enabling information


Active Member
I have been reading books etc. on codependent and enabling. I wish I had access to them when I was raising my kids.

A mother said her difficult child was working, paying rent on time, sounding like he was sober when he calls, trying hard as far as she can tell. difficult child calls the mother and says he is out of food and does not get paid for a few days, will she order him some food for him to pick up.

She asked is this enabling and was told YES, difficult child needs to learn to find food for himself.

I was very surprised, SHOCKED, then as it was discussed it did make more sense. I would have never dreamed this would be considered enabling! I guess I need to study more lol!!!!

I would like to have a discussion on enabling if anyone is willing. I know it is doing for someone what they should, and are capable of, doing for themselves. But I would have ordered the food without hesitating.
Last edited:


Active Member
And doesn't it depend on who your doing it for and what point they are at? I would not have ordered the food but invited them over to eat-same thing. We would not hesitate to help our pcs if they needed a hand. I cosigned for my son's first loan to buy a car. He paid on time and got it paid off early. I knew he would. My parent's would not have even done that. easy child doesn't ask for anything. He has given us money to help pay for difficult child treatment without us asking. Now difficult child on the other hand.....

And when is a mental illness so bad that you have to step in? When I go to NAMI (have not in awhile), there is enabling all over the place because there is a belief that they can't do somethings for themselves. When do you know they can't? How do you know? Is it incapacity or is it unwillingness? Is it addiction?

Is giving my daughter rides to work enabling? Is buying her first pair of workshoes at age 17 enabling? When I advocated for treatment instead of jail time for her at age 15 and 16 was that enabling? I don't know!

I was told in court by the state Residential Treatment Center (RTC) people that I enabled when I finially jumped in and told the nurse that my difficult child had to have her 3 month blood test for her thyroid. difficult child had asked and asked and nothing was done-it was 1 month over due-but I was enabling!

I don't think it is black and white and I don't think it is the same for every parent and kid. I try to think is this for the good of the whole? Is this doing for her what she could do for herself? Is this just doing what a normal parent would do for a 17 year old, and how might it be different for my difficult child? (Like giving money which I would never do for difficult child or dealing with medical issues which I think we should do no matter what when they are minors).

At FA it is dicey-many parents are in different stages and this question comes up every week. Last time someone asked if it was enabling to give their difficult child a ride to their 12 step meeting. Some said yes and others said no???


Well-Known Member
Staff member
Hi Tired, thanks for starting this dialogue. I am presently in a Codependency support group lead by a PHD who is actually the head of the entire Chemical/Codependency program at the local HMO I belong to. She is a wonderful, wise and compassionate therapist and I've learned so much in this group. It sounds to me that statements like the one you made concerning the difficult child and food is perhaps being addressed to that one particular parent. What I am learning is that all circumstances are different, the difficult child's are different, the parents are different and there are no cut and dry rules. I heard one therapist say that simply put, when you do something out of loving kindness you feel good, when you do it out of codependency you feel bad. I believe it is a complex issue because codependency is our issue, it more reflects the choices we make because of our own issues, so it's wrapped up in our backgrounds and our own, perhaps, dysfunctional upbringings.

I listen each week to parents ask that very question, "is this codependency?" And, the therapist considers each individual circumstance and family and then talks it out with the parent. Often the issue ends up being about the parent and what they can and cannot handle and there is never a right or wrong solution, only what the person finds for himself or herself that is healthy and does not harm the difficult child or the parent. It's always interesting to me because I often would consider something enabling or not enabling and then I listen and I am incorrect.

What I have noticed, in myself and others is what the therapists call ' a trance' the automatic behavior we as codependents go directly into when confronted with a situation our difficult child's offer us. This is the dangerous reaction whereby we, without thinking it through, simply react as we always do, enabling, giving, being codependent. Coming out of that 'trance' takes some work, because we have to stop that runaway train of behavior and then stop and really wake up to check out what is really happening, and then respond in a healthy and usually very different way. Sometimes the different way is simply to not react, or to have a pat statement, like " i know you are smart enough to figure it out for yourself." But those first steps can be tentative and difficult.

