Enabling - The wrong kind of help for your loved ones

Photo by Jupiterimages/Pixland / Getty Images
Photo by Jupiterimages/Pixland / Getty Images

Well this has been quite a tumultuous week.  We're working very hard to secure a place here in Northern Tasmania to establish a Teen Challenge Drug Rehab centre for Women and Children.

However this week, I have been very much reminded of why we need to do this and more importantly to begin our work in equipping parents and communities to help prevent the journey of their loved ones on the path of destruction.

So many discussions with parents this week - How can I help our son or daughter who is using drugs, getting involved with the wrong type of friends and rebelling against us? I don't recognise my child anymore. They would never have taken drugs before, I can't believe they are. 

Many are great people, they have provided everything they can for their child and yet they are painfully and fearfully watching their child go over the cliff to utter destruction. I was reading an article tonight from Dr Dave Batty an absolute legend in Teen Challenge and I thought I'd share some with you on this subject, interspersed with some of our own experience and hope it is of help to you.

So what can you, as a parent, do to help your loved one?

Stop Enabling!

Enabling is offering the wrong kind of help.  Enabling is rescuing your loved one so they don't experience the painful consequences of their irresponsible decisions.  Enabling is anything that stands in the way of your loved one experiencing the natural consequences of their own behaviour.

Many parents can't bear to stand by and watch their child experience pain or suffering from their bad decisions - so they rescue them, they buffer them from the repercussions of their actions.

So what does this look like? 

Johnny won't get up in the morning, he's out really late most nights and I get worried he won't eat properly so I get him a meal together and take it to him in his room.  He yells at me to get out of his face, so I leave it in his room so he can eat when he feels like getting up! When its dinner time he won't come out of the room, so I make his dinner too and leave it outside the door this time because he's locked it and I can't go in.

Sally is 14 and she's got a boyfriend who's 18 and she's bringing him into the house and also some of his friends.  I don't like the look of them but I'm scared to death if I tell her they can't come in then she'll leave with them and I won't know where she is.  He's started sleeping over now in her bedroom, I know she's underage however I'd rather know where she is than let her out of my sight and not know whats happening to her. She screams at me anyway if I try and discuss how I don't want this in my house - its easier to leave it as it is.

Frank is 12, he's going out most nights with a group of friends and goes to different people's houses. If I try and stop him going out, he just slams his door and screams and punches holes in the walls.  When I go to check on him later his windows open and he's gone.  I can't keep him at home.  He calls me in the early hours of the morning to come pick him up from somewhere and threatens if I don't he'll have to wake home and get bashed or sick and it's all going to be my fault.  So when I go and pick him up he's got 3 friends with him and I have to take them home too.  They've been drinking and appear to be stoned, but what am I going to do just leave him out or worse he walks home and he gets killed?

Sound familiar?  How much when you look at this seems quite reasonable to do?  Its being responsible to do this isn't it? Whats wrong with that?

So how do you know you're offering the wrong kind of help?

Try these tests

Ask yourself - does my help prevent this person from experiencing the natural consequences of their irresponsible decision?

Another test - The help you have been giving - is it actually helping? Is your loved one changing? Look at their actions - is there clear evidence of becoming responsible? or are they continuing on their path to destruction?

You have to face facts and stop living in a world of wishful thinking.

All too often parents keep rescuing their children when the problems are little problems, it seems to start when they are about 12 or 13. For example they leave their wet towels on the bathroom floor or in their bedroom and forget to do something with them, so I pick them up so they don't damage their other clothes and have a towel the next morning. They don't change and I keep doing it for them.

Before you know it your children are teenagers or young adults, still making irresponsible decision and you're still rescuing them - only challenge now is they are big problems.

Your child is on drugs, he's racked up an enormous phone bill and no longer has his phone, he sold it.  You helped him get another phone in your name this time, so he can call you if he's in trouble and you paid off his phone bill, your reluctant for him to get a job because more money means more drugs and more trouble.

Then you're taking him to his dealers house and paying for his drugs so you know where the drugs are coming from and if you didn't he could end up anywhere and he'd die - right? Wrong, who's to say that hit you just bought him is clean and he doesn't die from what you've just bought him.

You're feeding an addiction - all in the name of love.

If he's going to change then you must stop offering the wrong kind of help.  We could tell you so many stories of those that come to Teen Challenge, many decided to get help only when their family stopped enabling them and they experienced some of the pain.

This is not any easy path either - when you start saying NO and stop offering the wrong kind of help, there's no guarantee of a quick solution in the life of your loved one.

Your loved one may become very angry at you - and for a very "good" reason.  You've stopped rescuing them.  Now they are beginning to feel the painful consequences of their irresponsible decisions.  They may attack you "What kind of parent are you? You're supposed to help someone when they are in need!

They will use any argument to heap guilt and condemnation on you - but don't let that pierce your heart.  You must stand on the facts, especially if your heart is soft, you must continue to rehearse the facts.

You will not support them in their choice to take drugs, to have underage sex, to drink alcohol, to go out late at night or to hang around with people that are a bad influence. Each of these choices is irresponsible and will have consequences, but those are their choices and their consequences, you don't want them to make them, tell them that.  Tell them why you don't want them to make those choices, that you love them, but you will not enable them to hurt themselves by taking an active role in these choices.

This is not an easy path and its tough, if you would like to talk to someone further about your specific situation then please contact us below.  If you would like a copy of the full 6 pages written by Dr Dave Batty then let me know in the form below and I'll send through, it has much more to offer on this subject.

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Enabing - are you offering the wrong kind of help?