When a child has a single parent, there tends to be a very close-knit bond that the two develop, says David Greenan, Ed.D., LMFT, professor of psychology at the Teachers College of Columbia University.
If the single parent is both raising a child and working, it can be difficult for them to develop their own social life. This is especially true if aunts, uncles, grandparents, and even close friends do not live nearby, he says. When a child feels like they’re the only resource a parent has for socialization, it can create a sense of worry and anxiety, Greenan explains.
“As parents, it is dangerous to depend too much on your child to be the center of your world and to demand to be the center of theirs,” psychotherapist Daryl Appleton, Ed.D., tells mbg. “It doesn’t allow them to grow and develop healthy styles of attachment as independents and as future partners to others.”
This can begin to manifest early on, when children are resistant to going to school or having sleepovers. The child can actually become so worried about their parent, they want to stick around the house, Greenan says.
Of course it varies by context, but these experiences can develop into an insecure attachment style called anxious attachment, which is rooted in a fear of abandonment and an insecurity of being underappreciated.
“When the child becomes an adult, he or she may yearn for emotional closeness since that was their earliest experience of attachment,” Greenan explains. This is what can form that fear of abandonment.
At the same time, they may also want to fend off that closeness since they grew up feeling responsible for the parent’s well-being, he adds. If they’re leaning more toward the latter behavior, it could indicate an avoidant attachment.
How to avoid this: Bringing more resources into the family system can help the parent dedicate more time to their own lives, Greenan says. Dedicating time to building community and trying to be more socially active can model similar behavior for children to follow. This can take a lot of stress off of the parent-child relationship, he says.