Have you wondered why you parent the way that you do?

It’s an interesting question to explore. I find myself parenting in a manner that connects to my life story. Sometimes I get upset and raise my voice in a way that reminds me of my upbringing. A reminder that I do not favor, yet it spills out as if I have limited control. Other times, my wife shows me a video of me helping my son with his baseball swing. During this moment, I feel full and energized. It’s a warmth of reflection showing me that I’m doing a good job parenting.

Parenting has many adjectives.

Supportive, loving, nurturing, strict, mindful, and so many more beautiful words that can paint the perfect picture of the soul of a parent.

There is a dance between balancing being a supportive versus enabling parent.

I like to share a story to help define the key difference.

She sat quietly and elegantly. Put together so perfectly that you would presume her life must have mirrored her outfit. Clean and flawlessly placed. Once the door closed and I sat down, her shoulders fell. Her arms lost their strength. In her eyes, I saw a pain that dug into my soul and opened the conversation to the challenges she faced in parenting. Her son was fit and of age. A physically strong young man capable of anything he would be willing to work towards. She took a deep breath and let out a story. How her son would not help her clean the house. How her son during high school overslept and missed one too many days of school. How her son said he would help with rent but never followed through. Like most parents she was nurturing and loving. She shared her love for her son and expectations that he should be independent. That he should pay rent or move out. She shared that wanted to stick to her guns but hated seeing him sad. That she would slide money across the table to avoid the embarrassment of her son not being able to go on outings with their social group.

I asked her if this was problem that she had, or if this was a problem that her son had?

Like superman, faster than the speed of light, she blurted, “Him. He has a problem. He needs to be responsible. He needs to grow up. I won’t always be there.”

Though her words carried a heavy weight, the answer was incorrect.

The problem was that of her own. As we dug into the history of the relationship between child and parent, we uncovered a truth of enabling versus supporting.

She shared that she would pretend her son did not have a problem. She would fix problems by using money or sliding them under the rug. She would skip out on following through with consequences because not having them made their relationship better. She shared that she did not maintain rigor with her expectations.

Enabling takes place when a parent supports a child while the support given negatively impacts the child. The continuation of enabling nurtures the negative behavior in a manner that feeds it and makes it more prominent in the child’s life. A simple example is seen when a parent gives their child money to spend while acknowledging that the child is fully capable of working. The lack of working continues to be motivated by the allocation of money. In the story shared above, enabling took place when the parent allowed her son to live in the home without paying rent. Year after year the negative behavior becomes more prominent.

What’s interesting with enabling is that parents can become lost in its process due to parts of the process having support and a sense of reward. The unique positive element can be seen when a parent hears a thank you, sees a smile, or avoids a negative emotion. For instance, a parent may avoid confronting their child over lethargic like behaviors or a negative unwanted behavior due to the parenting not wanting to experience negative emotions such as parental shame or guilt.

Below are 3 ways to support your child, rather than enabling:

  1. Life will certainly throw curveballs. I’m sure that you as a parent have experienced your fair share. As parents, we can take time to coach our kids on how to navigate life and its varying challenges. In addition, we can align our kids with coaches and role models to help them in ways that are out of your scope of practice or knowledge.
  2. One key purpose of consequences is to help us acknowledge and nurture key areas of character development. As such, parents can focus to follow through when giving their child rules and consequences. Doing so teaches fundamental lessons that can be carried on throughout the child’s life into their adult life.
  3. It is vital to give our kids appropriate structure and guidance in learning how to advocate for themselves: advocacy in the form of self-discipline and learning how to problem solve. Providing your child with this skill aids their growth and ability to maneuver life’s challenges.

It’s not an easy task to reflect and truly practice supporting versus enabling. The difficulty in not enabling is due to the parental desire to shield and support our child. Because of this, it can be extremely difficult for a parent to have boundaries or to say no.

In your journey of parenting, take time to clearly identify how you support your child versus engaging in enabling. Remember, parenting like childhood is a journey. Take time to learn, grow, and have fun.

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