The joys and trials of raising a family never truly end, even as parents enter into their retirement years. One common struggle many elderly parents face is trying to handle an adult child who has not yet developed the skills and trust necessary to succeed in life. Unfortunately, enabling this behavior by providing financial support or shelter can exacerbate the problem, often making them dependent on external help and unable to make it on their own. Understanding the complex dynamics of such situations can be a challenge - here is a guide for elderly parents are looking to start transitioning out of their roles as enablers in order to properly retire.
What Is Enabling?
When parents enable their children, they provide them with continual support - beyond what is necessary or reasonable - in some form in order to prevent them from struggling or enduring consequences. This could involve providing money, letting them live at home rent-free, or bailing them out of difficult situations. The intention of this support is generally good - caring parents want to provide what's necessary for their child to thrive without having to ever experience failure or tribulations. However, more often than not this practice serves only to further instill the young person’s lack of autonomy, self-confidence and resilience.
The Problem With Enabling
Not only does enabling prevent young adults from developing the necessary skills for full autonomy, but it also fails to teach them the most important lessons about life—that mistakes are going to happen and that learning from those mistakes and setbacks is essential to overcoming hardships. Moreover, the support that comes from enabling can be addictive to some, leading them to become even more dependent on their parents or guardians and to come to the wrong conclusion that they need to be helped in order to thrive.
Recognizing the Signs
A big part of recognizing that you are enabling your adult child is understanding the signs and signals of this behavior. You may be enabling if you:
• Always step in to help whenever your son or daughter struggles
• Provide everywhere from money to shelter to transportation and other amenities
• Put career guidance and direction above seeing your child fail and learn from it
• Feel obligated to solve problems for your child instead of listening and providing support
• Stress over the minor details of your child’s life
Taking the Steps to End Enabling
If you recognize any of the signs above as your own behavior, it's time to take steps to discontinue your role as enabler and help your child become more independent. Here are a few practical ways to do this:
1. Communicate Clear Expectations
If you are providing money, rent or other support to you son or daughter, give them clear expectations of the amount they are expected to earn or contribute. This creates a sense of responsibility and encourages them to work hard and make their own money.
2. Set Boundaries
Give your son or daughter official start and end times to their financial aid or rental agreement, and hold them to it. While it's important to set boundaries, remember to be empathetic and understanding during any times of difficulty.
3. Don't Be Afraid of Natural Consequences
Don’t bail your adult child out at moments of short-term distress. Even when it's tempting, allow them to face the immediate consequences of their decisions. Remember, suffering through such moments can lead to significant growth in the long run.
4. Have Realistic Expectations
Everyone develops at their own rate, so remember to keep your expectations of your child realistic and based on progress you see rather than outcomes you desire.
5. Focus on Relationships
While you should remain firm on boundaries and expectations you've set, don't forget that the relationship with your adult child is more important than anything else. Make sure to nurture this relationship by listening without judging and helping without lecturing.
Parents who have enabled a grown child likely did so out of love and a sense of obligation. While that doesn't excuse the behavior, it helps to demonstrate the complexity of such situations. As one transitions into retirement, spending that time wisely by encouraging a dependent adult child to find independence should be the ultimate priority. By following the suggestions provided in this article, parents can walk away from their protective roles while maintaining relationships that will contribute to their children's overall success in life.