In recent years the word ‘enabling’ has been turned from a helpful thing to a negative thing. We are no longer parents who enable their children but an Enabling Parent. And there is a difference. I think it is important that we understand this difference because it affects how we engage with our kids, especially teens and young adults.
When language changes – and we see the evolution of language happening all the time – we have to take our thinking with us as we use new words and new phrases. I have heard parents say: I don’t want to enable my child/teen/young adult – and yet we can all see the child is floundering. I think this is the wrong use of this changed language.
Parents are to enable their child – but we are not to be Enabling Parents. Let’s dig into the difference.
Define Enabling Parent
The word ‘enable’ means to help. In any other context than parenting, we still use the word enable to mean to help, to make something possible, to give the ability or power to do something. (I looked at three online dictionaries to check how far our language has changed – and they all said the same thing. Google, Cambridge, dictionary.com)
Parents are to help their kids, they are to give them the ability or power to do things.
But when we use the words Enabling Parents – the meaning switches. This means (thanks to those who study behavior) parents who enable their children to do negative things. That is, parents who either consciously or subconsciously help their child to behave or believe in ways that are harmful to their maturity and well-being.
When we spell it out like this we can see there is a difference. Of course we don’t want to be an Enabling Parent – but that doesn’t mean we can’t help our children reach maturity and wellbeing.
So if you’ve read articles about being an Enabling Parent, and you’ve pulled back from helping your child/teen, I encourage you to think about this again.
Are you talking about helping them do what is good and healthy or are you helping them in a way that limits their ability to grow and mature?
Check your Parent Heart
I have found that when parents engage with their kids (of any age really) out of fear then they become more and more Enabling (in an unhealthy way). They do things for their child that their child can do for themselves. They don’t upset their child because they fear something negative will happen. This of course isn’t healthy for any one.
Before you can find a healthy place of helping but not Enabling you need to know what is your responsibility and what is your child’s. Boundaries. These lines change as the child grows older. What was once your responsibility as the parent is now your Teen’s responsibility – their life, their responsibility. This responsibility should grow and increase as their ability (moral and skills-wise) grows.
And this is where the conflict often comes in. What if they aren’t taking the responsibility or maybe even able to take the responsibility? It is when we see such a gap in our child’s life that we need to step in – not to Enable (because it is their responsibility, they are just not taking it for whatever reason) but to help them towards taking that responsibility. The caution is – don’t be the reason they don’t need to take responsibility (that is Enabling). Be the one who gives them the ability, the power to take personal responsibility and step towards self-governance.
[Tweet “Be the parent who gives their child the ability and power to take personal responsibility.”]
A better word: Empower
There is a better word that we can use. Phycology uses the word Empower to be the answer against Enabling. We are to be Empowering parents: it means help, to guide, to encourage someone to take responsibility for their own life. This is the very definition of parenting. If you see a lack in your child/teen – something that hinders them from living a moral, self-governed, involved life then you can step in and help them grow.
We are to give our child the skills and responsibility (power) to live their lives.
So yes, Enabling our child/teen is a problem – Empowering them is to be our mindset.
Tips to stop Enabling and Start Empowering
- Foster a relationship with your child/teen so they know you are on their side, that you want what is best for them
- Communicate what your expectations are and talk about how that is going to happen
- Ask them what kind of person they want to be and how you can help them reach their intrapersonal goals
- Teach your child what living by a moral code looks like (teach the moral and the lifeskills connected)
- Once your child knows how to do something make it their responsibility – make this your expectation, the standard, the normal
- Have consequences when your child doesn’t fulfil their responsibilities
- Let your child make choices – even if you can see the consequences looming
We need to be committed to helping, guiding, encouraging our child towards self-governance and while we have our eyes set on this goal, we won’t be Enabling – we will be Empowering.
Over to you:
How does knowing the difference between these two words shape your parenting?