As a parent, it’s your job to love and support your child.
But there’s a point of crossing boundaries.
Especially when your kids are adults.
There comes a time when you need to stop enabling them and let them stand on their own two feet.
If you’re worried that you might be enabling your grown child’s bad behavior, read on for six signs of enabling parents and six tips on how to stop.
6 Signs of an Enabling Parent
#1 You Make Excuses for Their Behavior
As any parent knows, raising children is a difficult task. Even as parents to adult children, there are so many things to worry about, from their health and safety to their education and future. And, of course, there is the constant worry that you are not doing enough.
You may find yourself making excuses for their behavior, telling yourself that they are just going through a phase or that they’ll outgrow it.
But if you find yourself making excuses for your grown child’s bad behavior, it may be time to take a step back and reassess your approach.
By the way excuse-making in general is pretty common, given that the average American makes 2,190 excuses per year to validate their decisions, so definitely worth a closer look.
When you make excuses for your adult child’s behavior, though, you are effectively giving them permission to continue behaving in a way that is harmful to themselves and others.
#2 You Protect Them From Consequences
Another sign of an enabling parent is that they protect their children from the consequences of their own actions. This might seem like a good thing at first, but it’s actually a form of codependence that can lead to serious problems later on.
And when you consider the fact that some estimates claim over 90% of the American population demonstrates codependent behavior, it’s worth stopping the generational cycle.
When you enable your adult child, you’re effectively taking away their motivation to change or improve their situation.
For instance, why would they bother if they know you’ll always be there to catch them when they fall?
Even if it means they make some mistakes along the way, it’s wise to let your children experience the natural consequences of their actions.
After all, “productive failure” is a real thing and there’s always a learning lesson to glean from making mistakes.
#3 You Bail Them Out Financially
It’s no secret that many adults rely on their parents for financial support. And that number has been steadily increasing in the last 50 years.
In fact, a recent study found that nearly half of all adults between the ages of 18 and 34 receive financial assistance from their parents.
But what separates the enabling parent from the others is that they bail their children out without question or hesitation. This type of parent never says no, and as a result, their children never learn the value of hard work or self-reliance.
If you’re constantly giving them money or paying their bills, you’re not giving them the chance to learn how to manage their own finances. Which can also create a cycle of dependence that’s difficult to break.
Of course, there are times when it’s necessary to give your children financial support. But if you find that you’re doing it on a regular basis and you’re feeling frustration come on, it’s time to have an open loving talk with them about becoming more financially independent.
#4 You Do “Their Things” Instead of Them
Enabling parents often find themselves doing things for their children that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves. This might include things like laundry, cooking, or even cleaning their apartment.
While it’s natural to want to help your children, you need to be careful not to do everything for them.
Not only will the expectation creep in, but you’ll also take away their sense of responsibility, which prevents them from learning how to manage all of their things on their own.
Plus, simply doing things for your grown children may across as controlling, which doesn’t have a positive impact. A study found that overcontrolling parenting can have negative effects on a child’s ability to manage his or her emotions and behavior.
All in all, it’s critical to support your child’s autonomy while also providing appropriate guidance.
Next time you’re tempted to do something for your child, ask yourself if they are capable of doing it themselves. If the answer is yes, step back and let them handle it.
#5 You’re the Decision-Maker in Their Life
When your children are young, you make most of the decisions for them. You decide what they wear, what they eat, where they go to school.
And, of course, as they grow older, you gradually give them more and more control over their own lives. By the time they reach adulthood, they should be fully capable of making their own decisions.
Unfortunately, some parents never stop trying to control their children’s lives, even after they’re grown. And studies show that by being overprotective, you’re actually harming your children.
In fact, when you do things for them that they’re perfectly capable of doing themselves, you rob them of the opportunity to fully mature and develop essential coping skills.
Not only that, but you also send the message that you don’t believe in their ability to succeed. Which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem that can follow them into adulthood.
If you find yourself making decisions for your adult kids, or frequently telling them what to do, it’s time to back off and let them take control of their own lives.
#6 Your Child is Disrespectful
And finally, one of the most obvious signs that you are enabling your child is if they become disrespectful towards you. This might include talking to you in a condescending or belittling way, disregarding your wishes and desires, being super annoyed with you, or even making threats.
Of course, this isn’t easy to deal with. And it deserves another article altogether; read how to cope with disrespectful adult children.
6 Tips for How to Stop Enabling Your Grown Child
#1 Change Your Mindset
If you want to stop enabling your grown child, you need to change the way you think about them. For so long, you’ve seen them as a child who needs your help and protection. But now, it’s time to see them as an adult who is capable of taking care of themselves.
Think deeper than the simple day-to-day duties and dig into the bigger emotional decisions and lifestyle.
Easing up doesn’t mean that you stop caring about them or stop wanting to help them — in fact, it’s the opposite.
It means that you start expecting them to take responsibility for their own lives and giving them the chance to dig deep, do the inner work, and create the life they truly want (something that only the individual can find clarity on).
#2 Learn to Say No
Saying no to your children can be difficult, but it’s important if you want to stop enabling them. For both of your sakes, learn how to say no.
If you struggle with that, here’s a few steps to take:
- Actually say the word “no” — a lot of times, parents avoid saying no because they don’t want to hurt their grown child’s feelings. But it’s much more productive to be direct and just say no if that’s what your gut is saying.
