enabling your children can weaken your marriageWhen Kansas farm girl Dorothy closed her eyes and murmured longingly, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home!” she was speaking as a twelve year old who had come to recognize the true magic of home, not as a young adult comfortably and seemingly permanently ensconced under your roof.

Home is a wonderful place, and it’s no surprise that millennials find the idea of moving back in—or never leaving—appealing.

Certainly there can be healthy arrangements for adult children and families living under one roof based on respect, gratitude, and good communication.

However, if you are ready to throw your door open wide in the spirit of financial helpfulness, or if you already have, you’ll want to be vigilant so you don’t weaken your marriage.

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How do you know if you are helping or enabling?

Christian Personal Finance defines the difference:

Helping is doing something for someone else that they are not capable of doing for themselves.

Enabling is doing things for someone else that they can and should be doing for themselves.

It is all too easy, as my hubby and I and many other parents will attest, to subtly and unwittingly transition from a situation that began as helpful to one that is enabling.

Helping, for example, is allowing your newly minted graduate to move back home for the summer while they continue to look for a job.

Enabling is still having that same child, now 27 years old, living at home, while you provide for their every need, plus footing the bill for those college loans, because they’re still weighing their options for the future.

If you have become an enabler, what’s driving you?

So many emotions might be at play:

Guilt: You are your child’s protector and provider.

Fear: Your young adult will fall onto extremely hard times, become homeless, go hungry, or will suffer in other ways.

Doubt:  You’ve never seen evidence they can actually take care of themselves financially.

Shame:  What will people think if they see your child living in poverty while you lead a comfortable life?

Discomfort: It’s easier to just keep giving the money than handle a confrontation.

Control:  As long as you write the checks, you get the major stake in continuing to run their life.

Pride:  You feel self-righteous as you sacrifice, believing you owe your children everything.

Responsibility:  It’s your fault you never taught them how to be self-sufficient.

Enabling your children can weaken your marriage

Very simply, it may put the opinions, needs, and the desires of your spouse below those whom you are enabling, thereby going against one of the most basic foundations for a strong marriage: putting your spouse first.

Husbands or wives may disagree on the amount and length of support needed, feel they are being taken advantage of, and especially may resent not being able to enjoy this season together as empty nesters.

Even if you agree as a couple that you both have become enablers, the financial stress in addition to the other difficulties that arise from this arrangement can spill over and create tension and arguments in other areas.

Learning to let go of enabling behavior

Remember that when you financially enable, you are effectively saying your offspring is not capable and is devoid of marketable talent or skills.

It’s time to change the message you are sending.

Get on the same page as your spouse. This may be the first of several uncomfortable conversations, but it is foundational to the ultimate success of launching your child into self-sufficiency. Here are a couple of terrific communication resources right here on Engaged Marriage: Thinking StylesImprove Communication

Put some breathing room into your life. When you are overwhelmed in general, problems can loom larger than life, and your response is often outsized in return. Use the ideas here to brainstorm with your spouse to create an environment that works for you, your marriage and your family.

Love your child enough to say No More Money, it’s time to make a plan to go. It is the ultimate in tough love and frees your child to behave like the responsible adult they have the potential to be. For more in-depth help on the how-to, here are some resources:

Slouching Toward Adulthood:  How to let go so your kids can grow up, by Sally Kowlow

How To Stop Enabling:  When Our Grown Children Disappoint Us, a thorough round up of articles and books

The Enabler:  When helping hurts the ones you love, by Angelyn Miller

Realize you may feel worse before you feel better. When you are asked to imagine your favorite dessert, you conjure up an image of an incredibly delectable dish. Conversely, when you think about how the conversation will go, you imagine the worst about what will happen to your relationship and for your son or daughter’s future. Generally, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Your situation likely has taken years to evolve, and you have been a party to prolonging it.

It’s time to draw that line in the sand.

The kids know what is appropriate, but they will push the boundaries just like they did when they were 2, and 7, and 12 and 16 years old.

Be the adult in the room and the loving parent you were designed to be and provide the guidance and wisdom and boundaries your children need so that your marital and family relationships can mend.

My husband and I have walked this path in addition to helping a single mom get the ball rolling, and I know you can do it, too!

