“How To Stop Enabling Your Child,” “How Being Co-Dependent Parent Can Hurt your Child,” “Consequences of Co-dependency” … These are titles of literature parents are given at support groups. Enabling, Co-dependent, Powerless – all words and ideas parents hear often as they navigate the path to try to help and support their child.
While these ideas are meant to help families, they are often confusing and at times used in ways that are shaming and discouraging. A parent may be used to hearing “you need to stop enabling” but in reality what that parent hears is “it’s my fault,” “I caused this.” These words, ideas and opinions leave parents leave parents feeling trapped and blamed.
A better definition of enabling comes from the Parent’s 20-Minute Guide to Change from the Center for Motivation and Change: “So what IS enabling? Enabling is acting in ways that reinforce or support (not purposefully) substance use/negative behaviors. Examples include calling work for your hungover child to (falsely) explain their absence, or giving them money to help them “get by” when they run out due to their use.”
Supporting your child and advocating for your child’s care does not make you an enabler. What does work is lifting your child up and rewarding them for their good behaviors. Small changes build confidence and create the foundation for substantive, long-lasting change. Remember, while you have been told countless times that your presence may be a trigger for your child, your presence can also be a reward.