enabling or nurturingEnabling or Nurturing?

In a positive sense, enabling means to empower.  Before the 1960’s, the concept of enabling was a belief that if we help someone learn to do something to become self sufficient then we are enabling their success.  The whole concept of parenting for the parents of the baby boomers generation was to provide a better life for your children than you had.  Our parents lived through wars and the depression and when they survived they paid for stuff and opportunities for us with the hope that they were empowering us for success. It feels good to give your children everything you wanted.

The baby boomers raised their kids where the enabling or empowerment went a bit out of control.  Everyone got a trophy, everyone got a turn at bat etc…but we were not necessarily empowering our children.  In an effort to make life fair, we wanted a more equal society. We protested and marched for equality but life is not fair. For many of our generation, we can’t throw money or opportunity at our children’s issues the way our parents generation did.  The economics are radically different and this has emotional consequences.  We could “work our way thru school” our kids generation is graduating with records amounts of student loans.  That has emotional and life altering consequences.  To me, the loans are a financial consequence, but there are emotional loans as well.

From an IT perspective enabling is defined “where an object or graphical user interface widget is able to respond to events. “  To enable your computer to work more effectively is a great thing.

When psychologists discuss enabling as a positive term, it refers to patterns of interaction which allow individuals to develop and grow.  In a negative sense, enabling is also used to describe dysfunctional behavior approaches that are intended to help resolve a specific problem but in fact may perpetuate or exacerbate the problem.

One of the first psychiatrists I worked with said that all psychiatric problems are people being stuck in some stage of development.  If you want to help them, you have to figure out what stage they are stuck in and then think about what would work in that stage of development.  SO if your child has an impulse to touch the hot stove, when you know he or she shouldn’t then you think about what you would do with a 2 year old who wants to do that but can’t understand “its too hot” for an answer.  You remove them from sight, you distract the child and you work on the childs self soothing skills. When the stove isn’t hot you teach them how it can be cold sometimes and hot other times.

Now as a mother you know that removing them will only work for some children.  The really smart ones won’t be distracted and can become distraught about not getting what they want. If a child’s intellect is more developed than their emotional ability then they can’t let it go the way one whose intellect matches their emotional development. If you give them what they want all the time then they don’t develop self soothing techniques and this will have lifelong consequences. Of course their ability to self sooth will be different at age 2, age 3, age 4 or age 44.  For children that do not mature, parenting becomes a radically different experience.

Parents with children with impulse control issues, often give in to the requests because it is “high maintenance parenting”, it is relentless and you only have so much energy to withstand the battle in a calm and mature manner.

Some children out grow this and some do not.  If your child has a serious mental illness or addiction or both your battle is within yourself to constantly evaluate “am I enabling or nurturing?”.

I love the expression, Born an arsonist, become a fireman.  Respect your child for who they are and try to work with it.

The first step is to evaluate what is for the child and what is for you.  Sometimes we pay for things or give in because we can’t stand the battle, or the child’s behavior is too painful to watch or even think about.  So you “enable” but you are really doing it for yourself not for the child.  My favorite example of this is the mother that was agonizing over paying her 40 year old son’s cellphone bill.  When she was able to see that she was doing it for her peace of mind because she wanted to be able to be in touch with him, then she could be at peace with that decision.  She was originally thinking, if I pay his cellphone then he will be able to get a job interview and I am doing it for him because it will help him be more self sufficient.  Now she knows she pays that bill for her.  If he uses it the way she wants that would be great but she isn’t unrealistic about why she is doing it.  Enabling?

Enabling is a tricky thing.  It can be helpful at times and at other times it can be toxic.  As a parent it is very hard to control the impulse to fix it and make it better.

Nobody does this life alone.  We all need help and guidance and a support system, but look at your behavior and evaluate what you are doing, who you are doing it for and think about your values.  What are my core values?  We do for family because those are our values but if we have an adult child who is using our generosity to be a couch potato or to use drugs or to let us do the heavy lifting for them then it is time to evaluate who you are helping.  As a mother it’s easier to do for your loved one than it is to watch them struggle, but there is a pride of ownership that people develop when they do things on their own.  You can’t experience that if your mother is always doing everything for you.

This is very hard to figure out.  I recommend talking to a professional, using a support group.  If your child has an addiction, RUN to Alanon.  These groups have been a life line to millions.  There are groups for family members with alcohol, narcotics issues, gambling issues etc.  If your child has a mental illness, get yourself a professional support system.  If you have ruled out any addiction or mental illness then you need some very difficult discussions to have with yourself about who you are doing what for.

First you have to “cut the cord”.  See yourself and your child as two different people.  We all make choices with our behavior that have consequences.  Let each individual see the lines of who and what we have control of and then try to match your behavior with your values.  This is hard work and will certainly push you outside your comfort zone but all growth is painful and the true goal is peace of mind.

It’s mothers day soon, I believe it’s a manufactured holiday but it does make us think about our family and our values and for that its ok to use the day to look at yourself.  Its time to look at yourself, if you are doing something for your mother its because those are your values.  If you are resentful because no one did anything for you so you are “doing it all”… who are you really doing this for?  If you’re cooking do it because YOU like to cook not because you think you are helping others. if you’re struggling with your plans for the day, really look at what you are struggling with and think outside the box about what would make it better for you and use this day to discuss with family or friends how you can make it special in the future. Take care of yourself and at least one person is ok.  Put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help others! If you try to take care of everyone else but you are not ok then nobody is ok. Enable for positive reasons and challenge yourself to stop the negative enabling.

Happy Mothers Day!


Are You Enabling Your Kid…Or Simply Nurturing? was last modified: by

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