I’m making the adjustment to living in California and I have to say, I much prefer sunshine every day to cold grey skies. I spent some wonderful time with my granddaughters this weekend and love that I get to have this extra time to continue to develop my relationship with them.
Most of the questions in this blog are about marital relationships but sometimes I get a question about a parent/child relationship.
When we have a pattern of over-functioning and enabling we sometimes get ourselves in a destructive relationship with our own child. To break this pattern, we must learn to set boundaries, speak up, and implement consequences (tweet10that).
I’m reading Proverbs this month and I’m struck by the descriptions of three unhealthy individuals in Proverbs 6. The first one is the over-functioning person, the one who cannot say “no” and has poor boundaries – the people pleaser. The story told in this passage is that you have unwisely co-signed for a loan. You’ve said “yes” when you should have said “no.” What do you do?
The writer of Proverbs says we’re to swallow our pride (or fear), go and talk with them. Tell them you can’t do it. Do it now.
Wow, we think the Bible tells us to always be the giver, to self-sacrifice in order to show love. But this passage says the opposite. Don’t co-sign someone’s loan. Don’t do for someone what he or she should be doing for himself or herself. Stop enabling.
Question: My adult daughter has moved back home after making a mess out of her life. I think I’ve enabled her to be too dependent on me and now she is acting like an angry teenager instead of a responsible adult. What can I do to help her?
Answer: I hear this so often. Well meaning parents have crippled their children by not teaching them how to stand on their own two feet. My definition of a good parent is that you work yourself out of your job. In other words, your kids don’t need you in order to function anymore. With that said, you can’t change your daughter. But you can identify and own your problem.
What is that? You have given too much. You’ve been too nice and that may be one reason she is not taking responsibility for her own life. Unfortunately, this kind of unhealthy relationship fosters a love/hate relationship between you and your child. She loves you and is dependent on you and hates you for always being right and having to “need” you.
To change this dynamic, you will need to figure out why you have been overindulgent with your child for so long. Are you afraid to say no? Are you anxious that if she doesn’t need you, she won’t have a relationship with you? Do you pity her and believe she can’t do it without you? This is an important step so that you don’t revert back to rescuing her when things get hard for her.
Second, you need to evaluate what is in her best interests. I know you love your child but godly love acts in the beloved’s best interests, not just what feels good. I’m sure you didn’t give your child candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner, even if she screamed for it because you know that wasn’t good for her. It is the same principle here. To change things, you will have to say no to her requests for help, not to be mean, but because it is good for her to learn to figure out some things for herself.
Third, you need to let her know how you are changing. I talk about this in section two of my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship in detail. But let me give you a sample speak up dialogue that you may want to share with or write to your daughter.
I love you. You are my child and nothing will ever change my love for you. But I realize now that I haven’t always given you what you needed most. I have given you lots of things, probably too much, but I have not given you the confidence that you can manage your life just fine without me. I fear you have grown too dependent on me to solve your problems, to rescue you from your financial woes, and to provide your living space, when at this age; you should be doing these things on your own.
I will take responsibility for my part. I now see that by giving in to you, I didn’t help you grow up. I know you are in a tight spot right now and have moved back home but I want you to know that this is only a temporary solution. I expect you to get a job, work hard and save money toward moving out on your own. You will need to pay room and board while you’re here so that you learn that you have to be responsible for your bills and your life.
I want to have a good relationship with you and we will not have one if I treat you like a child and you behave as one. I want us to respect and care for each other as adults.
If you haven’t done step 1 and 2 first, it will be hard for you to stick with your resolve. Make a plan as to how you will respond when she cries, complains, criticizes you, or doesn’t pay her room and board. Remember, you can’t make her be responsible or mature at this point in her life. That is her job. However, you can create an atmosphere where it is more likely that she will make those choices.
Friends, what helped you stop enabling others? Whether it was an adult child or a depending spouse, how did you change?