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5 Positive Parenting Tips To Stop Enabling and Start Helping

By: Kimberly Berry, LPC

Your daughter calls you at work. When you hear her voice, you find yourself thinking, “What is it now?” Immediately you feel guilty for this thought and ask how she is doing. “I don’t know how come I have so many problems,” she sighs. She continues talking for thirty minutes about how she has not been able to find a job that is right for her. Her rent and car payment are due and she does not even have enough money to take her clothes to the Laundromat. She asks if she can bring her dirty laundry to your house, then remembers that her car is on empty. You start to explain that you are dealing with problems too but she quickly delivers the ‘but you’re my mother’ speech that works like a charm. You agree to go by her house after work to give her money to pay her bills and pick up her dirty clothes. As usual, she promises to pay you back, but you know that will never happen. By next month, it will be a new crisis. You wonder when she will learn to stand on her own two feet. After all, your daughter is 32 years old.

 

Time For Honest Parenting

What is enabling?

Enabling is creating an environment for your adult child which allows him or her to continue acting irresponsibly. Under normal circumstances, there is a behavior and a consequence. For example, a behavior of spending money on a beach trip instead of rent would result in a consequence of losing an apartment. An enabler swoops in and removes the consequence, giving the adult child no reason or opportunity to learn a valuable lesson. The enabler “fixes” the problem.

Helping or enabling?

Many parents struggle with this question. How do you determine the difference between helping and enabling? Helping means that you are doing something for your adult child that he is unable to do for himself. Enabling means that you are doing something for him that he is not only able to do but should be doing for himself. It is true that there may be times that your adult child may genuinely need your help. It is when you find yourself frequently bailing your adult child out of one jam after another that you cross the line of helping to enabling.

If I don’t “help” them, how will they make it?

To answer this question, remind yourself that “helping” is doing something for your adult child that he is incapable of doing on his own. How is your adult child ever going to learn to do for himself if you do not give him the opportunity to do so? You are assuming that you will always be available to bail your adult child out of trouble. What happens to them when you are not able to fix things? By not letting them learn to take care of themselves, you are setting them up to be completely unprepared when they have to handle situations on their own.

 

Positive Parenting Tips

Five ways to stop enabling

  1. Disable your guilt button. Your adult child has realized that they can continue to get what they want by pushing this button. You are not to blame for your adult child’s problems.
  2. Talk with your adult child when things are calm. Tell her that you realize you have been preventing her from becoming a responsible adult by stepping in and solving problems. Let her know that you will be emotionally supportive, but will no longer be financially responsible for her mistakes.
  3. Recognize that you are entitled to live your own life. You are not responsible to fix the mistakes of your adult child.
  4. Understand that when your child reaches adulthood, you have fulfilled your obligation as a parent. It is time for your adult child to make his or her own way towards becoming a responsible adult.
  5. Give your adult child a chance to figure out solutions to his or her own problems. Instead of rushing in to solve the problem, give yourself time to figure out if this is actually a legitimate request for help or if you are falling into the same pattern of enabling. By not letting your adult child handle his own problems, you are crippling his chance to develop vital problem solving skills.

It may feel awkward in the beginning

It is important to understand that stopping enabling behavior may feel awkward in the beginning. Resist the urge to give into old, familiar enabling habits. Remember that by allowing your adult child to handle his own problems, you are not only helping yourself, you are helping your adult child become a responsible adult.


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