The Prodigal Child – The Enabling Parent

One of the most damaging things a parent can do when dealing with a prodigal child, is to enable him.  Enabling looks different for different people.  It’s important to prayerfully consider if you have been (and continue to be) an enabler.  And it’s just as vital to discover the ways in which you have enabled your child.

If you’re not really sure what this means, in the most general sense it’s to do something for someone else, so as to prevent him from doing it himself.  We enable our children by picking up after them.  We enable them by paying all of their bills.  We enable them by taking care of their business.

Until this past year, I had never seen myself as an enabling parent.  But the reality is that I had been doing it for many years.  The older they got, the more I enabled.  The problem with this behavior is that it stunts their growth as a person.  They may not learn responsibility or how to take ownership.

Another way to describe enabling is that it shields the other person from experiencing problems or consequences.  We jump in there so our child doesn’t have to go without.  We try to rescue our child from facing negative repercussions.  Or we sweep in to prevent that child from feeling disappointment.

Once you recognize that side of you as a parent, it’s time to take steps to change direction.  Enabling doesn’t help.  It hurts.  Not only your child but yourself as a parent and the relationship as a whole.  Let me assure you this isn’t easy.  The first time I did it, it felt uncomfortable.  It wasn’t well received.  It caused a great deal of friction.  I wrestled with it and doubted it would do any good.

But it did.  The results weren’t instantaneous.  Nor were they what I expected.  Yet I saw more positive come out of breaking the enabling habit than I did as an enabler.

It takes courage.  It takes tenacity.  It takes the strength of God to break the terrible pattern of being an enabling parent.  But it’s worth it…and it’s one of the best things you can do for a prodigal child.


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