Why is it so much easier to “enable” than to empower? Enabling is adult behavior that puts the parent between the child and life experiences to minimize the consequences of the child's choices. Enabling includes rescuing, over-protecting, and controlling without involving the child in problem solving. Enabling behavior encourages an unhealthy dependence in children and prevents them from learning to do things for themselves.
Many parents enable their children in the name of love. They do not look at the long-term results. They don’t consider what their children are deciding about themselves and about what to do in the future (based on their decisions). They may be deciding, “I'm not capable.” “It is best to let others take care of me.” “You can’t make me,” etc. It is important to know that adults do not necessarily feel comfortable with empowering statements and actions until they really understand the long-term benefits.
Empowering means turning over control to young people as soon as possible so they have power over their own lives and having faith in them to learn and recover from their mistakes.
Typical Enabling Behaviors
- Waking children in the morning, doing their laundry, fixing their lunches, picking out their clothes.
- Loaning money and/or giving extra money after they have spent their allowance or used specially earmarked funds, such as a clothing allowance, on something else.
- Typing papers, researching, delivering forgotten homework or lunches to school.
- Lying to teachers when children cut classes or skip school .
- Feeling sorry for children when they have a lot of homework or activities, excusing them from helping the family with household chores.
- Pretending everything is fine, when it clearly isn't, to avoid confrontation.
- Giving them everything they want—“because everyone else has one.”
Typical Empowering Behaviors
- Listening and giving emotional support and validation without fixing or discounting.
- Teaching life skills (laundry, dishes, fixing lunches, picking out clothes, etc.).
- Working on agreements through family meetings or the joint problem-solving process.
- Letting go (without abandoning).
- 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 satisfaction.
Empowering Success Story
Lisa provides an inspiring success story of how she and her husband empowered their son.
Our oldest son is 12-years-old and in middle school. He attends an academic magnet school and has daily homework and frequent "big" projects. We power struggled a lot with him in fifth grade over keeping up with his work and in 6th grade we REALLY started power struggling. Sometimes we would have daily arguments about homework. My husband decided it was time for us to cut the cord completely in this area just before Christmas. They wrote out a mutually agreed upon contract with items like our son coming to us if he needed our help and us coming to him if we got notification that his grades had dropped into the C range. We all read and signed the contract. There have been a few times when I would start nagging about homework again and my husband would remind me about the contract terms.
The first report card with our new approach came and he had straight A's. The second one he had all A's and one B. At breakfast one morning we were acknowledging his hard work and it occurred to me in that moment that HE had earned those grades, he had done that by himself. I realized that by us "driving the boat" so to speak that it minimized his successes as well. At his school it is 7th grade scores and grades that ensure you a place in the academic high school. During that same breakfast he said "Just wait until next year, I am going to knock it out of the park because I am not going to let an 84 keep me out of the academic high school." It was great to see his attitude shift, a few months ago he didn't want to go to that high school-probably because of OUR intensity around it.