Recently, I overheard several conversations about adult children still living at home and being unable to take care of themselves.
I could hear the tension under the words, the resentment that comes from having to help a perfectly able-bodied adult who should be capable of caring for themselves.
I’m not sure why some people are more independent and self-sufficient than others. There are many factors that play into this.
A big one is enabling. And, if we’re the ones taking care of an adult child, then we become responsible for enabling that person’s inability to be self-reliant.
How do we know if an adult is still an adult child? The signs are easy to spot:
>> They expect help but do not appreciate it.
>> They have a family member, friend, or significant other paying their bills even though they are capable of working and earning income.
>> They have bad credit or none at all.
>> They refuse to accept responsibility for consequences that result from their own life choices.
>> They blame others for their disappointments.
>> They are unable to maintain stability at work or in their career and frequently relocate or change jobs.
>> When they owe money to others, they rarely pay it back.
>> They have never been entirely self-reliant.
If we want to stop enabling and start helping that person, here are a few things we can do:
>> Stop offering to save the day when the dependent person has a problem. Instead of showing up with a solution to fix their problems, we can allow them to do so themselves.
>> Offer support in the form of listening and being compassionate.
>> Expect them to be capable enough to figure out a solution.
>> Stop taking ownership of their problems.
>> Stop helping out financially if you’re in need or if you need to be paid back. If we choose to help financially (which is further enabling), we need to see it as a gift and not a loan. Do not expect to be paid back.
>> We can hold these types of people responsible for their past behavior without making excuses for them.
>> If an adult lives in our home, we can charge rent and/or utilities and set a time limit on how long they can count on our support before they should be self-reliant and in their own home or apartment. Their contributions in the household shouldn’t just be monetary; they should also help with chores and do their own laundry.
>> Remember that enabling isn’t helping. We need to to be prepared for a verbal assault when we politely decline to bail them out. We need to be strong and stay firm.
>> Accept that this adult child may never discover their self-efficacy to live as an independent adult. We need to make peace with the fact that we can not control anyone else’s behavior.
>> Forgive ourselves for past enabling that may have contributed to the ongoing dependence.
>> When we stop enabling them by fostering that dependence, we are actually helping. They may feel like they are being hurt or abandoned, but we need to set good boundaries and help them understand that, as an adult, they are responsible for caring for themselves.
We all know people who can’t seem to get it together. Oftentimes, there’s a pattern of behavior that goes with their instability. While we can’t do anything about how they choose to behave, we can stop letting ourselves be used.
We can also help that person become more independent by believing that they are capable of it and lending our help through love and support. We’ll certainly improve our relationships when we stop enabling others, and we’ll likely feel less stress and resentment.
It’s important that we draw a line between help and enabling and stay firmly in the position of helper.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Lieselle Davidson