Are You Enabling or Empowering Your Adult Child?

Posted by on Jun 30, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Are You Enabling or Empowering Your Adult Child?

Your kids never stop being your kids. However, in our culture, the expectation is that children will grow increasingly independent, and eventually lead their own lives in their late teens or early twenties.

It is certainly normal for parents to want to help their children, but sometimes “helping” them interferes with their children’s ability to grow into independent, self-sufficient, responsible adults.

Today, there are many adult children who are overly dependent on their parents, well past their 20s, 30s, and even older.

What’s the difference between enabling and empowering?

Both enabling and empowering involves lending assistance to someone who is unable to accomplish a task, or series of tasks, on their own. The difference is that empowering helps a person solve problems. Enabling helps perpetuate problems.

For example, you empower an adult child by paying her rent for a few months while she gets on her feet after a divorce. You enable that child if you allow her to live at home indefinitely, rent-free because she keeps quitting her job.

Most people often connect the term “enabling” to the tendency to perpetuate an addictive behavior. However, it actually applies to the perpetuation of any unhealthy or dysfunctional pattern of behavior.

When parents engage in enabling behaviors, they send their child the message that he or she is not capable of handling situations on their own. This removes any incentive, or motivation, the adult child might have to take responsibility for him or herself.

The line between enabling and empowerment is often blurry. Questions a parent can ask themselves to draw the distinction include the following:

  1. Do you often ignore your adult child’s unacceptable behavior?
  2. Do you resent the responsibility you’ve taken on?
  3. Do you consistently put your own needs aside to help your adult child?
  4. Do you have trouble expressing your own emotions?
  5. Are you fearful that not helping your adult child will cause a blow-up, or they’ll be angry with you?
  6. Do you lie to cover your child’s mistakes?
  7. Do you often assign blame to other people, rather than to your adult child?
  8. Do you continue to help your adult child, despite being unacknowledged or unappreciated?

If you answered yes to a number of these questions, you’re probably an enabler.

Here are some suggestions for helping your adult child learn to stand on his or her own two feet with healthy boundaries:

1. Don’t give an immediate response. Delay. Say, “I’ll think about it and get back to you.” Consider how you want to respond.

2. Set limits on your support. This includes financial, housing, and childcare support. Unlimited access to your resources is draining, and places an inappropriate strain on you. Time limits should be placed, or an equal exchange should be provided. It’s less of a problem for an adult child to live with parents, if he or she contributes to the household expenses. Help is fine, but perpetual assistance is a problem. Plan how you wish to withdraw your support.

3. Engage your adult child’s efforts to become independent. Listen, even if you don’t agree with their  other plans. Don’t step in to solve the problem. No lessons are learned this way. Allow your child to make his or her own decisions. You child needs to experience the consequences of his or her actions.

4. Prepare for your adult child’s reaction. Your child may not appreciate your boundaries. They may apply emotional pressure, and test your limits. Be sure to follow through; otherwise, you lose credibility.

Your child may be unhappy initially, but he or she will adjust. Most parents find that though empowerment comes with an emotional price, it is preferable to enabling!

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