Comment: What is your opinion on enabling your children?

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About the author 

Kim Hall

Kim Hall created Too Darn Happy to help you build stronger and more joyful relationships through offerings of fresh perspectives and practical advice. Having been a wife for thirty years and a mom for almost as long to two daughters, she also shares occasional cautionary tales of her own character building life experiences. Kim recently authored her first ebook, Practicing Gratitude and Discovering Joy-Thirty Days to a Happier You. You can connect with Kim on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, too!

Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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  1. I have a problem with my 24 year old son, setting financial boundaries and its affecting my seen to be husband in 4 months. Can you give me some help?

  2. My wife has been enabling my stepson for 2decades now.he is 35, she has bought 4 cars , paid for 2 apt”s and purchased 2 homes , while continously suppling him with food and money. I am at the point where i just want out. Our marraige revolves around his problems that she continues to enable.
    I have suffered at the hands of this far too long. I love my wife , but im tired of all this entails.
    He has children which we have taken care of financially also. Including fixing gf cars and so on. I am just as a husband angry ,and cant shake this as it is a continuous burden of my life. I see no hope because of her refusal to let go.

    1. I was absolutely terrified to have this same conversation with my husband regarding our 19 yo daughter/stepdaughter. I thought my marriage would end, as he would choose her over me.

      Daily life with the SD had finally become so unbearable (she continually told vicious lies about me, manipulated and sabotaged both my marriage and mental health, and even set me up to get beat up by her friends and/or arrested when I luckily came out on top) that I was willing to leave my six-year long marriage if that was my only choice.

      My husband chose me, always and forever he said, much to my relief. He now spends time with relocated SD at least once per week, and I feel like I have my life and the sanctity of my home and marriage back. Even SD seems to be improving in physical and mental health (part of my strategy to be honest), and seems to have begun making better choices and acting more gracious.

      I have no idea what your outcome will be and I know it's terrifying. However, I encourage you to speak up sooner rather than later so you can live the life you deserve.

      1. Hello,

        I am going through this with my husband and stepdaughter as well. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mind him helping her with gas or food, etc. But, she takes it to a whole new level. She is 23, she barely keeps a job, he bought her a car in his name which I wouldn’t mind if we could rely on her to keep a job. My husband is always stressing that she will not pay her insurance or car note. When they argue, she leaves for a couple of months and comes back (4 or 5 X’s now). If we ask her to do something around the house there is a attitude, she doesn’t pick up after herself. I’m hanging by a thread, I don’t know how long I can last. It seems he’s more worried about her feelings than mine, IDK. And there’s more, to much to put here.

        1. I went through this with my now ex-wife and her son. He was 31, no job, sits at home playing video games and watches TV 24/7. She refused to push him nor get him into therapy. It's like she wants to be stuck in "mom" mode. She had 3 previous kids and our marriage was never about us, it was about her and her kids. Which was fine when they were still actual kids but now we are talking 30 year olds. But her oldest child was the biggest problem. And she was always the biggest contributor to that problem. If I ever brought it up or even suggested getting him a job she would jump down my throat like I am attacking her or something….Anyways, I referred to her as ex-wife, so we all know how that ended , lol. And yes, I am a lot happier now.

  3. My fiancé, now 72 years Old enables her 34 year old son in ways I can no longer live with. I had no idea her son was so problematic living and seeing how he is catered to that is not associated with a man his age. After months and years of knowing this woman, I finally came to the conclusion she believes her son can not survive life on his own. “I will not kick him out of this house”. I’m too far down the chain here to marry this woman so I am leaving because I’m certain her thinking will never change and we will never enjoy a life together that we had dreamed together.

    1. Jazrep, thanks for sharing, as I was told the exact same words. The wife is too close to situation and guilt. The stepson is a master of manipulation, and she still treats him as a dependent child , of grade school age. You will lose, step guilt man boy has you beat, you come off as disgruntled, even though your stepson set you up. Just like mine did, and they are so good at guilting out there moms, we don't have a chance, bro. We lose.

