It’s Time to Stop Enabling Your Adult Child

Adult Children can be helped but the help has limits. This article breaks them down protecting both adult parents and adult children from enablement.

It would be nice if parenting came with a manual. After all, for most of us, parenting our children is one of our greatest investments we will ever make.

Wouldn’t it be great to know that we are getting it right?

But what happens when your child becomes an adult in age, but not in action?

In other words, what if your child is grown but still dependent on you?

How do you help them, without enabling them?

To explore this further, let’s first consider what an enabler is. An enabler is someone whose behavior allows a loved one to continue their self-destructive behavior. We see this often in adult parent/adult children interactions where an parent of an adult intends to help their child, but ends up supporting their bad behavior. As a result, the adult child struggles to stop doing whatever they were doing that got them in the situation to begin with and living independently without them becomes a challenge.

Next, it’s also important to consider what is wrong with enabling a child. First, and foremost, if you are handling your child’s adult decisions, then they don’t learn to handle those decisions themselves. If they can’t learn to handle their decisions, they can’t live their best life because they’ll always have to be living in your shadow. Second, and probably most importantly, if the natural order of things occurs, your child will outlive you. If that is the case, the last thing you want to happen is for something to happen to you, and your child not have the resources that they need to be able to make it in this world on their own. The tough reality here, is that once you are gone, no one is going to take care of your child the way you did so the best thing that you could do while you’re still around is to help them develop into a responsible adult. (I know it’s tough to think like this, but this happens way too often to not address it).

Here are a few strategies to assist you.

Start early. If you are a parent like me, who has little children, start finding ways to expose them at an early age to independent behaviors. My children, are very involved in watching the day-to-day affairs that take place in my business. They are also very much aware of poverty and privilege as I make a concerted effort to make sure that they know that the things that they have access to are because of our hard work and that they are not entitled to them. Teaching children how to manage their money and associating their gifts with behavior are excellent ways to teach discipline.  This teaches children that in order to receive things, they have to work for it, a lesson that is hard for many of us to enforce with our children, especially when our childhood was clouded by poverty.

Set boundaries. Even the most self-sufficient child, will likely need help even after they become adults. If you choose to help them, just remember to set boundaries. For instance, many adult children make choices that result in them having to return home after moving out of the house. That in itself is not a bad thing. The challenge comes in when there are no rules set in place for what the child is expected to do once they get there. Do they have to pay rent to cover their way? Or can they save their money for six months until they can get on their feet again? What parameters need to take place to make sure that your support remains that, support. Not being clear on this can easily cause your support to turn into enablement, something that no one intends to do from the beginning, but subsequently occurs due to not setting appropriate boundaries.

Have an exit strategy. This refers to the need to set a realistic resolution to getting out of this bad situation. If your child needs to borrow money, what are the expectations for repayment? Repayment in full? Repayment of $20 per week until the debt is paid? No repayment at all but you must produce a tangible results at the end of the lending experience (ie. College debt paid off, started a business, new car)? Helping your child is not an issue, but not enforcing that they follow through with a concrete plan is. Too often are adult children permitted to say “Mom, I need $1000” without any tangible plan, and before you know it, the money is gone and the child is in the same situation they were when they started.

Limit your exposure to their “issues.” The fact of the matter is, if you have done everything that you could to raise your child, there’s not a lot of raising that you can do once they become an adult. They’re gonna have to figure some things out on their own. If you allow their circumstances to affect you personally, it’s going to cause you more trouble in the long run. You can love your child through their issues, without allowing their issues to become your issue. You deserve to enjoy this part of your life, even if your child is struggling to figure out life themselves.

Learn the difference between the things you can fix and those you’ll have to accept.  Sometimes children struggle because they don’t meet your expectations and they know it. The tough reality is we have to be willing to look at ourselves and see if our expectations really matter. If there’s a discord between your child meeting your expectations, then that may be the root of some of their problems. We might have to cut the cord by letting them be free to do whatever it is that they want to do because the truth is it’s our job to guide our children to figure out who they need to be for themselves, not for us to figure out who they are for them. They might not be who you want them to be, and that’s OK. We have to be willing to accept that if our children are ever going to figure out how to become independent adults on their own, we have to be willing to let them fin their own way.

Understand, that it really is in the valley that we grow.  There’s not a person reading this who hasn’t grown through some really difficult experiences in life. As parents, most of us will do anything we can to protect our children from the challenges that we have had. But when your child becomes an adult, you’re going to have to go through some things themselves in order to figure out how to get on the other side. If you’re finding that your child is stuck, and you’ve done all that you can do to help your child and they remain unable to gain the independence that they need to live in a healthy manner without you, it may be time to officially cut the cord. It’s going to hurt at the beginning, but the lessons that they will learn through this process will give them a lifetime of freedom.

No one wants to watch their child fall behind in anything, and sometimes having to watch this as parent of an adult child is even harder because the expectations are greater. But if we don’t approach this issue seriously, we can find ourselves making the situation worse for our adult children. If you, or someone that you love needs help setting appropriate boundaries with your adult children,


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