Mirror, mirror on the wall, are we the fairest parents of them all?

Your relationship and how it mirrors in your child’s behavior.

Each of us want relationships that are happy, where we can share emotions and intimacy, where we feel completely accepted by our partner for who we are, rather than what they might want us to be and where we can express ourselves authentically, without fear of criticism. The extent to which we achieve this will have a direct impact on our children and their ability to relate to others.

“There is no such thing as an undisciplined child, only an undisciplined parent.” Sage, but harsh words indeed, from author and psychologist Dr Scott Peck (and not what you really want to hear when your little angel has turned into screaming banshee in the middle of a shopping centre).

The fact that your relationship reflects in your child’s behavior is an uncomfortable reality check for most parents. It’s easier to stop at the point of admitting that your child is behaving impossibly, than it is to dig deeper into the cause of the problem, (particularly if you have to accept some responsibility for where things may have gone wrong).

Accepting responsibility however does have its up side. Because in accepting responsibility for at least part of our child’s behavior, we also put ourselves in a position where we can, through adjusting our behavior, have a positive effect on our child. Nothing as they say happens in isolation. No man (or child) is an island. What happens to one member of a family, will directly or indirectly effect the other family members. If your partner has had a bad day at work, it’s hard to ignore his bad mood, curt retorts and concerns. Even if children are not aware of the cause of a problem, their intuition will tell them that something is not quite right. You as parents are (in most cases) the provider of their stability.

“Children are extremely intuitive and long before change occurs, they can sense it. Their behavior will change as a result because they act out their feelings in the playground and classroom. We encourage parents to give their child’s teacher an insight into changes that occur at home, as then the teacher is in a better position to handle the child with empathy and answer their questions appropriately. Honest and caring ways of communicating with your child, can make a huge difference to the child’s stability.”

Principal of Elkanah House

If your boat gets rocky, it will undoubtedly rock their boat. This creates insecurity. If children feel insecure they will act out this insecurity through their behavior. That puts a huge amount of pressure on us as parents. Not only are you responsible for earning some income, organizing food, attending to chores and the host of other activities that go with being a mum, but to feel the added responsibility that a moment of frustration and expressing that to your partner, is now having an effect on your child, is yet another thing to add further pressure into your life.

While we live with them, teachers often bare the brunt of an insecure child:

Over the years as a teacher, it has become increasingly obvious that children who have sound relationships with their parent/s, are more readily able to explore new concepts as they have an internal store of confidence that allows them to leap into the unknown. Conversely, many children who come from dysfunctional homes, are hesitant to approach new ideas as they do not have a safety net to fall back on.

Minky Antrobusteacher

When you and your partner are in a good space, chances are your child will mirror this in being contented. When the wheels come off and you are living in hostile resentment, your child may well act out this energy in negative ways.

Types of Relationships

In looking at parents’ relationships it’s possible to identify four main types: Dependent, Interdependent, Co-dependent and Independent.

Independent

He likes to go to the gym and watch motor racing at home. She longs for skiing holidays in Austria. He seldom goes out; she is a social butterfly and loves to party. He works long hours and so does she – in different offices and often continents. When couples’ interests become so diversified and time consuming, that the relationship drifts further apart with little or no emotional connection, that’s an independent relationship. When you’re single, being independent is great – you are self-reliant, have good boundaries, yet enjoy the company of others.
In a relationship however, particularly where children are involved, this type of interaction (or lack thereof) can have one questioning just why you are together at all.

Dependent Relationships

This is the relationship that occurs between a young child and a parent, or between an elderly parent and a caretaker, or when one person is ill and reliant on another completely. By its definition, its when one person is completely reliant on another, either through age, illness or debilitating accident.

Co-dependent Relationships

To an extent, any two people in a relationship are in some ways co-dependent. We need each other and help balance each other which is why we are together. However serious co-dependency can be very debilitating.
Earnie Larsen, an author and lecturer and a pioneer in the field of recovery from addictive and unwanted behaviors describes co-dependency as: “Those self-defeating, learned behaviors that result in a diminished capacity to initiate or participate in loving relationships.” In a co-dependent the couple may not even like each other, but each party is bound to the other through fear and possibly guilt. It is when we care for others to the extent that we neglect our own needs.

