacy is at risk when we are already giving it all to our children.
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife…’ v. 5a
Just like we grew up and left our parents to get married, God’s design is for our children to leave us, not remain dependent on us. Jesus put the spousal relationship above the parent-child relationship, so one of our primary roles as a parent is to provide a healthy example of the marriage relationship and prepare our children to leave us and start their own family with their spouse.
When Josie and Colby were really little, they would ask Daniel, “who do you love more, mommy or me?” He would reply in a silly voice, “Of course, Mommy! We will be together forever, but one day you’re going to grow up and leave me for someone you love more than me!” They would laugh because he always assured them they were a very close second. But we’ve tried to explain to them that God put the two of us together as a “forever family,” and one day, they will have their own forever family with their spouse. We’re trying to prepare them while continually reminding ourselves that they don’t truly belong to us.
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let NO-ONE [emphasis mine] separate.” v. 6
God has united husbands and wives together in a way that they become one flesh. Because God put us together, He doesn’t want anyone to tear us apart. Our bond is one that not even our children should come between. However, too many times, we feel so pulled by our children that we let them divide us. I’m not just talking about the “divide and conquer” teamwork involved in getting kids to all of their activities. I mean, we let them emotionally pull us apart.
When they are toddlers, children can pull us apart because we spend all of our physical energy on them, and we have none left for our spouse at the end of the day or because we put them in between us in bed at night. And don’t even get me started on colic and potty training. Those require the physical, mental, and emotional stamina of an Olympic athlete! But as they get older, our children develop their own friends, interests, and opinions about everything. They demand emotional energy that leaves us feeling brain-dead, if not at least tired. The temptation is to disconnect from our spouse when we have little energy left to give. Or even more dangerously, we lean into our child’s love and affection when our spouse isn’t offering it as readily.
If we aren’t careful, children can also divide us to get their way. Even from an early age, they inherently know how to manipulate us and maneuver between us. But we have to learn to stick together. That takes a lot of communication behind closed doors and sometimes a lot of tongue-biting in front of the kids. Even if we disagree with something the way the other has handled something, Daniel and I try hard not to undercut each other in front of the kids. We can discuss it later and maybe come back and change our position on it. But they know they cannot divide us. In the end, this brings our children stability and comfort, knowing Mama and Daddy are united, and nothing, not even I, can bust them up.
Whether they are two-years-old, or fifteen, children demand our attention. But it’s dangerous to allow ourselves to meet their demands or wants at the expense of our marriage. When we knowingly or accidentally become codependent on our children, it doesn’t just give them the power to run our family, but it puts pressure on them to run it and hold it together. God desires so much more for our marriage and our family.
Our children indeed need us. Otherwise, God wouldn’t have entrusted them to us. But the best way to guard against an unhealthy relationship with them is to hold them loosely. They belong to the Lord, and He has allowed us to protect, train, invest in, and pour Jesus into them for the eighteen-ish years they live with us. Our goal is to train them for independence while continuing to invest in the relationship that God has designed for “until death do we part.” Keeping our marriage the top priority is not as easy as it was before two kiddos came along, but it’s definitely worth fighting for!