As soon as I became a mom, people started criticizing me for doing things my way. I constantly heard from elderly relatives, mom friends, and strangers in the grocery store that I shouldn't hold my baby "too much," wear them in a baby carrier, breastfeed them, comfort them, or talk to them like adults, lest they become co-dependent. It's hard not to worry, especially about your child, but honestly: there are more than a few things that won't actually make your kid co-dependent. Oh, and science agrees.
So what is co-dependency anyway? Most of the time when people talk about co-dependency they are referring to an adult relationship where one (or more) person is dependent on the other for validation, decision making, and a sense of self-worth. According to Mental Health America, they can have a tendency to do anything to please the other person in the relationship, have trouble making decisions, but are simultaneously obsessed with being in control. According to Raychelle Cassada Lohmann MS, LPCS when it comes to a parent-child relationship, co-dependency can mean that your child has extreme separation and social anxiety, which can persist into adulthood and affect their future adult relationships.
So, how does this happen? According to Lohmann, it goes back to communication, the expectations you set, and the spoken and unspoken rules you expect your children to follow. If you don't talk about problems, tell your kids to tough it out or not to cry, and expect perfection or set unrealistic expectations, you might be setting your child up for a low self-esteem and constant need for validation that are the cornerstones of co-dependency.
From research (and years of experience as a parent), I have learned that those things that people typically associate with clingy, co-dependent children — offering praise, comfort, affection, and help when they need it — can actually help prevent co-dependency. It might seem counter-intuitive, but drawing your kids in close when they are little, praising them as they grow, and being a stable base from which your kids can explore the world, will actually help them grow into independent, resilient kids and adults.
So, next time someone tries to warn you about your kids becoming co-dependent, you can rest easy (and maybe send them here for a dose of science).