Issues such as:
• Denial that there is anything wrong in the relationship when clearly it is in crisis
• Guilt
• One or both parties feeling victimised by the other
• stagnation and a feeling of hopelessness in the relationship being able to change,
• control and manipulation,
• problems in confronting situations or problems, where one partner may withdraw, while the other may get angry when confronted,
• smothering – a kind of enmeshment in which there is only room for one person in the relationship and the other must dissolve their identity in order to be with the other.
• Lack of trust
• Unreal expectations placed on a partner, such as a belief that your partner is responsible for your happiness or that it’s the sole responsibility of one person to do the housework.When these expectations are not met, the other party feels let down and resentful.
• Withholding sex as a tool for punishment
• Lack of intimacy and fully loving and accepting the other for who they are.
• No real communication of feelings.
• Perfectionism. The expectation is that the other must behave perfectly, must do everything the “right” way (according to the other partner’s view of what is right. Giving and receiving are out of balance, with each partner feeling that they do the bulk of the giving for which they feel they receive little.
• Lying between parties occurs regularly. If there is no truth, then there can be no intimacy.
• The need to rescue the other party, which is often confused with loving them.
• Fear of being abandoned by the other, because each partner deep down, does not feel good about who they are and believe that they are not worthy of a loving relationship.
• Substance abuse. An emptiness that each may try to fill with alcohol, drugs, smoking, work, infidelities, shopping sprees or eating disorders.
• Boundary issues. Either rigid boundaries or no boundaries at all. I
• Difficulty in viewing yourself as a separate person, with your own desires, needs and aspirations. You become meshed in the other person’s life to the exclusion of your own and may often not even know what it is you want from life, save possibly that your partner change.
• Frustrated creativity – neither feeling able to express their creativity in the form they would like to and blaming others for not being able to do so.

You may have identified with a number of points listed and it would not be surprising, as this is by far the most common form of relationship. However, more commonly now, it encompasses a pattern of dysfunctional behaviour in relationships and the families affected by their behaviour.
It must also be understood, that there are degrees of co-dependency and that the majority of relationships will at some time display some aspects listed above, but may not be categorised as “co-dependent.” Most of us though will, to greater or lesser extent show signs of co-decency. There is no black and white as to when a relationship becomes co-dependent and when it is not, rather there are degrees or a grey scale of co-dependency.

Usually, the one partner is more controlling, needy and emotionally withdrawn, characteristics that the other person then attempts to make compensation for, at the expense of their own needs and desires. Obviously this cannot provide for a balanced and fulfilling relationship.

In extreme cases, in an attempt to ensure that the “pleasing party” remains in the relationship, the “ruling” party may resort to abusive behaviour in order that the “pleasing party,” ironically in an attempt to ensure that the “pleasing party,” doesn’t walk out on them. By being abusive and eating away at the self-worth of the “pleasing party,” they attempt to ensure that the “pleasing party,” believes that they actually deserve this treatment and that it is in some way their fault.

Exercise:
Here are some questions that you can answer to determine the degree to which you may be in a co-dependent relationship. Tick which questions you agree with.
1. Are you unhappy and unfulfilled in your relationship?
2. Do you want to change things about your partner’s behaviour?
3. Do you often feel resentful towards your partner?
4. Do you feel that you give too much in the relationship and keep very little time, money etc for yourself?
5. Do you struggle to meet the approval of others and does it concern you when don’t have their approval?
6. Do you often sacrifice your own needs and desires in order to try to you’re your partners’ approval?
7. Are you afraid to voice your anger and rather steer clear of an argument?
8. Would it be correct to say that your relationship breaks you down, more than builds you up?
9. If your partner goes off and follows a sporting, study interest or social activity without you, do you feel hurt and offended or does he feel like this when you do this?
10. Do you desire yet fear intimacy?
11. Do you feel a lot of pressure to be perfect or do things correctly?
12. Is it hard for you to receive compliments and some times even gifts because you find giving easier than receiving?
13. Is saying “no” difficult for you?
14. Do you feel that no one really likes you or that you have a low sense of self esteem?
15. Is it hard for you to tell people how you really feel?
16. Are you unsure of what you want to do with your life and yet are not happy with the state it’s in?
17. Do you feel that without your input in the family, things would go to pieces?
18. Do you feel uncomfortable unless you are doing something? i.e. doing nothing equates to being of no worth?
19. Do you often feel as if you are helping others and yet no-one is there for you?
20. Do you often feel guilty or to blame for situations that have occurred?

The number of questions you answered yes to, will determine the degree to which your relationship could be defined as co-dependent. If unsure, perhaps you should seek the advice of a trained therapist to help you with these issues.

The Interdependent relationship

Interdependence implies that we do need other people, but unlike co-dependency are whole or complete on our own. Everyone needs to feel needed and in this type of relationship acknowledgement and communication are open and honest. This is the relationship where each person is responsible for his or her own needs and does not hold the other accountable for their happiness or lack of it. Each person feels fulfilled and wants their partner to feel fulfilled. Sharing of emotions happens freely and there is a deep rooted trust between both parties. Their joy is your joy and their happiness makes you happy. As two separate beings, each individual meets and shares intimacy with the other without loosing all sense of self. The essence is working with your partner rather than against them and respect is mutual. Both of you value the others unique abilities while not feeling threatened by them.

Just as I listed points that are often common in a co-dependent relationship, here are some points prevalent in an interdependent relationship.

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