Are You Enabling Your Adult Child?
By: Beth McHugh 2007
What exactly does it mean to “enable your adult child?” What the act of enabling does is to actively prevent your child from achieving appropriate developmental milestones as they age. Thus continually refusing to make your child/teenager/young adult take responsibility for their omissions and commissions of duty effectively leaves them as underperforming adults.
In simpler words, if you do not make your 8-year old carry his or her plate to the kitchen after a meal and dispose of it according to age-appropriate behaviors, you are allowing that child to remain emotionally at that age, in that area of responsibility, longer than is necessary.
If, for example, you answer all your 13-year-old’s algebra homework without suggesting that they attempt each and every question on their own first and ask for help later, then you are creating a system whereby they will still be asking you to do tasks that they are quite capable of doing when they are eighteen. If you often write notes at the request of your child as to why an assignment isn’t ready by completion date, you are inadvertently setting up your child to believe that the rest of the world will excuse them for their irresponsible behavior.
If you do not instill the value of money into teenagers, and you continually buy them everything they want, you are not teaching the skill of impulse control. Continuation of this behavior can lead to a 25-year-old with a debt totaling several thousand dollars, simply because they have never been taught either self restraint or the reasons for saving money.
And yet, it is so easy to enable your child. It certainly makes the child happy in the short term, so it is easy to see why parents do it. First, unlike previous generations, many parents simply have more ready cash to spend on their children. Second, parents are often time-poor, and spending on their child and bailing them out of difficult situations can be easier in the short term in relieving a stressed parent’s problem. Sometime it just is easier to pay for the window your son broke and let the issue pass, than to go through the necessary disciplinary steps and financial reimbursement procedures involved in teaching your child to respect other people’s property.
All of this is understandable, but the end result of the “easy way” can work out to your detriment as a parent. There is an increasing number of young adults who, while chronologically are classified as adults, have the emotional maturity of very young teenagers. They live at home, often off the earnings of their parents, contribute little to the running of the household and in fact expect that all cooking and cleaning be carried out by the parents. Their sense of entitlement to this treatment is so well established that attempts by the parent to start reversing the imbalance of duties is met with child-like rages.
We’ll look at further instances of this increasing trend in child-rearing in coming articles.