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May 232013

      Someone once said, “if you want a big favor from someone, get them to do a small favor first.”

      Many offenders, be they our children, or our spouse, want favors from us. Money, an alibi, a place to live when they are released, something to drive, a cell phone, and many other things that modern life pretty well may necessitate.

      As adults we are expected by society to provide for our own necessities of life; housing, transportation, food, and medical care. We are also expected to provide these necessities for our children. In short to be responsible adults. Some people never seem to be able to do this. They make bad choices and wind up broke and/or in prison. When they get out of prison they have no were to go except a half way house or a shelter unless a friend or family will take them in.

      They are willing to make all kinds of promises about how they have changed…how they found Jesus there in the prison and He changed their lives, maybe. Or how they went to rehab in prison and they no longer are tempted by drugs or alcohol and those problems are behind them if you will just take them in. They will do everything in their power, say anything, to get us to “give them another chance.”

      I knew a couple who had only one son. Frankly, the husband of this couple was a woman-chasing heavy drinker and his wife finally divorced him, and their son was “just like his father,” plus the son wasn’t willing to try to hold down a job and where the father was “only” an alcoholic, the boy also did illegal drugs, so his parents did the best they could to “help” their son by taking him in, or providing him a place to live and something to drive, helping him get a job, etc. when he got out of a short term in prison. The young man had to go for drug testing randomly and weekly, and guess what? He got caught with a baggie of “clean” urine strapped to his body to fake a clean urine test. Back to jail he went.

      This sort of thing with this young man was repeated over and over, but the parents never gave up on “helping” their son quit drugs and quit making bad choices that landed him back in prison. The last time I heard about this couple and their son they were still trying to “save him” from his own bad choices, and he was continuing to make them. They had spent thousands upon thousands of dollars in legal fees, housing, transportation, and other associated costs to no avail.

      While I realize that addiction to alcohol or any drug is difficult to break, it can be done by those who are determined to do so. So the thought that “all of Juniors crimes are related to drugs and all will be well if he would just really quit drugs” is a statement that is based on a false hope, and by taking away the consequences of his bad choices, we are not doing Junior a favor.

      What about those people who, drug problems or not, repeatedly commit crimes…theft, assault, or even killing someone, either intentionally or as a result of other bad choices, like the young man who killed his two friends by driving his boat drunk and high on drugs? How many times should we let them mooch off of us and for us to provide them with the necessary place to live, something to drive, food and clothing? How long should we be required to take 100% responsibility for their children, without any help from them?

      I have a friend, not much younger than me who is raising 4 of 5 children of her step-daughter, and two children of her husband’s son’s children as well. The daughter produced these children from several men, and her 5th one was born in prison, and her mother is raising that one. Her family kept hoping that she would be responsible, but she never did become responsible, and eventually, her family quit taking her back into their homes. Even still, because the love the children she produced, they became “parents” to those children late in life when they should not have had to assume this responsibility.

      I personally have a limited relationship with my other biological son, Andrew, because he is financially irresponsible. I took him in multiple times when he would be broke, without a place to live. Andrew is actually very good at working, and working hard, but he squanders his money on “toys” as he is addicted to on-line video games and he spends his money down to the last available cent on computers and games, and when something unexpected happens, his car breaks down and he has no money to fix it, or he loses a place to live because he can’t pay the rent, I have taken him back into my home with the agreement up front that he will save one-third of his money for “a safety net.” By living in my home and paying me a small amount to cover his part of the household expenses, he could live much cheaper than if he had his own apartment or house, and that would enable him to save the money. More than once, he has broken that agreement and spent his last dime on computers, and in addition, lied to me about it. Then when I told him he must leave, he lied to his friends about why I made him leave (broke) and said I tossed him out on the street in the middle of the night broke and homeless. That too was a lie, but some of his friends took him in.

      Now that Andrew is over 40 and his health has taken a down turn making it difficult for him to work at his usual profession, he is in worse financial difficulty than before but the option to move back in with me is no longer there. The lies, the failure to keep his word and stick to the agreements we made have made it impossible for me to take him back in. Lie to me once, shame on you, lie to me multiple times, shame on me, and I have allowed him to behave in irresponsible ways and lie to me in the past, then given him multiple “second chances” which he never took advantage of for long.

       Andrew is not going to try to kill me, not like his brother Patrick, who is a cold blooded killer, but Andrew does not behave in a responsible manner and he lies to try to cover up his irresponsible behavior and never seems to learn from those mistakes, and I think partly because he knew he had a fall back position of having me always be there to give him a place to live when his own behaviors caused him to be jobless or homeless and broke. I hope that Andrew will finally realize before it is too late that his addiction to computer games and other “toys” is the problem he has, and start to behave in a more responsible way. With the health problems that kept him from maintaining employment now, I’m not sure he will ever be able to completely provide a reasonable standard of living for himself. I wish that was not the case, as I didn’t want any of my sons to live in abject poverty, but this is a poverty he has brought upon himself by his own repeated choices to buy “toys” over pay the rent or save for a rainy day. Andrew’s problem is not unique though, I know many others who live like this.

      I am a person who wants to help people who are “less fortunate” than I am, but some people are in need through no fault of their own, but others are in “need” because of their own poor or bad choices.

