Psychologists define an enabler as “someone who allows poor choices and decisions to continue despite knowing that those choices can be harmful to the other person.”

Could the psychologists be describing you?

I know you think you’re simply being a parent, and that you’re showing your love in the best way possible.  So let me be blunt:  this isn’t helpful.  In fact, you’re more than likely hurting your kid.  And you’re probably hurting yourself as well as your marriage.

Why?  If your goal in child-rearing is to teach your kid to be independent, you’re on the right track.  We want  to teach our kids the skills to manage their own lives, and that means sometimes allowing them to fail.  If the issues are financial, your adult kid might benefit by a lesson in budgeting, or in financial restraint.  Co-signing on a car loan, or doing their laundry isn’t really allowing our children to fully grow up, right?

It’s time to take off the training wheels.

  • Understand your own role in the current situation and take accountability for it
  • Ask yourself whether you want your son or daughter to be lost without you or to be independent
  • Explain to your adult child what mistakes you’ve made by enabling him/her
  • Understand that you’ll likely receive a mean or hurtful response and try not to take it personally
  • His/her reaction is to the prospect of change, and not to you
  • Allow your adult child to be angry
  • Consider talking to a therapist

This process is a marathon, not a sprint.  (I know, this expression has been beaten to death, yet it is absolutely appropriate here.)  The distance between enabling and tough love is significant.  As an advocate for baby steps in most situations, I think you can ease your way into a healthier relationship for both you and your adult child by walking through it together.  You have the advantage, in that you can see the bigger picture while, at the same time, your kid is simply in the here and now.  I think it’s important for you to keep that in mind, and not expect him/her to think exactly the same way you do.

Status checks are also beneficial as you’re gently easing your adult son or daughter towards independence.  Having a brief conversation over dinner instead of calling a formal family meeting is one idea.  Ask how things are going, and then ask what might need some improvement.  We sometimes fall into the habit of starting conversations with what’s wrong.  If we can break that habit by flipping the switch from the negative to the positive, I suspect we will all arrive at our destination a lot faster.  And probably a lot happier as well.

This topic of enabling is a tough one to process.  Start slowly, by looking into the mirror and being truthful with yourself.  Do it nicely.  If you have any input, please comment.  I am always grateful for your insight.