Am I Empowering or Enabling My Kids?

October 12, 2018

One of my favorite topics ever, aside from essential oils, is Empowering and Enabling.  It's such a different way of thinking than standard ways of thinking.  One of the topics discussed in Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way is parental empowering vs. enabling.   Enabling is such a huge topic in the life of and addict, and I've become fond of learning about it.  As a parent, I really struggle with enabling in our house because it's in my nature to "help" and do things for my kiddos because it's easier on me, vs. empowering them to it on their own.  A good example is taking out the trash.  I might let my two year old help me take out the trash to the road on Monday nights, but as he whines, and takes ten minutes to get down the stairs I say, "I'll just do it"- This is enabling.  Where as, encouraging him that he is strong and can do it.  Letting him know I appreciate him helping do chores, and staying patient with him during the whole ten minutes it takes to do a two minute job, empowers him.  He feels success and proud of himself when the job is done.  He feels valued as a family member.



Parental enabling is: "Getting between young people and life experience to minimize the consequences of their choices" (Nelson & Lott, 1998). 


Enabling responses include:

-Doing too much for them

-Giving them too much


-Lying for them

-Punishing/controlling them

-Living in denial


-Bailing them out


One of the ways I can think of that I was enabled as a young adult was, if I forgot my homework, or lunch my mom would bring it for me. Right up until the point that I was 18 years old.  Now, God Bless her.  I don't think she willingly knew she was enabling me.  And I had no idea, that something as simple as this would leave me ill prepared for the consequences of the real world and possibly attribute to characteristics of my alcoholism, but I do see it now.  And as a mother, it's a conscious battle for me. Right now both my boys are toddlers, and some days I just don't want to deal with the damn tantrums.  I would rather let them make a mess of the whole house and clean it up when they go to bed, or tell them "YES", if it means I don't have to deal with the whining.  But by doing this, I'm getting in the habit of enabling them in what could be greater, life teaching moments.  I'm robbing them from understanding what consequences really are.  




Parental Empowering is; "Turning control over to young people as soon as possible so they have the power over their own lives" (Lott & Nelson, 1998).  


Empowering your children includes: 


-Listening & giving emotional support and validation without fixing or discounting.

-Teaching life skills

-Working on agreements through family meetings or the joint problem solving process. 

- Letting go (without abandoning)  [I'm terrible at this one. This can look like holding their hand through the whole big toy experience so they don't EVER fall].

-Deciding what you will do with dignity and respect

-Sharing what you think, how you feel and what you want (without lecturing, moralizing, insisting on agreement, or demanding that anyone give you what you what). 

-Sticking to the issue with dignity and respect


Using the same example above, had I received a couple of F's or late grades for forgetting my homework, or gone hungry for forgetting my lunch, a series of lessons could have been learned.  Would I still have turned out an alcoholic, yes, but I would have been more prepared for what the real world had to throw at me later in life.  My college professor doesn't care that I stayed up all night working on the project that I forgot on my desk at home.  My boss doesn't care that I didn't get to eat lunch and therefore I'm hangry. 

It's easy to think that the small things we do as parents won't affect our kids later, but they do. Part of my alcohol and drug use had to do with not having hard enough consequences as a young adult, which goes hand in hand with enabling.  So, I struggle with making sure I don't enable my kids, and it often gets confused with being too hard on them. 


So, I'm working on finding a good balance.  I ask myself:


-Am I trying to control their behavior, and have them do things my way? 

-Am I being respectful? 

-Am I showing faith and trust in their abilities?


If I'm doing those three things I'm comfortable with my "empowerment".  If I'm not showing faith in their abilities (like my example of my toddler taking out the trash), then I am enabling. 


This topic can go way more in depth, but I leave that up to you, the reader to explore more if you want to! These are just pieces that help me, as a mother in recovery.  I frankly think that they're good for any parent, in recovery or not! 


Happy Friday. 


You can read more from the book by buying it through the link below.  


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