A codependent parent may be overly controlling, feel an excessive sense of responsibility for their child, and have an intense need for approval.

Childhood experiences within a dysfunctional family may lead to people becoming codependent parents. Therapy may help individuals recognize and overcome codependent behaviors.

This article looks at the causes, signs, and treatment of parent codependency.

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Codependency is a learned behavior that people can pass down through generations. A codependent parent often has attachment issues with their child.

A codependent parent may exert excess control over a child’s life, with an intense need for their child to need them, approve, and give recognition to them. A codependent parent may not be in touch with their emotions and may be in denial about their behavior or true feelings.

According to Mental Health America, another term for codependency is relationship addiction. The relationship may feel controlling and emotionally damaging.

A codependent parent may have low self-esteem, a lack of sense of self, and take the role of victim. Their caretaking role may become compulsive or martyr-like.

A codependent parent may continuously take on more than their share of work or caretaking, with an increased sense of responsibility for their child’s actions. These parents may also feel hurt if they feel others do not recognize their efforts.

A 2021 article looked at the lived experiences of eight people involved in support groups for codependency in the United Kingdom.

The participants linked their codependency to their experiences growing up at home, which included:

  • experiencing excessive control, perfectionism, and criticism in the home environment
  • experiencing both excessive control or rigidity from parents, alongside a lack of support
  • having a parental figure who they viewed as physically or emotionally absent, or the absence of a parental figure who they viewed as safe
  • feeling both abandonment and control in the home environment

Living in a dysfunctional family, in which family members experience fear, pain, anger, or shame, which they do not acknowledge, may lead to codependency.

Codependent parents may show the following signs:

Controlling behavior

Parents may be overly involved in their child’s life and decisions in an attempt to keep control. Patterns of controlling behavior may look like the following:

  • believing their child is incapable of taking care of themselves in a way that is inappropriate in relation to the child’s age
  • attempting to convince their child how to feel and think or what to do
  • becoming resentful if their child does not accept their help or advice
  • offering advice and direction without their child asking for it

Learn more about controlling people.

Lacking a sense of self

According to a 2018 article, people with codependency may lack a clear sense of self. People may feel like a chameleon, trying to fit into social situations and relationships in which they cannot fully be themselves around others.

Low self-esteem

People with codependency may have low self-esteem, which can include the following signs:

  • having difficulty making decisions
  • feeling they are never good enough and judging what they do, say, or think harshly
  • feeling embarrassed to receive praise or recognition
  • being unable to identify their own needs and ask for what they want
  • not being able to see themselves as worthwhile or loveable
  • valuing other people’s approval of their feelings, thoughts, and actions above their own


“Parentification” is the term for when a child is required to take on a parental role toward a parent. Children may have to carry out roles that are beyond their years, such as caring for a parent or siblings. A codependent parent may see themselves as a victim in situations and may rely on a child for emotional support.

Denial and avoidance

A codependent parent may be in denial about their behaviors and how they are feeling. They may see themselves as selfless and focused only on the well-being of their child.

A codependent parent may avoid conflict and use evasive communication with a child to avoid arguments or confrontations. They may judge what a child says or does harshly.

A codependent parent may believe that displaying emotion is a weakness. They may avoid emotional or physical intimacy with others so that they do not feel vulnerable.

These parents may also sacrifice other relationships, such as that with a partner, other family members, or friendships, due to their codependent relationship with their child.

Difficulty enforcing boundaries

A codependent parent may have a compulsive need to look after their child, regardless of their behavior. For example, they may make excuses for a child’s negative behavior or take steps to get them out of trouble, which may be detrimental.

A codependent parent may also feel hopeless or stuck in their situation and feel they are unable to change it or break away from their behaviors.

Fear of abandonment

A codependent parent may have a fear of their child leaving or abandoning them. They may go to any lengths to hold onto their relationship to avoid feelings of abandonment. They may also find it difficult to adjust to change.

A codependent parent will usually have developed their behaviors from childhood experiences. Treatment for codependency may involve therapy or education to explore childhood issues and how they link to current behaviors.

Treatment may include individual or group therapy or counseling and education around codependency. Treatment may help people:

  • identify unhelpful behavior patterns
  • get in touch with their feelings and feel their full range of emotions
  • rediscover themselves and their sense of self
  • uncover any feelings they have buried since childhood
  • rebuild positive family dynamics

Parent codependency refers to issues with a parent’s attachment to a child. A codependent parent may be overly controlling, emotionally manipulative, and have low self-esteem.

Treatments such as therapy can help a person recognize their behaviors, rediscover their sense of self, and feel suppressed emotions.