Enabling your children can weaken your marriage

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

May 11

enabling your children can weaken your marriageWhen Kansas farm girl Dorothy closed her eyes and murmured longingly, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home!” she was speaking as a twelve year old who had come to recognize the true magic of home, not as a young adult comfortably and seemingly permanently ensconced under your roof.

Home is a wonderful place, and it’s no surprise that millennials find the idea of moving back in—or never leaving—appealing.

Certainly there can be healthy arrangements for adult children and families living under one roof based on respect, gratitude, and good communication.

However, if you are ready to throw your door open wide in the spirit of financial helpfulness, or if you already have, you’ll want to be vigilant so you don’t weaken your marriage.

How do you know if you are helping or enabling?

Christian Personal Finance defines the difference:

Helping is doing something for someone else that they are not capable of doing for themselves.

Enabling is doing things for someone else that they can and should be doing for themselves.

It is all too easy, as my hubby and I and many other parents will attest, to subtly and unwittingly transition from a situation that began as helpful to one that is enabling.

Helping, for example, is allowing your newly minted graduate to move back home for the summer while they continue to look for a job.

Enabling is still having that same child, now 27 years old, living at home, while you provide for their every need, plus footing the bill for those college loans, because they’re still weighing their options for the future.

If you have become an enabler, what’s driving you?

So many emotions might be at play:

Guilt: You are your child’s protector and provider.

Fear: Your young adult will fall onto extremely hard times, become homeless, go hungry, or will suffer in other ways.

Doubt:  You’ve never seen evidence they can actually take care of themselves financially.

Shame:  What will people think if they see your child living in poverty while you lead a comfortable life?

Discomfort: It’s easier to just keep giving the money than handle a confrontation.

Control:  As long as you write the checks, you get the major stake in continuing to run their life.

Pride:  You feel self-righteous as you sacrifice, believing you owe your children everything.

Responsibility:  It’s your fault you never taught them how to be self-sufficient.

Enabling your children can weaken your marriage

Very simply, it may put the opinions, needs, and the desires of your spouse below those whom you are enabling, thereby going against one of the most basic foundations for a strong marriage: putting your spouse first.

Husbands or wives may disagree on the amount and length of support needed, feel they are being taken advantage of, and especially may resent not being able to enjoy this season together as empty nesters.

Even if you agree as a couple that you both have become enablers, the financial stress in addition to the other difficulties that arise from this arrangement can spill over and create tension and arguments in other areas.

Learning to let go of enabling behavior

Remember that when you financially enable, you are effectively saying your offspring is not capable and is devoid of marketable talent or skills.

It’s time to change the message you are sending.

Get on the same page as your spouse. This may be the first of several uncomfortable conversations, but it is foundational to the ultimate success of launching your child into self-sufficiency. Here are a couple of terrific communication resources right here on Engaged Marriage: Thinking StylesImprove Communication

Put some breathing room into your life. When you are overwhelmed in general, problems can loom larger than life, and your response is often outsized in return. Use the ideas here to brainstorm with your spouse to create an environment that works for you, your marriage and your family.

Love your child enough to say No More Money, it’s time to make a plan to go. It is the ultimate in tough love and frees your child to behave like the responsible adult they have the potential to be. For more in-depth help on the how-to, here are some resources:

Slouching Toward Adulthood:  How to let go so your kids can grow up, by Sally Kowlow

How To Stop Enabling:  When Our Grown Children Disappoint Us, a thorough round up of articles and books

The Enabler:  When helping hurts the ones you love, by Angelyn Miller

Realize you may feel worse before you feel better. When you are asked to imagine your favorite dessert, you conjure up an image of an incredibly delectable dish. Conversely, when you think about how the conversation will go, you imagine the worst about what will happen to your relationship and for your son or daughter’s future. Generally, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Your situation likely has taken years to evolve, and you have been a party to prolonging it.

It’s time to draw that line in the sand.

The kids know what is appropriate, but they will push the boundaries just like they did when they were 2, and 7, and 12 and 16 years old.

Be the adult in the room and the loving parent you were designed to be and provide the guidance and wisdom and boundaries your children need so that your marital and family relationships can mend.

My husband and I have walked this path in addition to helping a single mom get the ball rolling, and I know you can do it, too!

Comment: What is your opinion on enabling your children?

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