Remember that Sarah Jessica Parker movie Failure to Launch? It’s a romantic comedy about a 30-something-year-old man, Matthew McConaughey, who still lives with his parents. Nothing too crazy about that…but we soon learn that neither he or his parents ever really want to see him leave the nest. This is enabling a grown child. And while it’s natural for parents to want to help their children at every age, sometimes their helping hand can morph into enabling, especially when their kid is a 30-something-year-old dating Sarah Jessica Parker.
But enabling your grown children isn’t always so clear cut. How do you know if this applies to you? Here, we help break down the signs that you’re enabling your grown child and also share helpful tips on how to stop.
“From a technical perspective, enabling happens when a parent removes a naturally occurring negative consequence from a grown child’s life, and the child doesn’t learn from the experience,” explains Dr. Lara Friedrich, a licensed psychologist who works with families. “Said differently, it’s when a parent and child get stuck in a cycle that keeps both dependent on the other in a way that doesn’t allow for the adult child to make mistakes and grow.”
Part of the reason this may happen is because the parent doesn’t want their child to grow up and leave them in the dust, so to speak. “Sometimes parents enable without being aware of it when they are afraid of having a child separate into a full-fledged adult. When that separation is too painful, parents will take unhelpful steps to keep the child close, even if it impedes the child’s personal growth,” Dr. Friedrich says. For example, “writing your child’s cover letter for them every time your child gets anxious keeps them needing you, which may feel good. But it stops the child from stepping out on their own and teaches them that they’ll only accomplish their goals with your help.”