Natural caregivers often have children who can’t seem to leave the nest. Do you have an adult child, or children who are still dependent on you for daily survival? Whether they live with you or simply expect you to help them, this can be a trying experience. How can you help an adult child gain independence? Is this your fault? Have you spent a lifetime helping your children with things they can handle on their own? If so, you may be an enabler. This is not an insult. It’s an easy pattern to fall into out of love for your children. It’s natural to protect them. Just don’t take it too far.
What’s an Enabler?
An enabler is someone who directly or indirectly supports the negative habits of another. You may have begun by helping your children with overwhelming tasks when they were very young. The problem is, this continued long past the point where your help was required. When children are not allowed to tackle their own problems, they become overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks. This means your adult children never learn to do anything for themselves. Why should they? You are always there to do it for them.
On Being Nice
It’s important to set an example of kindness for your children to follow. You can also take being nice to a dysfunctional and damaging level. Your adult child has a problem. They need you for everything. You even make phone calls for them and pick up their dry cleaning. They are treating you like a slave. If they have children, maybe you even take care of them. It’s at the point where a quick fix is not an option.
A Long Talk
Timing is everything, but it’s definitely time to sit down and have a long talk with your adult child. Depending on how strong their dependence on you is, you may need to have several of these before they gain independence. Don’t try to have this conversation at a time when either of you is upset or angry. Wait for a calm moment when you are getting along. Watch for examples of similar behavior in the news, such as this man who held his mother hostage for not ironing his shirts. Bring them up conversationally, out of the blue, without comparison. Let your adult child make their own connections and draw their own conclusions for a change.
When you have your long talk, set some limits and follow through with them. Let them know what your expectations are. Don’t just cut them off cold from financial aid. Set a date for them moving out or becoming independent from you. Let them know what things you do for them that they should be doing for themselves. Keep in mind that this situation would not have happened without you allowing it to happen.
Although results may take time, it’s OK to stop giving non-essential support right away. Your adult child may need a roof over their head and food to eat, until they gain independence. They do not need you to wash their clothes or make them dinner every night. If they can’t cook, teach them to use the microwave. If they are slobs, stop picking up after them. A week or so of living in their own filth should cure that problem. If not, kindly deposit the mess behind the closed doors of their bedroom. If it becomes a hazard, start throwing things away. Show your adult child you mean business and you won’t be taken advantage of again.
Remember, your adult child didn’t become dependent on you overnight. Altering a lifestyle that is this deeply integrated will take time for both of you. Your adult child may occasionally fall back into old habits and so may you. When this happens, just start again. Don’t give up easily on making your adult child seek independence. Your patience will pay off with an improved relationship.