How to Stop Enabling Your Adult Children and What to Expect

In my last post, we talked about how enabling our adult children often produces a surprising result: contempt. We also talked about the steps an enabling parent must be committed to if there is going to be any change. The good news is that you, as a parent, can make a change if you're willing to stick to it. The bad news is that your adult children won't welcome your new resolution. This is where it becomes difficult. Most adult children who have been enabled have developed grandiose entitlement. They will strongly protest your new found commitment. Don't let this deter you. Just know this will happen and get some support to help you weather this season. You can be assured that your adult child's situation will become dire, at least as portrayed by them, and sometimes in reality. Don't waiver. You can express empathy for their situation, but you must stay the course for your sake as well as theirs.

Do you remember what it was like as a parent to have to cause your child some physical pain in order to help them? I remember it well. While playing outside one day, one of our daughters came in crying. She was only about six and was holding up her hand to show me her injury. She fell on our wooden deck and a large splinter was wedged in her one of her little fingers. It was so embedded that tweezers alone would not work. I sterilized the area and a needle and had to go to work. Her screams were excruciating. I kept trying to reassure her that mommy was sorry but this procedure was necessary. Words were useless. The only thing that worked was staying committed to removing that splinter even with her resistance and continual protests.

The same is true when it comes to changing enabling patterns. You must be stalwart in your efforts and utterly convinced that this method is the only plausible possibility for a healthy future relationship with your adult child. If you can weather the protests, name calling, anger, blaming, and crises that often accompanies this initial stage, there is hope both for you and for your adult child.

Remember that the contempt your adult child exhibits is partly a result of knowing they "should be a productive, independent, responsible adult." If you stay committed to stop enabling them you are doing your part and providing an opportunity for them to do theirs. There is no other way--but there are no guarantees. You can only do your part, you cannot do theirs.


One final admonition comes from one of our family's heroes:

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
John Wooden