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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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–