4 Sure-Fire Ways To Raise A Little Enabler

It used to be the term “codependency” was reserved for folks in relationships with alcoholics. Even though the word “recovery” is more commonplace—name one celebrity who hasn’t had a stint in rehab?—we’re still reluctant to discuss the impact codependency has had on our culture.

As with most behaviors, codependency often begins in childhood. Now, I’m no childrearing expert, but I am expert at being raised in a crazy, addicted home, and can say without a doubt that my own annoying enabling behaviors began at a young age. While most can agree that leaving your child in a car alone or telling them to keep quiet about Mommy’s drinking will lead to a whacked out childhood, not everyone is aware that seemingly more “caring” behaviors can also lead to codependent kids. It’s not just the lady in Walmart cursing at her kids who is damaging her children. If you’re engaging in the following behaviors, you’re going to raise a little enabler.

And there’s nothing worse than a needy, controlling little enabler (except maybe an entitled little narcissist).

1. LET ME HANDLE THAT! My father’s solution to the girls who bullied me in sixth grade was to form a circle and force me to fight the biggest one. While that’s not recommended, if you’re constantly fighting your children’s battles, you’re not helping. When your kids talk about a problem at school, and you’re always coming up with a plan of action, you take away their ability to solve problems. They starting thinking they’re incompetent, and it shreds their self-confidence. They may stop trying altogether. Guess what happens when those kids grow up? You got it. They come home to live with you—at thirty-five.

2. SUPERMOM, SUPERDAD! If you’re in total control of your kids’ schedules, food choices, clothing or friends, you’re not allowing them to explore. They’ll fear making decisions and won’t have a clue about how to express their creativity, because they’ve been trained not be spontaneous. It’s a sure-fire way to sow the seeds of resentment and rebellion or forced capitulation in kids. Imagine, being stuck in a job you hate, because you have no clue about what you want from life? Imagine waking up at forty, miserable, after realizing you’ve married your bossy, dominating parent? Yes, it’s an exaggeration, and we’re all responsible for our own choices, but society is filled with folks whose parents scheduled the life out of them.

3.YOU COMPLETE ME… If you’re unfulfilled at work or home, or your relationship, or if you don’t have many interests, you’re putting pressure on your child to fulfill you. Not in a creepy way, just in the way the mother who doesn’t make the cheerleading squad gets when her daughter goes out for the squad – or worse, when she refuses to. If you don’t make time to discover what makes your own life meaningful, you’re gonna raise unhappy kids. You might not know they’re unhappy until they confront you in the aisle of Home Depot about the fact that you’re an emotional black hole they can never please! – but the day will come. At least, one can only hope. Because there’s nothing less attractive than a fifty year old man who still says, “Mommy, Mommy, look at what I did!”

4.INTER-WHAT?! Just as children that are given too much responsibility and exposed to too much can become unhealthy, if they don’t develop interdependence, which includes being a part of a group and interacting with trustworthy people outside their immediate family, a child won’t flourish. They need the experience of being part of a team or a group to learn important skills like: listening, empathy for others, and compromise. If not, you run the risk of them becoming that maladjusted “I’ll just take my ball and go home” kid on the playground. And we all know where those maladjusted kids end up, don’t we?

In all seriousness, if you find these dynamics occurring in your family and kids, get some support from Al-Anon or a related group, church, friends, and/or a therapist. Your kids may not thank you for getting them help, but the rest of the world will, because there’s no denying it: enabler’s are annoying and exhausting to be around. The only thing worse than a little enabler is a little narcissist, but I think we’ve already established that.