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Part II: What is enmeshment and how can it affect child custody?

As regular readers of our Ann Arbor legal blog know, we recently published a post on enmeshment – the family dynamic in which personal boundaries and identities become blurred. Enmeshment can make it difficult – if not impossible – for a child to develop their own sense of self because they are focused on “feeling” the emotions experienced by their mother or father.

In many cases, experts say, the parent encouraging or fostering enmeshment is not doing it consciously but is rather perpetuating a pattern of behavior learned in their own childhood.

Children rely on their parents for support. When that support is given to the child as they are (rather than as the parent wants them to be), a child can feel secure and free to follow their own passions without a sense of guilt or responsibility for the parent’s emotional well-being.

In family dynamics involving enmeshment, children are often reluctant to ask for help with difficulties in school or with friends because they expect the parent to impose their own emotional agenda rather than offering support and guidance.

Experts say that parents can address enmeshment with the help of a family therapist – especially those who are familiar with the dynamic. A qualified therapist or counselor can help both the parent and child recognize signs of enmeshment and then develop, practice and implement strategies that foster emotional health and growth.

Unfortunately (and understandably), enmeshment typically complicates family law matters such as divorce and child custody disputes. Parental alienation can also be a factor that has to be addressed in these complex situations.

Though typically not easily resolved, these matters can be addressed successfully with the help of experienced legal and mental health professionals who understand enmeshment and parental alienation issues.

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