Parents Who Love Too Much

by Mark Sichel, LCSW

Maureen*, 36, completed a course of therapy some years ago and her story demonstrates perfectly how a child who grew up with insufficient love can become a parent who loves too much. She grew up in a family where both parents were alcoholics. They divorced when she was young, and she had a turbulent and chaotic life, alternately living with each parent and contending with chronic abuse, neglect, abandonment, and, as is often the case in alcoholic families, an impoverishment of warmth and nurturing.

Maureen began drinking and drugging at a young age, and hit bottom early. She became sober and has worked hard in Alcoholics Anonymous for many years. She entered therapy in her mid-20's to work out struggles with intimacy, and learned how her early unmet dependency needs contributed to her dysfunctional behavior with the men in her life.

Maureen stopped therapy when she worked out these problems and left treatment happily married to a man who treated her well. She came back to see me recently with her husband because of their marital problems. One of the biggest problems, we discovered, was that Maureen was determined to provide their daughter with the opposite parenting experience of her own. She offered their 4-year-old daughter unconditional and limitless warmth, nurturing, companionship and made every attempt to avoid seeing her child struggle. This, of course, was adversely affecting her marriage because her husband and their relationship were never a priority.

"I don't want Lauren to feel abandoned the way I did," she said to me, after telling me about what was going on in their family. Maureen and Ron were having serious problems because they rarely had an intimate moment alone together. Their sex life had become virtually non-existent because Lauren slept in their bed every night. I asked why and Maureen said that Lauren cried hysterically when forced to sleep in her own bed and that she couldn't tolerate seeing her child so upset. Maureen is a parent who loves too much.

Maureen ultimately looked at her inappropriate behavior, and explored with me the fact that setting limits for a child is a sign of love. She also was able to acknowledge that her overindulgence of her daughter had more to do with her own anxiety and dependency than her daughter's needs for love and nurturing. Over time, as she set more reasonable limits with her child, and created more appropriate boundaries within her family of procreation, she was able to both improve her relationship with her husband and to feel more autonomous as a person. She started seeing herself as more than Lauren's mother, while she continued to offer her child the warmth and affection which was lacking in her life.

To learn more about how parents who love too much can create demons that pursue their children even as adults, read King Baby is Born.

Discover how healthy and wonderful properly set boundaries can be in Boundaries and Barriers.

Or, would you like to learn more about how to set healthy boundaries in your family? Read A Boundary is Not a Rejection.

*The names of all clients have been changed to protect their identities.


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