Our parenting style comes from a combination of how we were raised, what we have learned and our personality types. In my last missive I started part one of five articles I would write about parenting styles. Although generally speaking, parenting styles are recognised as falling into four categories (authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, neglectful) I have chosen to categorise five areas.

So, this week I want to focus on the little-known sector of “Enmeshed parenting”. Just to remind you though, as stated last time, no matter which parenting style we predominantly portray, we will also manifest aspects of the other parenting styles along the way. That said lets progress.

I wanted to include Enmeshed Parenting as a category because it has been around for a while. Besides, you could argue that since the introduction of Diana Baumrind’s four styles of parenting parents have evolved into a whole new species, and therefore it is important to recognise enmeshed parenting.

Historically we had the patriarchal authoritarian parenting style in the 50’s. Everything went permissive, including parenting in the 60’s. This was about the time Diana Baumrand presented her four parenting styles of authoritative, authoritarian, permissive (indulging) and negligent (uninvolved). Then in the 70’s and 80’s where divorce started becoming common we had latchkey kids, where kids were known to be left home by themselves. We then had the forerunners of enmeshed parents, known as helicopter parenting or lawnmower parenting.

What are Enmeshed Parents

These are the parents that sacrifice their own lives to meet every little need of the children. As their child turns into a teenager these parents are still focused primarily on their child’s life. The key word for this category is “Over”, primarily “Over Rover” because when you start down this road you generally lose out on the relationship. But also, there comes to mind overinvolved, over focused, overprotective, over controlling, over invested, over perfectionist – all being just overwhelmingly exhaustive.

Often Enmeshed parenting results through unresolved issues you may have from your childhood and projecting them onto your child. Take for example your child has not been invited to a birthday party, because you were left out as a child you feel the pain, rejection and hurt. (The reality is your child may not have been that close to the host).

The over worriers

Many enmeshed parents are over worriers and tend to think obsessively. You may feel that “obsessive” is an overrated word, and that you might never think like that, but if you team the word “nag” into the category you will begin to see a correlation. And please don’t say you are never guilty of having nagged! The result to your child, turning adolescent, will be either that they feel you are a loving parent, or more likely be irritated and turned away by your constant need

The Rescuer

Enmeshed parents are very good at “rescuing” their children. Like helicopter parents they will swoop in to rescue and fix a situation, often excusing any inappropriate behaviour. Take for example my son’s class was going on a week away trip, the one they all hang out for in primary school, being the one trip they get. They were all warned if they misbehaved, they wouldn’t go. Guess who misbehaved. My son. As a parent, I understood the principle he needed to be punished. Did I think it fair? No way. This only happens once in their primary school years, and I felt he had been robbed of this opportunity. So very mature me, not, gave him the week off school, while the others were on holiday camp. The big problem in all of this was he wouldn’t have learned the error of his ways, and here was mum trying to do a fixit or patch up job.

High Expectations

It is bad enough to pressure kids continuously to be successful, but alas quite often the reason is because it reflects on the parent and the need for them to be recognised as special, (again rooting back to their unresolved issues as children). Often as teenagers the pressure is increased, because parents recognise this is their child’s last chance to make it or pave the way to adulthood.

Dysfunctional Roles that can occur in Enmeshed Parenting

In groups we tend to take on roles, and so it is with families. You can have the role of provider, or nurturer, or role of mother or father, or child, or sibling. Enmeshed parenting is not healthy in the long run, and this is where dysfunctional roles can occur. Some of these roles are listed below.

The first is the trophy role. Here children are groomed to be a certain way, regardless of whether they wanted it this way. For example as a budding adolescent having been raised by a mother who was no doubt a classic enmeshed parent, portraying tendencies also of authoritarian upbringing, I actually had no idea, and no motivation to proceed into the world of work and adulthood. For some reason my mother felt the best job in life I could possibly ever do was be a shorthand typist (what’s that you ask!). Guess what her occupation had been. So blithely I followed the footsteps she set out for me… That was definitely not the road I wished to take. A lot of the time these children have an immense fear of failure and letting down family expectations.

The Second role is the Disciple Role. Here the parent knows best (even if they don’t) and tell the child what they really think and feel, until guess what…. the child begins to not think or feel. Picture the scenario where the parent says you don’t want to play the drums, you’ll much prefer doing economics.

The Third role is that of Surrogate. Here the child replaces the role of partner, friend or parent to their parent. To others the parent may seem loving and devoted, but the reality is the child becomes wrapped up in confusion, as they go through life unaware their parent has unmet needs they unconsciously pass on.

The Fourth role is that of Scapegoat. Here the child rebels against the enmeshing parent, and is then labelled as being the problem child, rather than the dysfunction radiating from the parent.They may front up as angry, but in reality, they are feeling shame, hurt and rejection. Because they feel they are a failure


As a child matures into teenager their reactions to this over attention will manifest in various ways. The most obvious is rebellion. Teenagers tend to be emotional and reactive so the tighter the hold by the parent, the harder they will fight while sometimes sabotaging the things their parents have strived for.

They can become acutely aware of their parents expectations and will either learn to look successful and good at hiding their faults, or will either meet the required expectations just to keep the parent off their back, or push themselves relentlessly to the extent that they have a need to be the best at everything.

Sometimes the expectations of the parents will cause teens will try hard to meet their parent’s demands and still feel like failures. In this scenario the teens may resort to cheating, lying to their parents or resort to blaming others. And it is amazing how naturally this can come out of their lips. This is dangerous as they are then beginning a way of life that will involve lying, cheating and misrepresentation.

Then there are those kids who get sick of trying and will simply give up.

Entitled Children

Parents who sacrifice everything can sometimes end up with entitled children. How this eventuates is in their quest to have their child attain the results they desire they will become overindulgent and overly devoted with them. This results in the teenager developing expectations they should get whatever they want, especially material possessions, and teenagers have much more expensive tastes than children!

Because they have been indulged, they have trouble in handling the word “no” and often become quite angry. They will often grow up internalising the belief that they are special. As adults, they often are thrown when they discover the world is not the pushover their parents are.

As they grow into adulthood every aspect of their lives can be impacted. From handling finances, to the relationships they are involved in as well as their careers.

How to turn it around

As a parent awareness is your first step to remedy the situation. Write a list of some of your parenting behaviours that you can “let go of”. An example might be to stop controlling the clothing style of your teenager. Allow them more time to spend with their friends. That doesn’t necessarily mean a weekend stayover. Set small boundaries with your child. For instance, stop checking on all the details – afford them some privacy (within reason). Have clear boundaries. If your boundaries were clear you wouldn’t be bribing your child into the behaviour you wanted. Don’t be afraid to seek help.

Little steps lead to great strides. If you have enjoyed reading this share with a friend and visit my Free Online Parenting Course for more tips and strategies

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