  4. My wife is an enabler and it is effecting our marriage. Every time our son or daughter does something drastically wrong, she refuses to punish them and even makes excuses for their behavior. Instead, she turns it on me when I try to even slightly discipline them. She is the worst enabler. No matter what, we cannot get on the same page because she refuses to discipline at all and take's the child's side against me! Our children are going to be 35 living at home!

    1. Stephen, you are right my friend. You are not over reacting. Similar happened along the way to get where living situation is now. Stepson is not stupid, he knew mom would pick him over me. I did not see that coming, though what is going on with you were hints I foolishly brushed off. And let me tell you brother, if you guys don't get on same page, you and wifey, it will really accelerate to a very much multiplied problem. You ain't seen nothing yet, wait until you are viewed as the enemy, to justify the coddling, it is not a fun hat to where, the gas lighting of how you are selfish and you don't like the person, Even though it is the situation you do not like, but she will change that to support her enabling of kids. Do not be caught off guard like my stupid self, counseling, and tough talks, really good deep talks about expectations should be on the menu.

  5. My husband clearly has an issue with our youngest child who, at 24, has been a domestically challenged, chemically dependant, entitled ne'er do well for fhe last 6 years or so. It is HIS choice to live this way, believing that pity will somehow pay the bills, I guess. This young man has never paid a bill on his own and compliments his skillset by having become an expert at stealing from his father (in any and every way) since he has no other skills he wants to improve. His father is sucked in by guilt every single time, to the point we have nearly lost our home 2x and are still now li ving hand-to-mouth because of the exorbitant expenses of our lazy child. He somehow feels jealous of his father's time, so much so that I discovered they had become drug addicts about the same time, and also says he is responsible for nearly everything his dad and I have worked for over the past 25 yeara2….?
    Oh, did I mention that he is an in unrepentant teller of all things false and gets violently angry if there is any confrontation….?
    He no longer respects any requests i makr, regatdless of what they are, nd I fear I will have to get an order of protection or trespass just to feel safe again at home -he REFUSES TO LEAVE .

    I don't think I will make it to 60. All of my hair has fallen out in the past 5 years due to stress, and I can only imagine what it's doing to the rest of me….

    Learn to say,"No." And then stick to your guns. Period. Of you're gonna sneak and waffle and do for the kids, then don't bother to say anything – it's probably going to be easier for your spouse to divorce you since you don't have any more respect for thwm than you so the kids.

    Sorry. Long days, long nights, short life.

    1. I am in a similar situation. Before I got married 17 years ago, we agreed no adult children living in house that are not working full time, and saving and such to launch. fast forward, 28 year old step son who is a transitioning person from bio male to female. Wife enables completely. Dude has been independent 11 months out of the last 5 years. My wife put her son, ahead of any consideration of our privacy as a couple. Instead of being on the same page as we agreed, my wife reneged on our agreement, and gaslights me when I try to discuss with her. I get angry, and she told me this year if I didn't like the living situation, to leave. That was a gut punch and horrific reality check. She uses HE/SHE will be out on the street. The barely working(he only go a very part time job at fast food place because she had enough of him kicking back), but he is not trying to be independent. His happiness is her priority, not the man she married. Enabling her own adult child, now 28, incudes that I am or must be the enemy. I do not dislike any family members, only the behaviors and non actions by them. I can't move right at the moment, and feel I shouold not be forced to leave, since I pay the rent and other bills, the stepson pays ZERO, never hardly leaves. When I am off work, hes there, when I go to kitchen, pops head out of master bedroom. I share a jack and jill non private bathroom with wife, my bathroom was taken from me, I have not seen it in 18 months. If I was not a grown man, I would cry. But growing up poor has helped me survive being cramped with no place to put my daily used products etc. I am not a victim, but I am the one to be blamed, and gaslighted as selfish, when I bring up that it was unnnecessary to be in this situation. After watching my wife cry because of her sons lack of effort, I told her this cant go on longer, She got on him and now six months later, he works 4-8 hours at a mcdonalds, at 28, They want him to quit, so they have him on bare minimum. And he is not actively looking for more hours or work. This is a pattern, of an enabled entitled lazy stepson, who has mastered guilting mom and feigning sicknesses, I retire in 6 weeks, and after getting some major cash in 11-12 weeks, I'm gone……..wasted marriage, 2nd place.

