Start talking, stop enabling, begin healing-Pt 2

29 Dec Start talking, stop enabling, begin healing-Pt 2


Welcome back to Part Two of the saga of a family who was in an enabling relationship. Yesterday we met mom B., who had an adult daughter who wanted to move back home. Mom B. set reasonable conditions, yet the child did not keep her end of the bargain. Consequently, there was a lot of frustration and resentment building in the home. I asked if I could share some advice, and B. said she was all ears, as she just didn’t know what else to do.

Following was my recommendation to her.

Find a quiet time to sit down with your child in private, and make sure there are no siblings to pry,  eavesdrop, or otherwise disrupt the discussion . You can start with this script, which is a conversation that I crafted from my experiences.

I know things have been tough for you. I know you moved home because you weren’t able to make ends meet, and you had hoped to get back on your feet soon, and then move back out. That has not happened. It has been a stress on the household and it has taken a toll on our relationship. I would like to help you, and I especially would like to regain our close relationship.

So, one of two things has to happen. The first choice is for you to create a budget, and I will be your accountability partner, helping you to oversee your finances and show you how to tell your money where to go so that you have a plan, work your plan, and manage wisely so that you have the wherewithal to move out on your own and be independent again, which I know you miss.

The other choice is to not create a plan and not have me be your accountability partner. If this is your choice, I will respect that. You will need to move out soon and find a full time job. I can’t continue to enable you. I can’t continue to just give you money and allow you not to be the responsible, productive person I know you are capable of being. I have been wrong in treating you as though you are not capable, and for that I am sorry.

Which choice will work for you?

(At this point you sit quietly, respectfully, lovingly and expectantly, and await the answer. Sit. Stay. Ignore the urge to bolt, or to take back everything you just said. Just. wait.)

B.’s response to this was visceral. She literally wrapped her arms around her stomach, bent over, and said in a pained voice, “Oh, my gosh! I can’t imagine having that conversation with her. It makes my stomach hurt! Oh my gosh!”

I think she envisioned it going terribly awry, with her daughter stomping off in anger, screaming “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!”. That certainly is a possibility, since guilt is a powerful weapon that children can wield with surgical precision. However, the opposite is possible as well, that B.’s daughter would come to grips with the reality of her situation. I know. You are thinking, “Right. And pigs will fly, too.”

A few weeks passed, and when I saw B. again, she reminded me of our conversation, and happily reported that she had taken the ball and had run with it, in spite of her desire to just run and hide. She held the conversation with her daughter, and her daughter chose to move out very soon after. She found a better job, although the pay was still fairly low, but the daughter held her own, and their relationship was just about back to the closeness they had had previously. B. was most grateful for the advice, and said she was so glad she had taken steps to halt the enabling.

A few months later, I saw B. again, and she updated me on her daughter. Her daughter’s employer was so impressed with her work that they upgraded her responsibilities and pay, so that now she is making a very healthy wage. Not only is the quality of the mother/daughter relationship strong, not only is daughter living successfully and  independently, but she is now paying her mom back for money she had previously borrowed.

Needless to say, mom is thrilled, as is the daughter.

Remember that you spend you child’s first eighteen years preparing them to be good, kind, thoughtful, responsible, ethical, productive problem-solving adults. When it is time for your child to take their leap forward into adulthood, help them launch with those muscles you have helped them to build!

Have you ever been involved in an enabling financial relationship? If so, how did you resolve it? Please share to help others out of that difficult place.

Image credit

15 Comments
  • Caroline Gavin
    Posted at 12:05h, 29 December

    Kim, thank you very much for sharing this family saga (and solution!) with us, as it captures a common phenomenon. Although my own children are still young (two-years-old and nine-years-old), I have met many who struggle with enabling their adult children financially and otherwise. Thank you for illustrating that, in such cases, tough-love is true love…and it is the courageous way to love. For Truth heals powerfully and perfectly.

  • Miss Too Darn Happy
    Posted at 15:56h, 29 December

    Thanks for your wisdom, Caroline. I liken the enabling to the story of the frog in the pot who goes from slow simmer to boiling. Very often, parents take very small steps that contribute to the enabling without even realizing that is what they are doing. By the time their children are 18, and have possibly never had to help clean or contribute in a meaningful way to the household, the whole family is deeply entrenched in a very unpleasant situation. It can be undone, as I noted above, but it takes courage, love and Truth!

    • Caroline Gavin
      Posted at 17:28h, 30 December

      Thank you very much, Kim! The metaphor of the frog in a boiling pot is an apt one. As you said, these situations often grow outside the awareness of both the parents and the children. I appreciate your sharing a powerful warning as well as guidance to those who suffer in such situations now. You have provided inspiration for them to act, as you wrote, in courage, love and Truth! May God continue to bless you and your work for Him…

  • Michelle Read
    Posted at 22:22h, 29 December

    Okay……so here it is from the other side. Yes, I am a momma, but I am also very much a small child. I just wanted to add that the children in stories like this are often just plain scared of failure. Often, we are encouraged, but not challenged. Without the challenge, it’s all just hear-say. I am applauding this Mom (and you! great advice!) and her ability to present the challenge. Which her daughter took and ran with! Go daughter!

