Setting Boundaries as an Act of Love

Setting Boundaries as an Act of Love

Two Stories

Recently, I listened to the painful stories of two moms of Prodigal Sons. One of the women’s sons is a teenager, the other an adult with a wife and children. One son has a substance-abuse problem, the other has disconnected himself from his family. I love these two women; they are my sisters in Christ and they are hurting from the behavior of their sons.

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Parenting a Prodigal: Nine Signs You Are an Enabler

Parenting a Prodigal: Nine Signs You Are an Enabler

I am a recovering enabler. Enablers, as you may or may not know, are people who make something possible. In my case, I made my child’s bad behavior possible.

Briefly put, I made many mistakes in parenting, even though I knew better. The result? A parent’s worst nightmare—a kid in prison.

During Lent one year, weary from the burden I carried, I decided to give up my enabling behavior. I took every one of those forty days to dig into my mistakes, take responsibility, and let go of the guilt. In the process, I learned a lot about myself and my Prodigal. If you are filling a painful role as Parent to a Prodigal, I can help you avoid the mistakes I made.

Don’t substitute my advice for one-on-one help from a mental health professional or a church counselor. I’m just a default mom giving you a wake-up call.

Enabling–It’s Actually a Real Thing

Lots of people, usually those who have no idea what they’re talking about, will throw around words like “co-dependent” and “enabler”. I’ve checked my sources and compiled a legit list of the real signs of enabling behavior–and what happens when you refuse to recognize it in yourself. By the way, enabling has two evil henchmen–Guilt and Denial. I know because all three of them, Enabling, Guilt, and Denial, lived at my house for many, many years. None of them are polite houseguests

Here are nine signs of enabling:

  1. No logical consequences. In other words, you bail out, pay damages, or get between your child and the teacher, counselor, cop, or angry neighbor. You’ll do anything to shield him/her from the logical consequences of his/her own behavior. When my Prodigal wrecked someone else’s car, I paid for the damages–$6,000. I told myself it was to avoid a lawsuit. When my Prodigal went to jail, I bailed him out. Right. His behavior, my consequences.
  2. Covering up or minimizing the behavior, or hiding it from others. You know what this looks like. Your Prodigal is never the “instigator”. S/he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Minimizing is also a popular method of enabling. As in, “S/he didn’t actually steal that candy bar. S/he just forgot to pay for it. Here’s the money.”
  3. Acting from Fear: Your enabling can also be motivated by fear. You may be afraid of confrontation or afraid of “losing” your child. Sometimes, you’re afraid that if your Prodigal suffers, it will be your fault (and that would make you feel guilty).
  4. Putting the Prodigal’s needs above your own. Did you put off paying the electricity bill so you could buy your Prodigal a new pair of Nikes? Did you upgrade your wi-fi or cell phone data plan so your Prodigal could play games faster? Seriously, are you losing time, money, or self-respect in the mistaken interest of pleasing your Prodigal Child? Some parents have actually taken second jobs due to their Prodigal’s drain on finances.
  5. Blaming others or blaming circumstances. “That other guy started the fight.” “S/he has ADD.” “S/he was bullied in second grade.” In my case, I blamed my son’s traumatic history before I adopted him. That absolved both of us from responsibility. I saw him as a victim and myself as his rescuer, and I was doing the best I could.
  6. Making excuses for your inaction. “I can’t just put my child out on the street.” “S/he’s really been acting much better…this week.” “It’s really not that bad.” It really is that bad. Ask your friends, your Prodigal’s siblings, or your outspoken sister-in-law. They will give you a clear picture.
  7. Feeding the behavior. Cigarette money or drug money? If you give your Prodigal money, it will be used to support an addiction: smoking, drugs (including weed), alcohol, even gaming or gambling. Also, lock up your valuables and take your guns to someone else’s house. I’m not kidding. Giving your Prodigal money is giving him/her the means to feed the addiction. Long story short, your money is helping your Prodigal harm him/herself.
  8. Trying to control or fix your Prodigal – even by “taking care” of him/her. This includes physically cleaning up after your Prodigal, as well as getting him/her a job, or giving him/her rides to sketchy places. By hovering and nagging, you’re showing your child that s/he really can’t cope with life. Taking care of your Prodigal will not fix him or her. That’s God’s job.
  9. No follow-through. How many times have you made an ultimatum or given a threat and then found yourself unwilling to carry it out? Whether it’s taking the cell phone or throwing their clothes out on the front lawn, if you say it–be prepared to do it.

The journey I made to figuring all this out was incredibly painful. I strongly urge you to look–really examine–the ways you may be enabling your Prodigal’s bad behavior under the guise of nurturing. PLEASE see a counselor, meet with your pastor, talk this over with a trusted friend. Learn how to remove yourself from the mix of influences that are doing more harm than good.

Finally and most importantly, put your faith in God. The Rev. Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth Bell Graham, once said, “Mothers must take care of the possible and trust God for the impossible. We are to love and affirm, encourage, teach, listen and care for the physical needs of the family. We cannot convict of sin, create hunger or thirst after God, or convert. Those are miracles and miracles are not in our department.”

Grace is real–

Judy

Don’t Do As I Did!

Don’t Do As I Did!

Hello, my name is Judy, and I am a hypocrite.

For almost 40 years, I have been raising other people’s children (as a stepmother), teaching in Montessori schools, and advising parents on discipline and childrearing. I am a Christian woman who is in church every time the doors open. I am the go-to person for parenting advice among my church family and friends.

I am also the enabling parent of a son who has been in and out of jail and prison since he was about 13.

How did I get here? How did he get there?

For the simple reason that I am a bossy know-it-all who wouldn’t do what I was telling other people to do.

You know, it is very easy for me to parent other people’s children. Consistency, limit-setting, and expectations all look very different when you’re standing on the other side of the parent boundary. I can toilet-train a toddler with one hand tied behind my back, take away a teenager’s cell phone for a month, or make a 10-year-old go to bed when “everyone else’s parents” are letting them stay up late. It was all well and good…until it applied to my youngest son, Ricky. My Achilles’ Heel.

Take advantage of our experience

As painful as our life has been, Ricky and I both want to share what we learned on our journey so that other people can avoid the drama and trauma we’ve dealt with for nearly thirty years.

In my first blog, I put together a list of things I wish I had known and advice I should have followed. I’ll be addressing each of these topics individually in the future, with the aim of making a difference in your life and your relationship with your son or daughter. Ricky will be chiming in from time to time with his perspective as well.

Please join us as we embark on this venture. I am praying that you will see how our life lessons apply to you, and that you will use them to dodge a major life bullet.

Grace is real–

Judy