- Give a reason — by explaining why you’re saying no, you’ll help your child understand your decision. But don’t make up an excuse. Simply state your reasons clearly and concisely.
- Be firm — once you’ve said no, don’t cave in and change your mind. If you do, they’ll learn that they can just keep asking until you give in.
And we know it’s hard. Research has shown that most parents aren’t able to cut off their children even when they’re having drug problems that impact the entire family. But if you want to stop enabling your child, it’s OK to turn them down with a loving and firm explanation. By setting some boundaries, you can support them in a healthier way and help them take deeper responsibility for their own lives.
#3 Stop Making Excuses for Their Behavior
If you’re guilty of enablement, start holding them accountable for their behavior. Every time you make an excuse for their behavior or try to downplay the severity of their actions, you’re sending the message that their behavior is acceptable.
When you’re raising teenagers, you expect them to make reckless decisions. Research shows that teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior because they are comfortable with not knowing all the answers and they want to explore.
But as adults, sometimes the parent-child dynamic doesn’t fully outgrow the teenage phase.
So if you want to stop making excuses for their behavior in hopes of positive changes, start holding them accountable for their actions. Make it clear that their behavior is unacceptable and chat about the consequences. And then follow tip #4.
#4 Implement Consequences
There’s one tip that doesn’t change much from toddler to adult parenting. For your children to change their behavior, they need to experience the consequences of their actions. And that means you need to be willing to follow through with them.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be mean or punitive. But it does mean that bad behaviors need consequences.
There are two types of consequences: natural and logical.
- Natural consequences – those that happen naturally, without you having to do anything. For example, if your child doesn’t pay the electricity bill, they may have their power cut off.
- Logical consequences – those that you impose. For example, if your child doesn’t get a job, you’ll stop giving them money.
Decide what kind of consequences work best for your child, and whatever you do, follow through with them. Otherwise, they’ll just keep doing the same bad behavior and you’ll lose soem credibility and trust.
#5 Don’t Financially Bail Them Out
So many parents these days are financially bailing out their grown children. They give them money for rent, car payments, credit card bills, and more.
If your kids are older than 22 and you find yourself doing this, too – you’re not alone. In fact, while 64% of people agree that financial independence should start at age 22, reality shows that only 24% are.
This trend can actually hurt your kids’ financial habits over the long-term.
Instead of teaching them the value of hard work and responsibility, it enables them to stay stuck in a cycle of codependency. Not only that, but this may also put a strain on your own finances.
The way to set your kids up for success is to make a plan for stopping the handouts. Help them become financially independent and encourage stronger budgeting habits.
Sooner or later, they’ll stand on their own. If you’re still financially supporting your adult child, here’s how to stop.
#6 Focus on Yourself
Our last tip is probably the most important one. If you want to stop enabling your child – and if you continue the pattern because the guilt creeps in – it’s time to refocus on yourself and your own deeper, more meaningful priorities and goals.
A lot of times, parents enable their children because they feel guilty. They might feel guilty about working long hours, being divorced, or not being able to spend as much time with them as they’d like.
According to a recent survey, American parents on average feel pangs of guilt 23 times a week. But that guilt is misplaced.
But if you look deeper, it may even be a sign of your own people-pleasing behavior.
In other words, there could be a trait that makes you susceptible to your own codependency as well. Not to cause alarm or anything, but worth considering the idea that there may be a need for approval or sense of purpose that’s hooked into your grown children.
For instance, the need for approval is a trait susceptible to codependency.
Codependency aside, wouldn’t it be nice to not feel guilty, and instead, align your life with your own sense of purpose that energizes you from the inside out?
(If finding clarity on your retirement purpose and getting fulfillment beyond your adult children is something that appeal to you, try our 10-question Retirement Quiz to help point you in the right direction).
In sum, there’s no need to feel guilty about setting boundaries or implementing consequences. You’re not being mean — by working on yourself first, you’re setting a beautiful healthy example for your kids to follow, while at the same time, helping them become a responsible, independent adult.
Break the (Generational) Pattern
If you’re a parent who’s been enabling your grown children, there’s a way to break the pattern.
Here are six signs you’re an enabling parent to your adult children:
- #1 You make excuses for their behavior
- #2 You protect them from consequences
- #3 You bail them out financially
- #4 You do “their things” for them
- #5 You’re the main decision-maker in their life
- #6 Your child is disrespectful
When you’re ready to stop enabling your grown child try these six tips:
- #1 Change your mindset — start seeing them as an individual with their own unique path that only they can walk
- #2 Learn to say no — set clear boundaries, openly explain, and be firm
- #3 Stop making excuses for their behavior — hold them accountable for their actions
- #4 Implement consequences — let them experience the natural consequences of their actions
- #5 Don’t financially bail them out — teach them how to be financially responsible
- #6 Focus on yourself — turn your focus inward and away from kid-pleasing or pangs of guilt; there’s a healthier path and something deeper to be discovered
As with any bad habit, enabling your children is a hard one to break. You may have been doing it for so long that you don’t even realize you’re doing it.
But if you follow the tips listed above, you can break the cycle of enabling and help your children become more self-sufficient, which is a gift they can enjoy and pass on for generations.