parent and child's feet

Parental Enmeshment Relationships

Last week I talked about enmeshment relationships between a couple and the harm they can do to an individual. This week I wanted to talk about enmeshment relationships between parents and children and the trauma that can be caused by them. Enmeshment is a dysfunctional family dynamic. An example of an enmeshed relationship between a parent and child is when a mom gets anxious and depressed because her teenage daughter is anxious and depressed. Of course, as parents, we all hurt and feel certain emotions when our children are upset. However, enmeshed relationships between parents and children occur when a parent over identifies with a child and is not able to separate her emotional experience from that of her child. Enmeshment results in an over-involvement making it hard for the child to become developmentally independent and responsible for her choices.1

Many life events can cause a parent to become enmeshed with a child such as illnesses and traumatic events. Divorce is certainly one that is considered to be a traumatic event for all involved. The emotion associated with this event can cause a parent to consciously and sometimes unconsciously act in ways that will integrate the parent/child relationship. This integration makes the parent feel as if the child is co-dependent upon them like when they were an infant. Enmeshment makes abnormal behaviors seem normal. Examples of an abnormal relationship that too often become the “norm” amongst enmeshed parents and children after a divorce are:

  • When the relationship between a parent and child turns into an equal relationship rather than a parent and child relationship.
  • A role reversal occurs whereby the child is encouraged and even rewarded for serving the emotionally fragile parent’s need for support, comfort, and self-worth.
  • When one parent expects the child to take the place of the ex-spouse, i.e., a mother expects a son to fill the role of the “man of the house” or when a daughter is expected to fulfill the emotional role of a mother.
  • The parent often accuses and/or makes the child feel as if he or she is betraying them for having a different opinion about the other parent.
  • When a parent makes a child feel as if the other parent has alienated him or her.

All of these situations will have lasting, long-term effects on a child that will be carried out well into adulthood. The last two examples are of particular interest to me as I represent parents in such situations. A child has been made to believe one of their parents doesn’t want anything to do with him or her. This results in an unhealthy alliance with the parent they are enmeshed with against the other parent. If this is allowed to happen long enough, naturally, the child’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings will conform with that of the enmeshed parent. This is where the enmeshed parent takes full advantage of the situation and brings forth alienation allegations against the other parent, when, in fact, there are no grounds for them.

If you believe your child is suffering from an enmeshed relationship with a parent, it is important that you hire a family law attorney. When you hire Kevin Hickey Law Partners, you are not only hiring an experienced family law attorney but one that can recognize the signs of an enmeshed parental relationship to defend you against any alienation claims. It is of utmost importance for the courts to recognize that you were not trying to alienate your child, as they strongly look down upon that. Contact us today – River Valley 479.434.2414; Northwest Arkansas 479.802.6560


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