Few would argue with the fact that a parent, more than anyone else, should have their child’s best interests in mind. The fascinating thing is, this concern for offspring can manifest in a shocking variety of ways. Everything from old-fashioned “tough love” to excessive leniency can be interpreted as a parent trying to give their child the best life possible.
In the 21st century, this overt desire to focus on the wellbeing of the younger generation has led to a common phenomenon: the “enabling parent.”
Defining an “Enabling” Parent
With so much variation in parenting styles, it’s important to begin with a quick rundown of just what an enabling parent looks like.
While the term is flexible in nature — as are just about all terms that apply to human interaction — an enabling parent typically possesses one distinct trait above all else: they inadvertently reinforce their child’s undesired behavior as an indirect consequence of an excessive desire to protect them.
In other words, enabling your child can’t be simply reduced to something simple like being overly attached to them. Attachment between a parent and child is actually an excellent trait that has been shown to lead to healthy relationships later in life.
The problems of enabling can arise when parents:
- Rescue their child too quickly
- Praise their child too easily
- Let a guilty conscience trump what’s best for their child
- Fail to communicate their own life lessons
- Encourage natural gifts but discourage maturity
- Take on life for their child
This excessive protection and hand-holding, also known as “helicopter parenting” when taken to an extreme, can have very negative side effects on your child as they attempt to mature into full-grown adults.
The Effects of Enabling
An enabling parent may feel that they’re doing the best they can for their child. However, there are numerous subtle ways that this can undermine your child’s ability to function once they reach adulthood.
Here are just a few of the ways that enabling can cripple your child later in life:
Enabling Doesn’t Allow for Development
One of the most obvious ways that enabling can hurt your child is by stunting their development. When a child becomes overly dependent on their parents, they fail to learn to lean on themselves. They often don’t learn basic life skills, and mentally and physically struggle to mature. A small example would be when a child doesn’t use the terms “please” and “thank you” since their parents give them what they ask for without hesitation.
Enabling Can Increase Insecurity and Stifle Leadership
If a child is overly dependent on you, it can ultimately create unnecessary insecurities in them as an adult. For instance, when they grow up and move out, they will quickly realize that they don’t have you by their side to fight their battles for them. This can evolve into a generally risk-averse pattern of behavior that can stifle inner leadership and make it difficult for them to take charge of their own lives.
Enabling Can Make Mental Health Difficult
Enabling parents often fail to let their children experience pain and grief throughout their lives. For instance, an enabling parent might smother their child with shallow distractions during a time of deep loss. This can be an understandable attempt to quickly ameliorate the discomfort of the situation. However, attempting to address the symptoms rather than the grief itself — grief being the body’s natural response to a loss — doesn’t actually fix anything. On the contrary, it only stunts the child’s ability to handle trauma properly in the future.
Enabling Can Lead to Poor Relationships
If a child isn’t able to learn how to process emotions, it can lead to struggles with anxiety and depression in the future. This can have a profound effect on personal relationships, as it can feed feelings of self-isolation, hypersensitivity to criticism, and rejection.
Enabling Fosters Resentment
Finally, an enabling parent can foster resentment in their child. This is one of the most tragic consequences of enabling, as it directly opposes the entire motivation for enabling in the first place. A parent may wish to protect their child through their enabling behavior, but they ultimately will do little more than cause resentment once the child grows up and realizes that they were emotionally, physically, or mentally hobbled by a helicopter parenting style.
Recognizing Enabling Behavior
As a parent, it’s crucial that this information doesn’t lead you to feel guilty, overly-critical, or emotionally imbalanced. Instead, use the enabling behaviors and consequences listed above as a litmus test for your current situation.
If you find that you are, indeed, enabling your child, don’t despair. It’s never too late to shift from an enabling mindset to one that is focused on preparing your child for adult life in the best way that you can. Keep in mind, this transition may be difficult at times, especially if your child is used to enabling behavior. However, if you do your research, establish ground rules for yourself, and focus on staying steady throughout your parenting journey, you can turn things around and deliver the best childhood possible for your offspring.