We love our children and will do anything to protect them. But when our love and choices as parents interfere with our adult children’s ability to progress in life, we are no longer helping. We share 4 examples of parents enabling adult children and what to do next.

Enabling Adult Children Who Are Self Medicating: Are You an Enabler?

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Because you love your child, there is almost nothing you wouldn’t do to help him or her. There is a point, however, where helping crosses the border into enabling behavior. This is especially true for parents of young adults who are self-medicating to compensate for emotional or psychological turmoil. If you are continually bailing your child out of trouble, (legally, financially, or to prevent them having a negative experience) you are not doing him or her any favors in the long run.

Popular Examples Of Enabling Adult Children

While many people associate enabling adult children with financing their habits of self medicating, or bailing them out of legal/financial trouble, enabling behaviors are not limited to providing monetary contributions to your child. Enabling behavior can be anything that aids your loved one in remaining stagnant in his or her life. Examples of enabling adult children can include:

Allowing Your Child To Live At Home Without Contributing

Allowing your adult child to live at home without contributing to the household or making any steps toward progress is a common act of enabling.  Contribution in the household could be chores, paying rent, etc.  Steps toward progress could be enrolling in school, working, or actively seeking employment or higher education.

Making Excuses For Your Child or Covering For Them

Making excuses for your child’s responsibilities or covering up for your adult child’s behavior such as calling in sick for work for them or emailing a professor or teacher to get them out of class.

Finishing Jobs Or Projects They Did Not Complete

If your child does not finish an assignment, chore, or job and you step in to assist them or complete it on their behalf, this would be an example of enabling behavior.

Ignoring Or Denying That There Is A Problem Altogether

This example is harder to recognize but if others have pointed out that you may be enabling and you refuse to take a step back to evaluate you and your child’s behavior, that in itself may be a sign that there’s an issue.

Am I Supporting Or Enabling My Young Adult?

While the desire to help your child out only comes naturally as a parent, you really aren’t doing them any favors by participating in enabling behaviors– especially if he or she is self-medicating to cope with unresolved trauma, conflict, or mental health issue. It is vital to ensure that the steps you are taking to assist your child are going to be beneficial to him or her in the long run. Supporting your child financially or emotionally while they are enrolled in school or an internship can help to empower them, but supporting them while they are not making progress or taking steps forward is actually hindering them. If you are unsure of whether you are helping or enabling your adult child, ask yourself:

Do I Feel Manipulated? Do I Feel Used/Overburdened?

Does your child intentionally pull at your heartstrings or use your emotions against you? For instance, if they know you struggle when their feelings get hurt, do they create a situation or excuse that will play into that feeling so you step in to help or feel bad for them?

Was This My Idea or His/Hers? Is This Something He/she Feels Entitled To?

In our modern society, there are a lot of privileges that some may feel are a requirement. As an example, having access to the internet at home is not a requirement for a young adult just starting out because there are other means to access the interest. They can use facilities such as a local library, school, or even fast food restaurant. When providing care and experiences for your child, ask yourself if you are teaching them how to earn these privileges or creating an easy way for them to live which may prevent personal growth.

Am I Offering Help Because This Will Benefit My Child In The Long Run? Or Is This The Result Of A Guilt Trip?

These are both great questions to ask yourself when providing help to your child. You also need to reflect on whether your actions are intended to benefit your child’s growth and learning, or are you doing it to prevent yourself from experiencing negative feelings or emotions.

Am I Ignoring Negative, Harmful, or Potentially Dangerous Situations?

This is an especially important question when you are aware of your child engaging in substance abuse. Handing them a few extra dollars for the night may prevent an argument or negative interaction at the moment, but will do damage in the long run.

Am I Putting My Child’s Needs Before My Own?

While it is perfectly natural to want to help your child, neglecting your personal needs to meet theirs is going a step too far. Putting ourselves first when we have young children is a very different expectation than having an adult child who is requiring the same level of need and engagement.

Do I Resent My Child Right Now?

Resentment will create long-term relationship issues between yourself and your child. If you are beginning to resent your child and are feeling overwhelming negativity around them, it’s time to adjust your interactions and begin to reframe your relationship.

Tips On How To Stop Enabling Your Adult Child

If you think you may be engaging in enabling behaviors, it isn’t always easy to just stop. You need to understand which behaviors are hurting your child, adjust, and learn how to deal with any negative emotions that will inevitably arise. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started down a healthier parenting path:

Take Responsibility For Your Actions ONLY

Create a boundary of responsibility. If your child knows you will step in when they don’t meet expectations or run into a problem, they will never try to solve the issue on their own.  If a consequence is looming because of your child’s choice, or lack of action, that is theirs to own. You need to learn to take responsibility for YOUR actions, not theirs.

Not Enabling Does Not Mean You Don’t Love Them

This is a familiar tactic used by those who want to manipulate others. They blame you for their downfalls and consequences. They will say you don’t love them if… but in reality, because you love them, you have changed your ways. You may need to seek professional help to learn how to cope with the negativity that may come with a change in parenting or the anxiety of watching your child learn on their own.

Set Clear Expectations

Take the time to define what you expect out of your adult child. If you expect them to be enrolled in school or working full-time while living in your home, then this needs to be clear not only with your child but other parents or adults who help run the household.  Be sure to lay out what will happen if expectations are not met so everyone is on the same page. Understanding each person’s responsibility allows for you to take the burden off your shoulder and let them own specific elements in their life as well as any related consequences.

Pure Life Adventure’s Resources On How To Stop Enabling Adult Children

Parents who are enabling adult children do so out of love; however, these parents are not doing their children any favors. If you have considered the questions above, and recognize that you have been enabling your adult son or daughter, you are not alone. To ensure that your child gets back on track to adulthood, it is important to stop your enabling behavior(s). While some view enabling behavior to revolve around financial support, enabling behavior can be anything that aids your loved one from moving forward in life.

At times, breaking everyday patterns is necessary to get a fresh perspective and end the cycle of enablement. That’s where gap-year experiences can help. Taking a therapeutic gap year and participating in wilderness adventure therapy can be the cycle breaker many teens and young adults need. It will also help them learn new skills, develop confidence, and see the world from a new perspective. All of these things will help them as they transition into adulthood.

To learn more about self-medication and what to do if you believe you may be enabling your adult child, download our free white paper below. We share signs of drug and alcohol use, enabling behavior, and ways to help yourself and your child.

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