  6. Hello,

    I now believe my wife is a chronic enabler to her 32yo son who still lives with us, and it drives me crazy… she even gets weed for him. She lets him smoke in the garden, even though she knows I am totally against it. She does his washing; occasionally cleans his room when he lets it get messy. He gets hand me down clothes and trainers, so he never bothers going the shops to sort his own out. He sits in his room all day watching TV and playing video games.

    I've always tried my best to be the responsible adult and step-parent, but my wife always seems to take it personal and accuses me of being petty and always picking on him… We never see eye to eye and I've completely had enough. It's been going on for years.

    1. Hello Alan. I agree with you. And believe me. I fully understand. I bought a new car first, and now am waiting to make my next step on getting out of my now hell living situation.

  7. Please help. I love my newly wedded husband with all my heart. He is an enabler to his 36 year old daughter. He’s afraid to tell her no because she is very confrontational and yells and curses him. We help out constantly with the kids because she won’t switch daycare to one that accommodates her work schedule. She stays for hours hanging out when coming to pick up the kids and shows up unannounced on days we don’t have the kids. I’m talking almost every day she’s at the house. I want my husband back.

    1. It will not happen by magic. Your hubby knows you do not like this invasive multiple days a week bothersome privacy attack. Your mate's daughter is passive aggressive. She will say you dont like her kids or someother lie if you speak up. But at least she goes home, read my story, I would trade you in a minute……It will get worse, husband should not let this happen. You will not make it out of this unless he facilitates it……

  8. Fascinating.

    My stepson is a fantastic, quality, kind person. He is smart, kind and everyone loves him. But, he moved home about 4+ years ago. He is a college graduate and loves real estate. However, he doesn't make enough money to make his car payment, expenses and pay his student loans which are huge. He is 29+ years old. He stays in his little room and deserves better, but it is up to him and he doesn't want to get married, and is waiting or a big financial gain for years now.

    I have been patient and 3 years ago, we had a real heart to heart and thought we had a plan, but it hasn't materialized.

    My wife is wonderful to me, but she fixes breakfast, lunch, dinner, washes clothes and enables him steroid-ally. They are both very nice people, but I was raise to try to take care of yourself by my mom and dad. I left to go to college, returned home afterwards for 1 month and moved out after gettiing a job.

    I hate how this makes me feel daily, even though I don't feel slighted. I feel we are dis-servicing him big-time. We are slowing him down. He is no failure, but isn't able to shift. Since his mom now has to pay his school loans, I am hoping she will tire of this. I am going to contact a counselor today. I pray we are able to work our way through this.

  9. Dear Kim (Hall – that's my last name, too)!

    My story is long, and 24 years in the making. When I said, "I do" to my husband in 2001, I did not agree that his children were going to be enabled to continue to make poor financial decisions. Or, to have my husband rescue them from their consequences. They were 4 and 7, at the time, and as they grew, they behaved like their going-broke, losing their home, manipulative mother. Their favorite sentence: "what am I supposed to do about it?"

    I am stronger than my husband when it comes to boundaries. In your article, I can check most all of the boxes of "why" my husband continues this destructive behavior. It has now come to us not even speaking about it. He doesn't want to. I get depressed and want to sleep. I am getting treated for anxiety and depression, and have many other problems in my 62-year-old body – I turn 63 on March 1. I am starting counseling on 2/28, and it never escapes me that he does not feel that our problems are due to himself. If I get depressed about something, "I" have to take care of it with medication and counseling. I think we both need it together, or he needs his own. He won't do it.

    I tell you this, my step-son does not care about me in the least. And, this last hand-out from his father makes me "not" want to love his son. His son does not respect either of us, but, the money gets sent to him that he "promises" he will pay back. He owes us $3,300 now. (it is too hard to tell you the rest) I will stop here.

    Thank you for reading this. I don't expect anything in return. I just had to get some thoughts out there. I am safe and will not do anything to harm myself (in the past, I have ended up in-patient for treatment because of how he chooses his son over what it's right to do.) He puts me last. (I do not have any means to move out and take care of myself. I am considered "disabled" according to the government, and do not receive enough in benefits to have a life on my own).

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