How To Stop Enabling Grown Children And Why It’s Important

Updated May 30, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

As parents, it can be hard to accept when your children become grown-ups. You took parental leave for fathers and mothers to help them grow when they were first born. Then you look up one day and they're graduating college and getting married. One of the hardest things about being parents is knowing how to stop enabling grown children and what changes are needed in your parent-child relationship so they can continue to thrive as adults. In this article, we'll define enabling when it comes to parents, why it's harmful, and how to stop.

Helicopter Parents And Landing Pad Kids Represent Codependency

Why Is Enabling A Bad Thing?

You may have heard parents shouldn't enable their adult children. But why? What's so wrong with parents helping your kids? Well, when a parent enables their child well into adulthood, they may think they’re helping them, but they may actually holding them back or increasing their sense of entitlement . Parents often just want to make life easier for them so they can be successful, so it is often not intentional when a parent’s enabling behavior leads a child to transition into an entitled adult

It’s important to understand the difference between supporting and enabling as parents. Here are some signs that you're enabling your adult child or children:

  • They live at home with you, or you pay for their living expenses, such phone bills, car payments, or medical insurance past a certain age.
  • They constantly come to you for help during “crises” or ask for financial support.
  • They don’t have a full-time job or even a part-time job after they have graduated from high school.
  • You (and your partner) are constantly making sacrifices so that they can have what they want.
  • You (and your partner) are overwhelmed by helping your adult child.
  • You (and your partner) are constantly worried about doing something that will hurt or upset your adult child.

A Lot Of Parents Are In This Situation

Most parents want what's best for their children throughout their lifetime. Some parents feel worried about their kids going their own way. It’s normal to want to shield your children from hardships, regardless of age. However, at some point those children grow older and become adults as well. It may be hard to accept that your adult children should now be making their own life choices and decisions without help from their parents. For some, it may be hard to see their adult children as anything but that small little kid that needed their mommy and daddy for everything.

It may be even harder knowing that eventually they may experience some type of trouble, and you may not be able to help as a parent. So many parents tend to take care of anything for their kid within their control, not knowing that they may be preventing their young adult children from growing into responsible adults who can be resilient and handle their own problems. 

Parental enabling is more common than you may realize. As of July 2020, 52% of U.S. adults ages 18 to 29 were living at home with their parents, which was up from 47% a few months prior. While the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on this phenomenon, other factors were certainly at play beforehand. 

Learning to move from enabling to empowering your grown children can help them more in the long run. Some parents may be divorced, and a child chooses to live with the mother from the relationship because they like the companionship. However, with time, the mother may not realize they have been enabling their young adult child. With a few simple changes, parents can put their adult children on a better path.

What Is Enabling?

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You often hear of a spouse or other loved ones enabling an addict by justifying their usage or providing them with the substances that feed their addiction. An enabler feels as though they are helpful at the moment by keeping that other person comfortable and not allowing them to become upset. However, they’re likely only making things worse in the long run. The same thing can happen with parents and their children too.

Why Is Enabling Harmful?

Many parents have a hard time when their adult children are coming of age and are no longer just kids. So, these parents choose to manage many of the tasks their adult children should be doing on their own, such as doing laundry, cleaning, paying bills, etc. In doing this, their adult children may become more comfortable and may stay at home with their parents longer since their lives are being ”managed.”

Such parents may find that as the young adult child becomes a certain age, they're ill-equipped to handle the world around them without help from their mother or parents. At some point, whether an 18 or 30 year old, they become adult children and enter the real world in their adult life. If these adult children have been shielded by their parents from it since middle school or high school, they're likely to have a hard time functioning. If their mother has always done their laundry, cooking, and cleaning, they may not know how to tend to a home. Adult children may not know how to do things their own way without help from their parents such as budget their finances or pay bills. They may not know how to go grocery shopping or cook a recipe if their mother doesn’t do it for them.

Many parents who tend to enable their young adult children may forget that their job is to help them gain life skills. It can do society a disservice to forgo teaching children independence as they become adult children.

According to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, "Parents who perceived their adult children as needing too much support ." The metaphor used in this study to describe such a codependent parent-child relationship – helicopter parents and landing pad kids – well captures the dichotomy of a parent who may hover over their adult child’s every decision and experience, essentially conditioning the adult child to continue returning to the landing pad whenever they feel uncomfortable or insecure or inept. It is important to remember another metaphor – that of the “bird leaving the nest.” Children deserve the opportunity to try, to fail, and to try again to attempt their dreams; certainly, with support, but more importantly, with independence. The ability to take care of oneself is essential for survival, even in a world where we can have most of our conveniences and needs delivered to our front doors from an app on our smartphones.

How To Change Enabling Behaviors

To correct enabling behavior with your young adult children, it's important to understand that behavior. It's easy to get lost in the moment of trying to provide instant gratification to your child. But as parents, now it's time to step back and think about the long-term effects of your enabling with your adult children. Think about what would happen if you never taught your adult children to do their laundry, cook a meal, or drive. They'd potentially be lost in the world. As much as you may want to feel needed as parents,  it's important to not make this time in their development about yourself and think about your child's future (without your help).