      I’m not rich, and in fact someone I know said about me that “Joyce is a philanthropist without any money” and I guess that does sum me up. I want to help people who are “less fortunate” than I am, but I am confining my help now to those who may actually profit from my help. The people up the road whose houses were blown away by a tornado were deprived of everything. I have no trouble doing my best to help those people, and if they needed a place to stay I would give them a room in my home for them to stay until they could do better. After the last local tornado, I even took in a couple of horses whose barn was blown away, on a temporary basis.

       But I am no longer willing to take responsibility for providing a home for someone who will not act responsibly to the best of their ability. I’m not set up to be the Salvation Army to provide home for the homeless who have made no efforts to provide for themselves. And, yes, I realize that people make some bad choices and end up homeless, or women and children end up homeless through abuse or other problems, but in the end, we all must help ourselves.

      I love my son Andrew, and it breaks my heart that he is not financially responsible, but he has had multiple chances to come here to live long enough to provide for himself, to accumulate a down payment for a home of his own, keep a running vehicle, and yet, he keeps repeating the same irresponsible behavior with his finances and buying toys instead of saving money for emergencies, so taking him back in is no longer an option. It has not helped him gain insight or changed his behaviors the 4 or so times I have given him “help” so my “help” is not actually “helping” him but is only ENABLING him to continue the same irresponsible behavior.

      He isn’t a “bad” man, per se, but he is someone who makes poor choices with his finances, and I am no longer willing to continuing to enable this by being his “fall back” position when his bad choices land him in financial hot water. I love him and it breaks my heart, because I would like to “help” him, but enabling him is not helping him.

      Sometimes the best “help” we can provide for someone, even someone we dearly love, as I love my son Andrew, is to let them experience the full consequences of their bad choices and irresponsible or illegal acts.



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  4 Responses to “ENABLING When "helping" doesn't help

  1. Joyce,
    Enabling, like abuse, can take many forms. It’s like the opposite side of the same coin. And it can be just as hard to see it.

    I think that setting a boundary on what is our responsibility and what isn’t, is the key. No matter how much we’d like to help, we do need to ask ourselves this question first. Because like the butterfly emerging from the cocoon, sometimes the struggle is what makes a person strong. And if you take away the struggle you’ve taken away their opportunity to become stronger and capable of flying.

    My mother would always make me help my little sister whenever she wasn’t happy with her own efforts. It became a knee jerk reaction for me, to do whatever she wanted me to do. Unfortunately, I think it contributed to her sense of being dependent on others, selfish and entitled. She never grew up.

  2. Sky, your response above is so concise but absolutely 110% RIGHT ON, and believe me, while I TOLD MYSELF I was not enabling Andrew or even Patrick, I really was. I really did.

    And it is of course much easier to spot in others than it is in ourselves and while as a mental health professional Ii easily saw it in others, I was BLIND to my own enabling.

    I could set boundaries with the best of them, until it came to my own “friends and family” and then I would voluntarily lie down and let them use me for a door mat. Because I thought that you GAVE YOUR ALL FOR FAMILY, no matter what.

    I have to kind of look back and laugh at myself now (what else can you do?) at how I let those “friends and family” walk all over me and thought I was doing wonderfully by doing so.

    Your butterfly analogy is also right on, by enabling others we take away from them the struggles that help them learn and grow.

    An analogy I also think of is if you had a small child and you never let him walk because he might fall and bump his head, and you always carried him, his legs would wither and it would reach the point eventually he would forever be unable to walk. He might not have a bump on his head but he would be forever crippled.

    It’s a hard habit to break…and finding that fine line between “helping” someone and “enabling” is one I have to constantly watch that I don’t cross over.

  3. Joyce, enabling is an ugly aspect of dysfunction and I agree that it can take many forms as Skylar suggested.

    In my situation(s), my enabling was based upon wishful thinking and/or false hope. I hoped that things would improve without understanding that some things simply are what they are, and nothing would alter the individual OR the situation.

    Then, there’s willful enabling when people actually participate in whatever the disordered person is engaged in, whether they’re “willing” or not. In my first abusive marriage, I participated in a number of unsavory actions that I have long since forgiven myself for. At the time, my objections to the exspath’s schemes were met with intensified abuse, neglect, and intensified abuse of our sons. At that time, I did not believe that I had a choice and I was utterly wrong in this line of thinking.

    Once I determined that my sons were actually being abused (as well as myself) and that the messages that they were getting were 100% wrong, I began to seek options. It was either end the marriage, or enable another spoke in the cycle of abuse to be formed. Even after leaving, I was only able to “save” myself.

    It is, indeed, a VERY hard habit to break, Joyce. Helping someone who is willing to use the assistance to better their lives is quite different from rendering help to someone who consistently throws away the opportunity to change their own lives with both hands.

    I also have to watch myself carefully – to avoid enabling and to avoid allowing others to enable ME. :-)

  4. Amen, Truthy, we must use WISDOM in deciding who to help (trust) and who not to. I saw a Dateline last night about a young woman who was the kind of person who wanted to help the “down trodden” and she met a woman on a train who was a vetted con woman, probably psychopathic, and that woman and a “friend” of the young woman’s killed her and sold her jewelry, left her body in an out of the way place and the cops didn’t even try to find her, fortunately her parents were well heeled enough they hired ex cops to FIND her and truly investigate, and the cops EVENTUALLY listened when the ex cops PIs actually found the woman’s body. The two people both went to prison for lengthy terms.

    The thing is that we must educate ourselves to distinguish between those that will truly benefit versus those out to scam us….and frankly that “ain’t easy”

    I’ve been fooled more than once by people out to con me. I’m gaining wisdom the old HARD WAY.

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