How To Stop Enabling: When Our Grown Children Disappoint Us

Being a responsible parent is never an easy task, from the time our children first enter the world and well into adulthood, our job as parents to teach and train our children in all areas of life is often fraught with one obstacle after another, and parents need to know how to deal with the problems as they occur as well as prevent as many problems as possible.

Regular readers of Telling It Like It Is are likely familiar with previous articles where I have discussed the mounting entitlement issues so prevalent in society today, with adult children still living at home with mom and dad, and the struggles parents have in getting their adult children to be responsible financially, mentally and emotionally. For new subscribers and visitors, here are a list of the articles I’ve written that deal with money management, helping and enabling adult children, teenagers and yes, even very young children:

Getting adult children to be responsible for themselves in all areas of life is often hindered by well-meaning parents who want to “help” their children become independent or, “get back on their feet”, but instead come to realize later on that the help provided never seems to end.

Adult children continue to make poor choices and bad decisions regarding how they spend their money, then expect mom and dad to pick up the tab and continuously rescue them from experiencing the consequences of their choices and behaviors, wrongly thinking their parents are a 24-hour bank or ATM machine.

Enabling Adult Children

Adult children, some married with children of their own, are moving back home with their parents at an alarming rate, and shortly thereafter parents become frustrated when boundaries and rules are repeatedly broken, and requests for more money requires parents to dig deep into their life savings and retirement plans to the point where parents have gone broke helping their children.

Enabling occurs even when children are not living with the parents, with adult children and spouse working full-time jobs continuing to make regular phone calls to parents asking for money to pay utility bills because “It’s going to get shut off!”, or saying their “car is going to be repossessed” or the old standby, “We have no food in the house!”. My response would be, “I’m sorry to hear that but I can’t help you this time, and I have full trust and confidence that you will find a solution to the problem, and do what is necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen again”. Real NEED creates REAL motivation for change.

Not being an enabler myself, my message to parents is, “Just say no! Don’t give them anymore money and by all means, Kick them out of the house and change the locks!” I’ve heard from many parents who tell me their adult children are constantly asking for money “to pay bills”, while these “adults” are spending their own money on manicures, pedicures, Botox treatments, new clothes, expensive cell phones, concerts and sporting events, electronic gadgets and other luxuries, all while “there is no food in the house”.

Learn How To Let Go Of The Control

Enablers have to learn how to “let go” of their adult children, let go of the control and Co-Dependent tendencies that run rampant amongst enabling parents and their children, allowing their adult children to experience the consequences that go with making choices on their own.

Continuously rescuing adult children, paying their bills, giving them money, allowing them to live at home with the parents, shielding them from the realities of how the real world works has created an Entitlement society. Today’s society of teenagers and adult children have come to believe their parents “owe” them whatever their hearts desire, and if parents don’t put a stop to it and close the bank of mom and dad, the problems of entitlement are only going to get worse.

When your adult children ask you for money tell them, “I’m sorry but I can’t help you this time”. The next time they ask, repeat the same sentence. Do not give your adult children any more money! Able-bodied children, working or not, can and need to learn how to manage their own lives, and that cannot be accomplished as long as children know that parents are their personal “back up plan”.

Why would your children make the grownup decision to get smart with their money, when they know they can spend their own money frivolously on their extensive “want” list, knowing you will give them a handout time after time? Stop it and stop it now, before you find yourselves penniless in your elderly years with no financial means to take care of yourself.

How To Stop Enabling Adult Children

Children know what buttons to push with parents, especially when there are grandchildren being used as an excuse to get money from parents and grandparents, making it vitally important to learn how to stop enabling irresponsible adult children.

If your children have jobs of their own, no one is going to starve to death, and while their electric might be turned off due to bad choices, allowing them to experience the consequences of their own decisions really is helping them more than you may realize.

Oftentimes people in society equate enabling with alcoholics or drug abuse, with many books being written on how parents and family members can help these children and adults conquer their problems, but the overall subject of helping vs. enabling covers a wide range of relationship dynamics between parents and children, but without an equal number of books and resources.

Stop Enabling Your Adult Children

When Our Adult Children Disappoint Us When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us : Letting Go of Their Problems, Loving Them Anyway, and Getting on with Our Lives If you are a parent of adult children still living at home, or children continuously asking for money or help in some way, you must read this book. You don’t have to a Baby Boomer to appreciate the problem parents have in dealing with children moving back home with mom and dad, and taking advantage of the situation and their parents desire to help their kids get on their feet financially or otherwise. The writer, Jane Adams, reassures parents that they’ve done their jobs and that they don’t have to spend the rest of their lives picking up the pieces for their grown children, emotionally, financially, or otherwise. With warmth, empathy, and perspective, Dr. Adams offers a positive, life-affirming message to parents who are still trying to “fix” their adult children — Stop! She shows us how to separate from their problems without separating from them, and how to be a positive force in their lives while getting on with our own.

Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Children As long as we continue to keep enabling our adult children, they will continue to deny they have any problems, since most of their problems are being “solved” by those around him. Only when our adult children are forced to face the consequences of their own actions—their own choices—will it finally begin to sink in how deep their patterns of dependence and avoidance have become. And only then will we as parents be able to take the next step to real healing, forever ending our enabling habits and behaviors.

