As parents of kids with ADHD, the word “enabler” is often thrown around. And while I do think that it’s a good thing for parents of kids with ADHD to be careful about enabling their teens, I think a lot of people use the word without knowing what it means.
What is an “Enabler”?
According to Merriam-Webster, an “enabler is one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.”
I think the key part to focus on is the consequences part.
When we protect our kids from experiencing the natural, logical results of their choices and actions, we are hurting, not helping, them, because when kids don’t experience consequences, they don’t learn and grow.
Some ways we parents of kids with ADHD enable our loved ones include (I was guilty of some of these myself):
- Doing things for them that they should be doing for themselves (laundry, cooking, cleaning rooms, bringing gym clothes to school when they forget)
- Excusing school absences when they don’t feel like going to school
- Bailing them out of jail and/or paying for legal fees when they break the law
- Arguing with teachers about grades
- Letting them live in our homes for free when they are young adults (not requiring rent and/or school attendance or full time employment)
- Paying their bills
- Replacing lost property
I know how easy it is to become an enabler. I know what it’s like to feel bad when things happen that are the result of ADHD symptoms. For example, we know that ADHD and forgetfulness often go hand in hand, so we rationalize that it’s OK to replace a cell phone (or bike or jacket or whatever) because it’s not their “fault” that they lost it.
Although our intentions may be pure and loving, this thinking and our actions will not help our kids in the long run.
Learning in the “Shallow End”
If they don’t learn in the “shallow end” of life how the world works, how to course-correct when things go wrong, and how to make accommodations for their ADHD-related challenges, they will be handicapped when they are on their own (when you are not around to bail them out.)
It’s hard to stand back and watch your child head down a path that you know is going to end badly—like watching a train barreling full speed toward a wall. Of course, you want to pull your child off that train before the big crash.
But the fact is, your loving and well-intended efforts to help may end up causing your teen to suffer more in the long term.
How to tell if you’re about to “enable”
Here’s the formula I use to determine if I am “enabling” versus “helping” my son: I ask myself, “Am I acting in a way that will help him on the road to independent living (helping)?” or “Am I acting in a way that will keep him dependent and incompetent (enabling)?”
Easy? Not always. But it helps to remember that the right thing to do is not always the easy thing to do!