One of the greatest gifts in life is our children. Ps.127:3 “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.”
What a joy it is to hold them in your arms the very first time, to watch them begin to walk and say their first words, to teach them how to ride a bike and drive their first car. Sometimes we make those statements, “if I could only keep them little.” We would love to keep our precious little ones from all the problems that come in life, but that is impossible to do. Jesus said in John 16:33; ”that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” They are going to keep growing and wanting their freedom. Sometimes, in an effort to keep “our gifts” from those heartaches, it is easy to fall into a trap of enablement. The trap develops many ways; from good intentions a lot of times. No matter how it starts, it becomes dangerous to the whole family. When it involves men in addiction, it tends to show up in not wanting our child to lose their job or face legal problems or fear of them dying and we didn’t do our part to help.
The problem of enabling is we get in the way of God’s work in our child’s life. When we get in the way we remove the natural consequences to that person’s behavior. Simply put, enabling creates an atmosphere in which our adult children can comfortably continue their unacceptable behavior. We warn against enabling because it is proven that someone in addiction experiencing the damaging consequences of his behavior on his life has the most powerful incentive to change. Often this is when they “hit their bottom” and come to a place of surrender. And then God can start doing His greatest work in them!
When we think of child abuse we normally think of physical or emotional abuse and neglect. Could it be that “enabling” is a type of child abuse? If we are always removing or resolving the consequences in someone’s life we are neglecting to teach them how to face it and emotionally building resentment and entitlement in their life. Then they never mature to trust in the Lord when the tribulations of this world come. Who do they trust in? Most of the time those who are being enabled get resentful towards the one who interrupts their sinful pattern and do not understand why they’re not getting a bail out. So they get angry at God and the agents that God is trying to use to bring real help.
How do we check up on ourselves to make sure we don’t create this habit? Well, ask yourself a few questions:
• Has the Lord been convicting me about this already?
• When my adult child calls is my immediate thought, “What is it this time?”
• Does your child now act entitled to and demand things you once enjoyed giving like; car privileges, gifts, perks at home, or rent money?
• Does it feel like you are living from crisis to crisis with them?
• Are you feeling burdened, used, resentful, or burned out?
• Have you loaned him money or paid for bills repeatedly; seldom, if ever, being repaid?
• Have you bailed him out of rehab because he got uncomfortable without talking to the leadership or jail and paid for his legal fees?
• Have you given him “one more chance” and then another and another?
I have a feeling, if you have been through this, you can add a lot more questions than I have room for.
I have heard this too many times; “Well, I don’t think I’m enabling; I’m helping.” Here’s the difference: Helping is doing something for someone that he is not capable of doing himself. Enabling is doing for someone things that he could and should be doing himself.
So how do we break this cycle or avoid getting into it? First, we have got to go back to the beginning and understand that the beautiful gift you have been given is a gift and it is given from the Lord and like all gifts we want to honor the Lord with how we handle that gift. Also recognize that every gift comes with responsibility. Prov. 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” We have to train our children; yes, even our adult children. Someone once described the parenting process this way: “Being a parent is a lot like building a boat that you eventually will launch. The building process is gratifying, but so is launching the boat and seeing that what you’ve built can handle the seas. At some point as a parent, you’ve got to start getting your child ready to be launched.” We need to understand that we are to be preparing them for life not to live it for them. Ps 127: 4-5 also teaches us; “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed.” Children are compared to an arrow for a warrior. And we are to train them up to send them out in this world full of spiritual warfare that demands dependency on Jesus Christ as their solid rock.
If you see this as a problem, or the beginning of one, then I ask you, for the whole family’s sake, to stop and surrender yourself to Jesus and turn your child over to the Lord. He is able to help you set the boundaries that are needed and to equip him to be the man God has called him to be. After you have submitted yourself to Jesus, write out the boundaries that keep getting crossed and you and your spouse agree together on how money hand-outs will change, responsibility with living space will change, and other problems that need to be addressed. Then meet with your child and outline the plan clearly. Know that it will get tested! But this is for the whole family’s best interest. And, the Lord is going to do a great work in the whole family as everyone learns to trust in HIM!