The Enabler: When Helping Hurts the Ones You Love
The Enabler: When Helping Hurts the Ones You Love
Co-dependency of which enabling is a major element can and does exist in families where there is no chemical dependency. Angelyn Millers own experience is a dramatic example: neither she nor her husband drank, yet her family was floundering in that same dynamic. In spite of her best efforts to fix everything (and everyone), the turmoil continued until she discovered that helping wasn’t helping. Miller recounts how she learned to alter the way she responded to family crises and general neediness, forever breaking the cycle of co-dependency. Offering insights, practical techniques, and hope, she shows us how we can transform enabling relationships into healthy ones.

I’m a big believer in being a tough parent, setting guidelines and boundaries with children regardless of their age, and staying firm on what behaviors are or are not acceptable. Toughlove is not about being abusive towards our children, nor is it solely focused on children with drug or alcohol addictions, and I highly recommend this book for parents struggling with their children, teens and adult kids.

Are you an Enabler? Have you been struggling with the difficulties in trying to understand how to help your adult child but find yourself in the rather upsetting position of being an enabler? Do you understand that there is a difference between helping and enabling? What changes are you willing to make in letting go of the control over your children’s lives, so they can be independent and responsible financially, mentally and emotionally?

Further Reading:

Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Children
Support Groups for Parents with Grown Adult Children Living at Home with Parents

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282 Responses to “How To Stop Enabling: When Our Grown Children Disappoint Us”

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  1. Wilson Picket says:

    OMG! All your comments are really hard to read for me as I can relate to your pain.

    I’m a 56 year old parent of a 30 and 24 year old adult men. They have two kids each when they really didn’t learn how to take care of themselves first. My feelings in all the drama irresponsibility brings can only be very painful as I watch life unfold for them as for many of yours as your relate your stories. However, I know we can do better as a community or country. And beleive it or not these problems were known even back in the stone ages, but they were not as prevalent as today for very obvious reasons.

    There is a paramount flaw in this picture and regardless of what we do as parents we will always struggle our way to nowhereland. The main problem as I see it is our culture, and I will explain. I have been trying to raise one of mine by doing what I can in explaining how things work, and it doesn’t help because he always finds a financial institution that will lend him money regardless of his past financial caotic life(let me say that he has always worked since he turned 16 and he is an armed foces veteran, he is no lazy bum, but still you can be whatever, but never get to be well rounded in this culture). So, althought he never says it, I know his subconcious does not care about behaving responsibly. And yes, he still feels we will never let him down. The money to do the destructive moves, however, always comes from our culture of our financial bottomless pit. Unless we fix that our kids will always overlook our parental conservative advice and will do what comes easier.

    I’m just touching on some small points, but there are a lot more affecting this cultural behavior. I’m not an enabler although I have been forced to act as one because of the circumstances. What I’m simply saying is that some of this stuff that is happening to us it is not our kids’ fault alone, but eventually and inevitably they(and whether we like it or not, we are involved) will have to pay the price.

    I sympathized with all the good parents out there and wish you the best. I pray that our kids see the light and grow up to eventually be responsible adults, and that we can stop this vicious cycle affecting our culture. You can apply all the advice you are given as I have, but sometime the disease is more powerful than the medication, and unless you haven’t look in today’s culture ignorance outnumbers conservatism, education and self-reliance.

    We got problems and we cannot continue talking our way around it. We are all paying dearly for this mad, out of control behavior. Just to blaming our kids for all of it is very irresponsible.

    Some of it can be handled the old fashion way, but we are dealing with a bigger picture. I feel a victim of our financial system in many ways and, yes, I blame our financial system for enabling my son’s behavior and delaying or minizing the effect of whatever good we can teach our kids at home.

    Wish the best to all of you.

  2. Russ says:

    The first thing I see that hits me the wrong way – ‘adult children’. Huh ? You mean: adult daughter or adult son ! We must think of them as.. ‘people’ – adults. Thinking of them as ‘children’ seems to be a big step towards enabling !

    I’m very well acquainted with how these.. people will use me. Take that step first. Think of your adult offspring as what they are, what other adult people see them as – another person ! Yes – that is your daughter ! Yes ! BUT – she is an adult woman. And so is your grown-up son. He is a responsible adult man. If he commits a crime, the police won’t think: ‘Gee, that is an adult child !’ Nope. That is reality.

    Hope this helps someone.

  3. Tammy says:

    So here’s one for you! I have a 24 year old son with a 9 year old son. Son is irresponsible and still acts like he’s 14. He has to be told to clean up after himself as we’ll as his son. My grandson is there every weekend + because mother is irresponsible as well but she’s married and has a litter of more children. My son doesn’t understand that his actions have an effect on everyone in the family. His son is moderately disabled and depends greatly on me for most of his care. He doesn’t like his father and is extremely angry with him! Now my son is about to lose his job of three years albeit part time but none the less a job because he’s wait for it wait for it IRRESPONSIBLE? It’s getting very uncomfortable in between this rock and hard place. I swear I’m going to run away and let the cards fall where they may! If I say anything to him I’m against him and I don’t care about him! This is not how he was raised but his oh woe is me attitude because he was a teenage father is truly weighing on me!