Chronic Enabling

Dr. Lorin Bradbury, author of "Treasures from an Old Book, Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World".

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: How do you defend an elder who is being manipulated by their drug-addict child and this has been going on for years? The drug addict asks for money from the parent and the parent always gives in countless times because they feel sorry for their child because their child has no job or home? The child says it’s for food and the parent wants to believe him, but the parent knows it will go to drugs. As an additional excuse, the parent gives in saying, “It’s Christmas.”

Answer: Wow! You have painted a picture of enabling. Unfortunately, we are living in a day in which many parents do not want to allow their children to experience any pain, and therefore, they keep them in state of perpetual adolescence.

Concerning your first question, “How can you defend an elder who is being manipulated?” There probably is very little you can do, other than to advise the elder not to participate in scheme.

You might wonder how that kind of very unhealthy type of relationship developed. Not knowing the entire history of the person described in the question above, there may be several possibilities. Some parents feel guilty because they were not available when the child was young due to substance abuse or involvement in unhealthy relationships, so they are forever trying to make up for what they didn’t give the child earlier.

Other parents create this kind of relationship when they begin the enabling process young in life, always rescuing the child from consequences of inappropriate behaviors. At the slightest sign of suffering, they run to the rescue, even if the pain is a consequence of bad behavior. This continues into adulthood by bailing them out of jail, paying their fines, paying their rent, and buying their groceries. And sometimes even paying for their bad habits.

Then there is the fear of rejection. Some parents fear rejection by their children if they don’t give into their every request. If your child is an adult and you fear your child will not like you if you say “no,” you are already caught in the web. A parent in a healthy relationship with an adult child evaluates each situation and makes decisions based on need or merit, not on whether the child will like the parent.

Further, some parents have the need to control their children well into adulthood. In healthy relationships, parental control is lessened throughout the teenage years, until the relationship progresses from a Parent-Child relationship to an Adult-Adult relationship. The goal should be for the Parent-Child relationship to transition to Adult-Adult around the age of 18 or when the child graduates from high school. But some parents have the need to control their children forever. This almost always backfires. Adult children hate the control but may use it to their advantage to achieve their own selfish goals.

So, what’s the take home from all of this?

1. If your children are still young, begin by teaching responsibility. Talk to them about becoming an adult around age 18 or when they graduate from high school. If your child gets into trouble in school, don’t blame the teacher, the administration, or the school. Teach her to take responsibility for her behaviors. If your child feels picked on, teach him, how to negotiate relationships. Life is full of unpleasant experiences. The sooner a person learns how to respond to unpleasant events and people, the quicker that person matures.

2. Help your child make the transition from your home to his home. Help him make the transition but make him responsible for the finances involved in the transition. It’s unacceptable for a college-age child to spend her money partying and expect you to bail her out.

3. If an adult child returns home, develop a plan for him to be with you only a short period of time. Make certain the adult child knows that when that pre-determined time is up, he will have to find a place of his own. Or, set up a rental agreement at fair market value, and make sure you collect the rent. In most cases, if they are required to pay much, they will want to find a place of their own. Remember, your job is over at that point. Allow the child to become an adult.

4. Check your own needs and motives. Do you have a need to control, or are you needing affirmation? As adults, children may not always embody your values. When that occurs, do not panic, and try to rescue them. Trust that the work you did when your child was young will come to fruition. You can pray for her and always love her, but don’t try to manipulate herd. It won’t work.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].

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