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

By Stephanie Kirby|Updated June 14, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Rashonda Douthit , LCSW

It can be hard to accept when your children become grown-ups. You spent years taking care of them, providing for them, and protecting them. Then you look up one day and they're graduating college and getting married. It's hard 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, 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 you shouldn't enable your adult children. But why? What's so wrong with helping your kids? Well, when you enable your child well into adulthood, you may think you're helping them, but you're actually holding them back. It may not be intentional. You 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. Here are some signs that you're enabling your child:

  • They live at home, or you pay for their living expenses.
  • You're constantly helping them through crises.
  • You constantly make sacrifices so they can have what they want.
  • You're overwhelmed from helping your grown child.
  • You're constantly worried about doing something that will hurt or upset them.

A Lot of Parents Are in This Situation

All parents want what's best for their children throughout their lifetime. It's normal to want to shield them from hardships. However, at some point those children grow older and become adults. It may be hard to accept that your children should now 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 help. So many parents tend to take care of anything within their control, not knowing that they may be preventing their children from growing into the responsible adults that can handle their own problems. Enabling is more common than you may realize. There are a large number of adult children continuing to live at home. Learning to move from enabling to empowering your grown children will help them more in the long run. With a few simple changes, you can put your adult children on a better path.

What Is Enabling?

In the therapeutic world, an enabler is someone who habitually allows a family member or close friend to make choices that can result in harm.

enabling children

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.

Why Is It Harmful?

Many parents have a hard time when their children are coming of age. They don't want them to go out into the cold, dangerous world. 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 longer since their lives are being taken care of.

Such parents may find that as the adult child ages, they're ill-equipped to handle the world around them. At some point, whether at 18 or 30, they will enter the real world. If they've been shielded from it since middle school or high school, they're likely to have a hard time functioning. If their moms have always done their laundry, cooking, and 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 society a disservice to forgo teaching children independence.

Adult children tend to accept the help they receive, but it's been found that offering too much help negatively affects the parents. According to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, "Parents who perceived their grown children as needing too much support reported poorer life satisfaction."

How To Change Enabling Behaviors

To correct enabling behavior, 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 now it's time to step back and think about the long-term effects of your enabling. Think about what would happen if you never taught your 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, 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 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.

Consider holding a family meeting. Discuss topics such as:

  • Everyone's roles and responsibilities.
  • What you've come to realize about enabling.
  • What you would like to teach your adult child.
  • Why you feel it's important to change the family dynamic.

Helping Yourself

Coming to realize that you may be enabling someone is not easy. You'll likely need support throughout this journey. That's why it's important to rely on your family and 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 someone 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. However, there comes a time where every 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 them long-term.

They may say things like, "don't you still love me?" or "why are you so mean to me?" It can be hard losing the support they've grown accustomed to. Be understanding and compassionate. But it's important to stay strong enough to hear these thoughts without changing the course of action. While they may even say they don't love you anymore, be strong. This is merely a reaction to you breaking the cycle. Forced change is uncomfortable, but people only change once they are uncomfortable enough to do so. Another idea is to invite them 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 you and your child and help you see eye-to-eye on issues that might be difficult to discuss at home or without a third-party present. 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 child gain independence, you will feel overwhelmingly proud of them. The sense of entitlement they once had will fade away and make your efforts worthwhile. You'll be able to see your 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 with a little guidance and a little freedom.


Enabling Your Children May Actually Be Holding Them Back

They'll 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 them become themselves.

Making these changes in life might not be easy for you or your child. Having access to online counseling in those tough moments can be the difference between success and failure. 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."


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