As a parent, your job is to support and love your child. You want to see them succeed and it can sometimes be easier to help them along instead of letting them learn from their own mistakes. This is especially true as they grow into adults and we must learn to let go. So where's the line between helping your child and enabling them?
If you're concerned you may be enabling your adult child, there is a solution. It can take time and will undoubtedly take effort, but you can stop the cycle and help your child learn to stand on their own two feet. In this post, we'll take an in-depth look at what enabling is, uncover a few of the signs to help you gain clarity, and then cover 7 steps that can help you stop the cycle. Let's dive in.
What is Enabling?
Generally speaking, enabling is the act of doing something for someone when they could do it themselves. This is especially true if you're trying to help the person avoid the consequences of their actions or you're acting out of a people-pleasing mentality. Additionally, the permissive person in the relationship often feels like they are protecting the other person.
As a parent, enabling comes into effect when your adult child has the capability to care for and make decisions for themselves, yet you continue to provide unnecessary aid. Enabling is also seen in codependent relationships. According to Mental Health America, codependency is an “emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship.”
How to Tell if You're Enabling
According to Pew Research Center, 52% of young adults aged 18-29 were still living with their parents in 2020. Of course, the pandemic likely had an effect on these numbers, but it's also possible that these numbers are due to enabling family situations. It also means that more children are moving back home, even after leaving for college.
Oftentimes, an adult who is enabling will feel overwhelmed or resentful toward their child. They may also feel like their child acts entitled or demanding. Here are a few other signs to look for if you're concerned that you may be enabling your grown child:
- You make decisions for them by hovering and being overly involved.
- You make excuses for their behavior.
- Your child doesn't respect you.
- You protect them from consequences.
- You help them financially.
- You feel guilt and regret over the way your child turned out.
How to Stop Enabling Your Grown Child
Keep in mind that this enabling situation is one that many parents find themselves in. Most often these relationships develop out of a parent's well-meaning desire to help their child and the line between helping and enabling can be easily blurred.
If you do feel like you may be enabling your grown child, however, there is help. Here are 7 steps to support you in breaking the cycle, creating a healthy relationship with your child, and coaching them into becoming a fully functioning, independent adult.
1. Look Inward
The hardest part of stopping the enabling process is admitting to yourself that you made a mistake and are part of the issue. It can be difficult to accept your shortcomings, but a relationship takes two people. Start by getting brutally honest with yourself about the role you've played so far.
It also helps to do a self-check of your own caretaking behaviors up to this point. If you're completing tasks for your child to show love and care, you might be taking this mentality too far. The first step to ending enabling is to get clear on the current situation and take ownership of your own actions.
2. Explain Why You're Backing Away
Once you've decided you're ready to break the cycle and you've gotten clear on what you can do differently, it's time to have a serious conversation with your child. You must change the way you think about them and get clear on why you're taking a step back. Without explaining how things will be changing for them, it can be hard to implement new boundaries.
Also be sure to tell them that even though things will be changing, it doesn't mean you'll stop caring for them or wanting to help them. It simply means that you now expect them to take responsibility for their own life and to do their own inner work to create the life they want for themselves.
3. Set Boundaries and Follow Through
After you've had the initial conversation with your child about why you're backing away and how things will change, it's time to set some new boundaries. When you set these boundaries, be sure to clearly explain them to your child so they know what to expect going forward.
The second part of this equation is sticking to the boundaries you've set. It will feel hard to stick to your new boundaries at first. But once you've set them and clearly explained them, the ability to say no will become easier.
4. Start Saying No
Speaking of saying no, this is the next step in the process. Even though it will be hard and you may have initial feelings of guilt for not doing tasks for your child that you once previously completed, you must learn to say no.
If saying no is hard in the beginning, try saying the word out loud to get used to it, or offer a reason with your answer of no. Just make sure you remain firm. Saying no in a loving yet firm way will help you to stick to your boundaries, ultimately creating a healthy relationship with your child.
5. Let Your Child Make Their Own Decisions
If part of the enabling process involves you making decisions for your child, it's time to let them take over. It's time to release control and let them start learning how to make choices for themselves, even if this means they may face consequences. They may also make mistakes as they begin to make decisions for themselves, but ultimately, you're helping them to build their own problem-solving skills.
If they do come to you to ask for help, encourage them to brainstorm some solutions on their own. Also, reassure them that you trust they'll make the right decision. This can help to build their self-esteem and shows you care without having to make the choice yourself.
6. Consider Family Therapy
Stopping the cycle of enabling your adult child can be a challenging process. It can be hard to stop making excuses for their behavior and bailing them out of difficult situations. You don't have to go it alone. If your family is agreeable, consider trying therapy together. Attending therapy as a group can help to identify the roles each person has played and how to change the family culture.
The more you learn about each other and yourself with an impartial third party, the easier it can be for everyone to work on changing the current environment.
7. Do Your Own Work
To circle back to the beginning, you'll need to look inward and do your own work as you process the changes you're ready to make with your child. To stop the cycle of enabling, you'll need to work through your guild, build your own self-esteem, and possibly begin your own personal journey of therapy. You may also want to learn more about co-dependency and any other areas where you can better understand yourself.
The process to stop enabling your own child can be a difficult one, but it's also necessary in order to have a healthier relationship with them and help them become more independent. Give it time and be encouraging. You can still provide love and support without being their best friend. By following these steps, it's possible to create a new environment.
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