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Helping vs. Enabling

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It is official, my oldest leaves for college in three years. I am not sure how this happened, and I am positive I don’t like it. However, it is a reality and so is the fact that my goal of raising a self-sufficient human is only three years away.

A few years ago, I was taking a class in my counseling program and the lecture was about helping versus enabling. My instructor explained the difference: Helping is when you do something for someone who cannot do it himself; enabling is when you do something for someone who is capable of doing it himself. The subject of the class was addictions, but my thoughts immediately went to my children. Was I helping them or enabling them?

When my son was in kindergarten, I helped him a lot and I loved it! If he needed help with his homework, I was by his side. When he was hungry, I made him a yummy snack. When his feelings were hurt at school, I was the first one there comforting him. He was little, he needed my help, and I was there for him. He was getting what he needed (help), and I was getting what I wanted (lots of love and appreciation).

Then came first-grade, second-grade, third-grade, and before I knew it I had a middle schooler. The years were ticking by, and I continued to be right there, helping with everything, but I was getting less love and less appreciation in return. While I am sure he enjoyed having everything done for him, developmentally he was looking for more responsibility, more independence, and more freedom, which I wasn’t giving to him. I was holding on to what I was hoping for (love and appreciation) and not giving him what he needed (freedom to grow).

And so, I began to change. In the beginning there was some pushback. He didn’t want to make his lunch, do his laundry, or clean his dishes, but once he did, a maturity kicked in that was new and refreshing. I was there if he needed my help, but I was no longer doing everything for him. Then, as a teenager, when he became more responsible, we were able to give him more independence. When he had more independence, he became more loving and appreciative. We had come full circle.

But while things had changed, it was important to look back and understand why I had done so much in the first place. It was clear I was initially looking for love and appreciation, but there was another layer; I was equating how much I did for my children with how much I loved them. It is the “Keeping Up With the Joneses” mentality of parenting. The more I do, the more I love, and the more I love, the better parent I am, but it is a backwards way of thinking. So I am here to debunk what has become a parenting norm: Doing everything for our children does not equate to love. Doing everything for our children equates to a generation of children who, as young adults, will be lost in this world. This is not love. This is a mess!

I challenge you to stop doing everything for your children and start giving them the gift of responsibility. Challenge them to fix their own breakfast, challenge them to talk with their teacher when they don’t understand their homework, and challenge them to fill out their lunch orders for school. These might seem like small or insignificant tasks to us, but responsibility leads to empowerment, empowerment leads to confidence, and confidence is what takes us far in life. I only have three years until my first child will be on his way. My hope is that he will be standing on his own two feet by then and ready to take on the world.

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