While this may be difficult at first, it is possible. Your adult child or children may not want to put down their video game device to pull their weight in the house because it's been allowed for so long. But it's important to stick to your plan to foster your adult child's independence.

Discuss topics such as:

  • Everyone's roles and responsibilities as part of a family unit, and how these can change over time.
  • What you've come to realize about enabling, and how you’d like to change your own behaviors as a parent.
  • What you would like to teach your young adult child, and why it may be important for them to learn these skills.

Helping Yourself

Coming to realize that you may be enabling your young adult children is not easy. You'll likely need support throughout this journey. That's why it's important to rely on your family and many friends. It may also be beneficial to find someone neutral, such as a therapist. You can find convenient therapists online at BetterHelp. There are hundreds of licensed online therapists waiting to help.

They may even help you discover you've been enabling your young adult children without realizing. As discussed earlier, it's very difficult for someone to realize they're enabling a person, as they feel as though they are simply helping them navigate their life. However, there comes a time where every young adult has to look at their own mistakes and know when to make a change.

Helping Them Through It

Your adult children may push back at first. However, your role as a parent is to see the bigger picture and understand that while they may be happy now, this is not what's best for their life long-term.

Your adult children may say things like, "Don’t you still love me?" or "why are you so mean to me?" As children, it can be hard losing the support to which they’ve grown accustomed. It's important for parents to be understanding and compassionate. But it’s also important to stay strong enough to hear these thoughts without changing the course of action as parents. While your children may even say they don't love you anymore, be strong. This is merely a reaction to their parents breaking a comfortable cycle. Forced change is often uncomfortable, but people only change once they are uncomfortable enough to do so. 

Another idea is to invite your adult children to a counseling session. Many young adults are on their phones most of the day anyway, so they can plug into an online therapist along with you to do some family work. It may not even seem like therapy to them, but rather texting about life.

A family therapist can help validate both parents and their adult children and help you see eye-to-eye on issues that might be difficult to discuss at home or without a third-party present. Young adult children struggle with understanding their parents at times, and a therapist can help them just as much as they can help you.

Through online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, you and/or your child can attend therapy sessions with a licensed counselor at times that work for you, so if your adult child is now vigorously engaged in a job search, they can talk to their therapist at times that don’t interfere with that pursuit. Whether it’s you or your adult child scheduling sessions, all you need is a safe internet connection and you can attend meetings from any preferred space. 

An online therapist may utilize various treatment methods, including specific interventions for “failure to launch.” In one recent study, a practitioner elaborated on how “clinical experience suggests that anxiety and its disorders are frequent factors that trigger and maintain the dynamic of interpersonal dependence and accommodation. Avoidance is the natural response to anxiety, and children are predisposed to look to their parents for help in coping with danger of distress. The difficulty in coping drives the youth to more reliance on parents, who provide negative reinforcement through their accommodating behaviors, and a self-sustaining cycle of avoidance and accommodation is created. The cycle intensifies as time passes, making a return to normal functioning appear more daunting in the eyes of the youth and ever less likely in the eyes of the parent.”

Within the aforementioned study, the researcher used a parent-based treatment strategy with the parents of 27 adults with “failure to launch” who were living at home and excessively reliant on their parents. Over the course of the study, the parents received training in decreasing their accommodating behaviors with empathy. By modifying their own behaviors, parents were able to effect significant gains in their adult children, such as finding employment, independent living arrangements, and engaging in prosocial behaviors.

This is just example of one intervention that can certainly be delivered through online means. Alternatively, an adult child (over the age of 18) could seek online therapy for building resilience. In a randomized controlled trial of 324 university students with symptoms of anxiety and depression, researchers found that internet-based interventions were effective in building resilience, sustaining healthy coping skills, improving overall psychological wellbeing, and mitigating symptoms of anxiety and depression.For many parents, making these changes in life might not be easy for them or their child. Both you and your adult child can reach out for advice. Read reviews on some of BetterHelp's online therapists below.

Helicopter Parents And Landing Pad Kids Represent Codependency

Counselor Reviews

"April finds a way to ask all the right questions to put things into perspective for me. She's always timely with her responses and keeps up communication if she's going to be a little bit delayed. She has helped me tremendously since I started working with her and I'm extremely happy."

"Douglas comes up with clear solutions and I appreciate that. I didn't want a therapist to tell me to talk about my day and how does that make me feel and that it's normal to have these feelings. I know it is normal to feel angry sometimes, but I wanted to understand how to recognize it and address it. So if you need constructive conversation with fast results for everyday annoyances and (especially effective child rearing advice!) I think Douglas is your therapist."


Once you begin to break the cycle of enabling and see your adult child gain independence in their life, you will likely feel overwhelmingly proud of them moving forward. The sense of entitlement they once had may fade away and make your efforts as parents worthwhile. You'll be able to see your young adult child make life decisions and choices you would make yourself. They may even start their own business, buy their own house, or have children of their own someday. You'd be surprised what they can do in life with a little guidance and a little freedom. If you feel that a nonbiased, trained online therapist may be a useful guide in your endeavor to rework family dynamics, develop better forms of reinforcement, or encourage your adult child to become more resilient, you can reach out today by completing the initial questionnaire. 

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