“Why do parents keep enabling their kids?” a colleague once asked me. I looked at her with a bewildered look on my face. Parents financially support their emerging adult (18-29 year old) children for the same reason they do everything they do as parents… because they love their children (and often want to protect them from perceived hardship). Unfortunately, this well-intentioned support can sometimes morph into full-fledged enabling.
But how will you know the difference?
I’ve seen definitions of support as helping someone do something they are not capable of doing themselves. Whereas, enabling is doing things for someone that they can and should be doing for themselves.
I don’t think that’s necessarily a helpful distinction because it can be really difficult for parents to know if their adult children can do something for themselves. In reality, the child might not have the skills yet, so the parent does it for them. The downside of this situation, though, is that it prevents the child from ever developing the skill, which creates a cycle of dependency.
Still, we have yet to answer the question. How will a parent know if he or she is enabling their child?
With the parents I work with, this is usually a rather illuminating question:
Are you starting to feel resentful?
If they’ve crossed over into enabling territory and are answering honestly, they’ll admit, “Yes. I feel horrible saying it out loud, but I am beginning to resent him.” It’s a difficult thing to acknowledge because these parents, who have loved their children so deeply and done so much to give their child a good life, feel like they’re monsters for resenting their children.
As uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge the resentment, it makes sense. At work, if you were doing your job and your coworker’s job, it’d feel incredibly unfair; you’d resent that person. Similarly, because these parents know deep, deep down that their children are capable of doing “the job”, they start feeling resentful.
Luckily, parents can shed the resentment by shifting their dynamics with their child. Undoing 18+ years of habits is easier said than done but isn’t impossible! With some intentionality and perseverance, parents can start building a new kind of relationship with their child— and their child can start their journey towards independence!
Does shifting from enabling to supporting seem too overwhelming to do on your own? Contact Dr. Crystal I. Lee to see how she can partner with you in raising an independent, resilient adult.
Please read more about parenting an emerging adult here.