When teens have developed an addiction, the parent-child relationship can become tricky. It’s easy to get into a codependent relationship in which one or both parents are enabling a teen. The enabling and the unhealthy parent-child relationship can in fact facilitate the addiction. This two-part article addresses what parents can do to help break the cycle of enabling so that they can help their teen recover.
Enabling and codependency are common in families in which there is an addiction. To enable means to assist, facilitate, or make possible. However, the pattern of enabling in families with an addict can be indirectly harmful and unhealthy. Instead of helping the one who is addicted to alcohol or substances, a spouse or sibling might do things for the addict that he could be and should be doing for himself. To help someone is to assist in a task that he or she cannot do alone, such as calling the pharmacy when your spouse has lost his voice from strep throat. Enabling is completing a task that he can do on his own, such as paying the bills for an addict who hasn’t or can’t work because of his addiction.
Often, parents continue to support, and even enable, their children thinking that the more they help their teen, it will eventually lead them to sobriety. Meanwhile, teens continue to take advantage of the help that their parents are offering. And underneath, teens may feel powerless (which is often at the root of drug and alcohol addiction anyway) as a result of their parents helping them.
For this reason, at some point, a parent needs to stop supporting his or her addicted teen. A parent need to let his or her child fail. There needs to be a change in which the parent-child relationship unfolds. In fact, by allowing your child to fail, you give them the dignity to find their own way. It might take them awhile. It might be hard to go through. You might watch your teen struggle immensely, but by withdrawing your support, you create an opportunity for change. Don’t rescue him at a moment when he needs to most so that he can grow on his own.
If you want to find out whether you as a parent or caregiver are enabling the powerlessness and possible addiction of your teen, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I ever called someone’s boss or supervisor and told her that he had the flue when he was really hung over?
- Do I find myself making excuses for my loved one’s unacceptable behavior?
- Have I dismissed my teen’s drug use “as just a phase”?
- Have I withheld the truth from a teacher, friend, or even the police in order to cover for my teen’s mistakes?
- Does my teen belittle me if I don’t comply to his or her wishes?
- Do I take on more obligations than I should and feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities I have?
- Have I ever kept quiet in order to avoid an argument or because I fear emotional lashing out?
- Do I feel a sense of guilt when I stand up for myself?
- Am I more invested in the needs of others than in my own?
- Have I ever identified myself as a people pleaser?
- Do I minimize my emotions in order to not “rock the boat” of the relationship?
Enabling is pattern that once recognized, can be changed. However, it takes a conscious recognition of patterns and learning about yourself and your interactions in relationship. Fortunately, all relationships are like a dance. If you change your steps, the other person has to change too. The first task, however, is asking yourself the above questions and uncovering whether or not you are indeed enabling your child’s behavior.
The second article in this series will explore three ways teens might react to their parents when they stop enabling their teen and instead let their children find their own way.
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