It appears to be more complicated then, this behavior is codependent, this is not. What I am finding is as I heal my own tendencies towards enabling, I make better choices with my difficult child which work better for her and myself. Rather then a right or wrong, it is being able to think it through in a different way, with a better understanding of myself, and then make appropriate choices based on each individual circumstance. The very next circumstance may be different entirely, so there is not a rule to follow. The flexibility of choice appears to be a sign of health because otherwise, we adopt a right and wrong philosophy which is black and white thinking and not the answer. I think dealing with difficult child's is complicated, and yet made much easier if we as the parents are healthy and can adapt and be flexible in our thinking to respond to each issue and make choices which reflect caring with detachment.

For me, as many have said already in other posts, it is a process, it takes time, it's a learning curve, each one of us has to arrive at a place where the choices we make feel right to us and we can live with the outcomes. Each one of us has to surrender to what is, understand detachment and letting go, determine what that means to us and act accordingly. For me, much of it has revolved around my own healing, my own tendencies towards enabling. I understand that is not always the case, it is simply my case. As I understand why I have enabled my difficult child, I can make different decisions, and as a result, MY life works better. There is always the love for my daughter and her negative choices, but my ability to deal with it is improved remarkably as I focus more on myself and understand my own issues with enabling and codependency.

There are so many differences in our difficult child's, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illnesses, physical issues, emotional issues, and on it goes. Each circumstance is unique, each parent and child unique, and yet in the final analysis, it becomes about detachment, letting go, focusing on ourselves, but we each arrive there from a different direction, but perhaps with similar baggage, as we see here daily. I think as in most cases in life, we here on this board live in that HUGE gray area where life isn't so obviously one way or the other, we all have to find our own way through it. The wonderful part is that we can do it together and help ourselves and each other.


My understanding about enabling has grown as I have grown. It certainly is a process. One thing I read said if you are helping them solve problems then that is enabling.... in other words they need to solve their own problems, we can't solve them for them. So under that defiition buying groceries would be enabling, since he ran out of money. That it is not enabling if they are working to get their life together and move forward, so for example you help pay a school fee. It sounds like in this case the young man was doing well and working and moving forward and so it might not be such a terrible act of enabling him to buy groceries.

I think there are a lot of variables and a lot depends. Some of it is how you feel... when I think about it I should know when my son is asking for something and I get that sinking feeling in my gut that this is something we should not do, but his arguments sound good and we don't want to tick him off... that is when we have really enabled him. Done it many times too.

Right now we are clear about what we will and wont do. He is being discharged tomorrow from the tx program... we know he has not done as well as he should have and yet we are going to pay rent and give money for food to a sober house... I am not willing to seal his fate, and not help him when he did seek help and went to tx for a month. I feel like we want to give him a chance and it feels right for us to do that... although it may still be enabling. However we made it clear it is one time.... we are not going to pay for another sober house if he gets kicked out of this one.

So its a fine line I think. I think this is a good place to come for feedback on specific situations.

I think I would probably buy groceries... because although it may be enabling it is also a loving parental thing to do... of course it depends somewhat on the age of the son too.



Well-Known Member
Staff member
I heard one therapist say that simply put, when you do something out of loving kindness you feel good, when you do it out of codependency you feel bad.
Wow, that is so true. Today, against my better judgement and the advice of many on the SA board, I bought my difficult child some groceries and cigarettes for the next week since her pay had been supposedly stolen at the halfway house.

The entire time I was with her in the grocery store, I was mad. Mad at me and mad at her. I know it was because I was enabling her and fixing her problems again.

On the other hand, if something similar had happened to easy child, I would have been happy to help because I know that she doesn't take advantage of me.

Big, big, difference. Thanks for sharing that.



Well-Known Member
I would not have ordered the food but invited them over to eat-same thing.
Based on GFGbro experience... inviting them over to eat is NOT the same thing as ordering food for them.

The diff? (per my GFGbro) ... is that inviting them over to eat turns it from difficult child driving, to you driving. There's strings attached... they have to spend time with you. Are you just bank-rolling the food bill as a stop-gap? Or turning it into a (potential) relationship-building exercise? I haven't had to do this with my KIDS, but have in the past with GFGbro... and had to learn that paying for what they want or claim to need, is probably enabling... so I learned to offer the "come over" instead, IF it was convenient for me. BUT it depends on the situation... (no MH issues with GFGbro, for starters).

For the record... it was rare for him to accept an invite... he really didn't want to "waste" time with me, just wanted me to pay for food so he could do something else with his money... At least, it was rare, until he got rid of his addictions.
Last edited: