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

By Danni Peck

Updated December 19, 2018

Reviewer Rashonda Douthit , LCSW

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All parents want what is best for their children throughout their lifetime. It is normal to want to shield them from hardships. However, at some point, those children grow older and become adults. As parents, it may be hard to acknowledge that adult children should be making their own life choices and decisions. 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 take care of it for them. So, many parents tend to try to take care of what is within their control, not knowing that they may be preventing their children from growing into the responsible adult that they can and should be.

What Is Enabling?

According to Dictionary.com, the word enable means: "to make able, to give power, means, competence or ability to." In the therapeutic world, an enabler is someone that allows poor choices and decisions to continue despite knowing that the choices can be harmful to that other person.

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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. 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, what they are unknowingly doing is providing an invisible handicap for them.

Why Is It Harmful?

Many parents have a hard time when their children are growing up. They do not want them to go out into the cold, hard world and would like them to stay at home where they are safe. So, these parents do many things for their adult children that they 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 longer since things are being taken care of.

However, what you may soon find is that as this adult child ages, they are ill-equipped to handle the world around them. At some point, whether at 18 or 30, they will enter the real world. If they have been shielded from it, they are likely to have a hard time functioning. If their moms have always done their laundry, cooking, cleaning, they may not know how to tend to a home. They may not know how to write a check or balance their bank account. They may not know how to go grocery shopping or even understand a recipe.

Many parents who tend to enable forget that their job is to help their children gain life skills. What they need to realize is that they are raising a member of a community, a future employee and probably someone's future spouse. It does their children a disservice to not teach them how to grow up and be independent in the world.

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How To Change Enabling Behaviors

If you are an enabler to your adult children or anyone for that matter, there are ways to correct your behavior. First, it is important to realize and understand what you are doing. It is easy to get lost in the moment of trying to provide instant gratification to your child. But, now it is time to step back and think about the long-term effects of your enabling. Think about what would happen if you never taught your child to do his or her laundry, to cook a meal or to drive. They would be lost in the world without you. As much as you may want to feel needed, it is 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 may not want to put down their video game device to pull their weight in the house since it has been allowed for so long. But, it is important that you stick to your plan to require your adult child's independence.

Consider holding a family meeting with your adult child and anyone else residing in the home. Discuss topics such as:

  • What everyone's roles and responsibilities in the home are going to be moving forward.
  • What you've come to realize about enabling.
  • What you would like to teach your adult child.
  • Why it's important to you that the family dynamic change

Helping Yourself

Now, coming to realize that you may be enabling someone is not an easy thing. You will likely need support throughout this journey, as well. Therefore, it is important to rely on your family and friends. However, it may also be beneficial to find someone neutral to the situation, such as a therapist. You can find convenient therapists online here at BetterHelp. There are hundreds of licensed online therapists who are waiting to help you.

They may even help you to realize that you are enabling someone without you seeing it yourself. As discussed earlier, it is very difficult for someone to realize that they are enabling a person, as they feel as though they are simply helping them.

Helping Them Through It

It is also important to understand that 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, in the future, this is not what is best for them.

They may say things like, "don't you still love me?" or "why are you so mean to me?" This is to guilt you into continuing the enabling behaviors. It is important that you are strong enough to hear these things without changing the course of action. While they may say that they hate you or that they don't love you anymore, be strong. They are saying these hurtful words as a reaction to you breaking the cycle. They are now uncomfortable and are forced to change. While it may seem hard, it is what is best for them. People only change once they are uncomfortable enough to do so.

Perhaps hold another family meeting to discuss what is going on. Another idea is to invite them to your counseling session to provide some family counseling. Many young adults are on their phones most of the day anyway, so they can plug into a virtual therapist along with yourself to do some family work. It may not even seem like therapy to them, but rather texting about life.

Moving Forward

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Once you begin to break the cycle of enabling and see your child gain independence, you will feel overwhelmingly proud of them. It will make all this worthwhile. You will be able to see the fruits of your labor come to life and see your child make life decisions and choices that you would make yourself. You'd be surprised what they can do with a little guidance and a little freedom.

They will be making you dinner and doing your laundry 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 because you let him, or she becomes his or herself.


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