    Please just don’t forget that the grown children are still children. And if they were overproteced when they were young, or are naive, then we are still children in our hearts. And in our minds, we cannot do anything without the kick in the booty, or the ultimatum (challenge) presented safely by the parent. The real key here is to let them know that, no matter what they choose, you really really really really really really are going to love them through it. Good or bad, it will be okay, and you are still their Mommy :0) Grown children still have that desire to please their parents……we just buck up against direction sometimes, just like a two year old. But when we get it right, alongside that encouragement and unconditional love if it’s really really really there, we really get it right! And when we please our parents as adults, it feels even better than when we were kids :0)

    Absolutely love this encouraging article…..and I’m sending it to my mom right now!

  • Miss Too Darn Happy
    Posted at 08:17h, 30 December

    Michelle, great points! You are correct that the problem begins early on, especially if the children were not encouraged to learn and do, and not allowed to fail (“nevermind, I’ll empty the dishwasher, do the laundry, etc.because you just can’t get it right).

    Children need encouragement, boundaries, challenges, direction and support, and they need to have the freedom to fail, and then try again. They also need to know they will be loved just for who they are, no matter what, as you noted.

    Thanks so much for sharing your perspective, as empowered kids make for empowered adults!

  • Fawn {Happy Wives Club}
    Posted at 15:04h, 30 December

    Kim, this is fantastic advice! And that’s only underscored by the success B and her daughter had so quickly after they sat down and talked. You helped completely heal a relationship and head of disaster. Congrats.

  • youngandthrifty
    Posted at 10:37h, 31 December

    I like the way the mother and daughter worked things out. Enabling relationships can be so difficult to deal with. The solution is to stop talking and start listening.

  • Lisa
    Posted at 16:32h, 01 January

    This was great!! There were so many great lessons!! Love that B had success with her daughter but what I really love is that she stepped out of her comfort zone and actually had the talk!!! So many parents, spouses, kids, etc. (myself included), know they need to do something but instead, they just “hope” it will take care of itself!!
    I think sometimes knowing that one person did it and had success (you) is enough to inspire someone else (B).
    Great, great!

  • Life's Next Chapter
    Posted at 06:40h, 07 January

    The tough part is when the decision isn’t what you’ve prayed for. We had this experience and our adult child and mother of two moved from our home, after a year of our support. She and her husband continue to struggle financially and are often on the edge of being evicted from their apartment. Often they have no family communication as their telephone and internet are shut off. My heart goes out to the grandchildren who have no choice in the matter. Our solution is to be a respite to the grandchildren as often as possible, but it hurts to see the lifestyle of these adults. Of course, we continue to pray for our daughter, her husband, and our grandchildren.

    • Miss Too Darn Happy
      Posted at 12:09h, 07 January

      My heart breaks for you, as I think you are in a tremendously difficult place. Knowing that your adult child and her husband’s decisions impact your grandchildren, who are the innocent bystanders, must be so hard.

      Do the adults take responsibility at all for their behavior? Would they be interested in a simple budgeting workshop or a more inclusive program like Financial Peace? One of the great things about Financial Peace is that while it is about learning how to manage money and get rid of debt, it also addresses the underlying cause of our lack of management or mismanagement, which is our behavior. Many times I have heard FPU grads share how FPU has been an impetus for making positive changes in other parts of their lives. I know that was true for my husband and I as well.

      If they were interested, they could find a class by going to Ramsey’s site here: http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/classfinder/cfst/1/

      Thank you so much for sharing on this difficult topic. It can be so hard when we think we are alone in dealing with tough situations.

      Blessings, and my prayers are with you.

  • The ostrich philosophy… « The Burned Hand
    Posted at 16:43h, 01 October

    […] found this link about talking to people here.  The people in my life don’t believe in talking.  I suppose they are waiting for the […]

  • Lynn
    Posted at 12:11h, 03 February

    My adult son and his girlfriend have 3 small children, I can not tell you how many times i get a phone call asking for money to buy diapers or formula, the only income they have is from a part time job, They both live with a family member, Whom is now starting to go down with the ship. I feel terrible for the grand kids, I do try to help with their needs but now fined it is harder since they all have nothing and the adults come up with numerous excuses for why they can’t get ahead. I know ( working ) would help. I feel the affects from always giving, If i have a twenty left they will borrow it. I get talked to as if they already hate me, The more i try to help the more they want. Did i mention 2monthes of working full time out of 6 years. So yes you can’t help unless they are willing to do their part. If i buy something that one child needs the parents are mad because i didn’t buy for the other two, I’m working 45 hours a week and barley get by myself.

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 21:13h, 03 February

      Sometimes tough love is the only way to stop the behaviors, Lynn. It’s very painful the draw the hard line but it may be the only way to get things to change. You have to take care of your own household first. If you can barely make ends meet for yourself, you can’t be taking care of others.

  • Lynn
    Posted at 17:05h, 04 February

    Thanks Matt,
    I have started the pulling away a few day’s ago and first i got anger from my son, It is very hard
    And i feel terrible for the grand kids. I told my son once again he needs to get a real job for his kids.
    Needless to say I’m not sleeping very well.

    • Miss Too Darn Happy
      Posted at 17:35h, 04 February

      Hi Lynn,
      Change can be hard for some folks, but Matt is right. Tough love can be painful, but it is the right path to take. Is there anyone else you can speak to for encouragement, another friend or relative who will support you in what you are doing? Hang in there!

      We had to hold that conversation with our daughter because we were enabling her. Thankfully, we weren’t in real deep when we realized what was happening. Even so, my stomach was in knots and I wasn’t sleeping, sure she would hate us. You can read what happened here: http://www.toodarnhappy.com/2011/07/25/a-boomerang-responds/