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

Updated October 7, 2022by 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 to know 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.

Enabling Your Children May Actually Be Holding Them Back

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 thinkthey’re helping them, but they mat actually holding them back or increasing their sense of entitlement and actually turning them into entitled adult children. As parents, it may not be intentional. Parents often just want to make life easier for them so they can be successful.

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

  • They live at home with their parents, or the parents pay for their living expenses such as a phone bill, a car payment, or medical insurance when they are an18 year old young adult or older.
  • You're constantly helping them through crises or providing financial support.
  • They don’t have a full time job or even a part time job after they graduated high school.
  • Parents constantly make sacrifices so the kids can have what they want.
  • The parents are overwhelmed by helping their adult child.
  • The parents constantly worried about doing something that will hurt or upset them.

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 mother or parents. As parents, it may be hard to see them 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 mother or 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 that can handle their own problems. Enabling by parents is more common than you may realize. There are a large number of adult children continuing to live at home with their parents. Learning to move from enabling to empowering your grown children will help them more in the long run. Some parents may be divorced and a child chooses to live with the ex-wife from the relationship because she allows it and likes the companionship. However, with time the mother may not realize she has been enabling her young adult child. With a few simple changes, parents can put their adult children on a better path.

What Is Enabling?

You often hear of a spouse or other loved ones enabling an addict by justifying their usage or providing them with the substances. 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 only making things worse in the long run. The same thing can happen with parents and their children too.

Why Is It Harmful?

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

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 does 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 reported poorer life satisfaction."

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 be lost in the world without you. As much as you may want to feel needed as parents,  it's important to not make this 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.
  • What you've come to realize about enabling.
  • What you would like to teach your young adult child.
  • Why you feel it's important to change the family dynamic.

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 parents, it can be hard losing the support they've grown accustomed to. 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 the 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.

Moving Forward

Once you begin to break the cycle of enabling and see your adult child gain independence in their life, you will feel overwhelmingly proud of them as parents moving forward. The sense of entitlement they once had will 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.

Enabling Your Children May Actually Be Holding Them Back

They'll be making dinner and doing laundry for their parents in no time. Then you'll be the one who gets to sit back and play video games while they clean around you. Okay, maybe not quite, but you will be able to relax knowing that you raised an independent, responsible young adult who will do great things in this world and their life because you let them become themselves.

For many parents, making these changes in life might not be easy for them or their child.  Both you or your adult child can reach out for advice. Read reviews on some of BetterHelp's online therapists below.

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."

Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:

What is an entitled adult?
What to do about grown children who expect money?
How do I stop enabling my adult children?
How do you deal with entitled children?
How do you spot an entitled person?
How do you deal with entitled adults?
When should you cut an adult child off financially?
What should you not say to your adult son?
How do you let go of a child who hates you?
What is failure to launch syndrome?

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