By Lisa Hamel
Let’s say your ninth grade son left a soda can on the coffee table even though you asked him to clean up after himself. Now he’s gone to school. Do you pick up that empty can because it’s driving you crazy, or you do you leave it for another 6 hours and then remind your man-child that he needs to pick it up? Only by then, you are so ticked at said can and man-child that your request is spoken with an intensity heretofore unknown in conjunction with aluminum beverage containers!
The struggle is real. How do we teach our kids to live in their own skin, with their own consequences while still staying sane?
I feel like I can be the queen of enablers. God gave me a heart of compassion so I tend to see things from others’ perspectives.
“He’s already had a long day. I’ll just clear his mess.”
“If I make him come back and clean up that mess, he’ll never get his homework done and then he’ll have a meltdown.”
“She didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
“She’s going to make us late if I make her finish that meal.”
And on and on it goes.
Isn’t it amazing how if no one buys milk, there’s no milk in the refrigerator?! I know this seems obvious, but some kids (and maybe husbands,) never realize this because we are so quick to anticipate their needs. After enabling for enough years, it’s easy to embrace a martyr or victim identity.
If you are an enabler you might recognize some of these qualities in yourself:
We tend to be tender hearted.
We tend to get steam rolled - perhaps by a stronger personality in the family.
We see the best in people and tend to be optimistic.
We don’t like conflict.
We may be perfectionistic or people pleasers.
We may embrace victimhood or relational martyrdom.
Enabling goes even deeper than granting requests. It can become a sickness in the family unit where behaviors go unchecked and character growth suffers.
So here’s what I’ve learned as the mother of all enablers!
1. Remember that you are training others in what to expect of you. Each relationship is a dance. It may take time to re-train your family on how to interact, but it is worth it!
2. We must be clear in our expectations because our kids (and sometimes husbands,) may not intuitively know what we want. They will only know that we are upset and they can’t live up to our standard.
3. The best way is often the way that requires more sacrifice from us as we parent. It requires more time, more patience, and more intention. We have to do the hard work too.
If I look at myself a little deeper, I can see that I really don’t want to do the hard work. I don’t want the consequences of having to wait. Of being embarrassed about being late. Of having to stay regulated while my child melts down. As Sabrina Schlesinger always says, “Parent with the next 20 years in mind, not the next 20 minutes!” This concept is so important when it comes to enabling.
To parent well, we have to “adult.” We have to do the work of NOT enabling because we are trying to raise mature humans. Leave that soda can on the coffee table. Let them forget their gym clothes. And then extend them loving support as you walk with them through the consequences.
Sometimes the greatest lessons are learned when we hold back and don’t fix everything so our kids can lean into their own realities.
I would also mention that this is a slow “leveling up” process. For example, I won’t let my kids forget their passport if we’re going on a trip etc. But if I keep cleaning up the proverbial can on the coffee table, they won’t be ready to take ownership of the bigger things in life.
What I’ve realized is that apart from Christ, we are greedy, selfish people. If someone is willing to clean up our mess, bale us out, or save our butts, we will let them.
But let’s look at how God works with us? Hebrews chapter 12 tells us that God disciplines those He loves. The word discipline in Greek is from the root word, “pais”. This has to do with training, or correction.
How does He usually do that?
Though our relationship with Him is secure and His love and grace abound over our sin, we still have to live with consequences of our choices.
When we enable, we cheat our kids out of valuable life experience. We rob them of the opportunity to learn from the significance of their own choices.
There are many battles in the Old Testament where God tells the people to stand firm, to be still, and in Gideon’s case, to even decrease his man power so that none could boast but in the Lord.
Trust that God is working in your kids. Allow natural consequences to teach your kids tough lessons while they are young. Though life can be a tough teacher, God has been using it to teach humans since the beginning. And some of us only learn the hard way.
Hebrews 12: 11 ~ No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (NIV)
Lisa is currently "SAHM-ing." In the past she has been a pastoral counselor, a singer, a music director, and an accountant! She lives in a multi generational home in the Pacific Northwest with her two boys, her amazing husband, and her mother. She is a coffee snob and a health nut who loves to dance like no one is watching. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!