Not too long ago, a friend of mine mentioned he thought I was enabling our girls. I was a little taken back, and hurt. Okay— not just a little hurt, but a lot hurt. What did he mean I was an enabler?? Did he really know our family?? Instead of allowing the hurt and offense to fester within me, I decided to test his so called “theory” (because I don’t like being wrong— another character trait he has so kindly pointed out to me). I reflect ed upon and observed how I had responded in different situations with our daughters.
I contemplated how, when they were younger, I intentionally wasn’t the mom that made them breakfast or their lunch for them, they made their own. I didn’t clean their rooms; they needed to learn how to do all these things for themselves. I taught them to do their own laundry and how to properly iron.When they would clean their rooms (and they weren’t quite “all the way” clean) they would joke, “Mom, my room isn’t exactly “mom clean” but its clean enough for me.” (Do you know any other moms that are recovering perfectionists like me??)
When they were old enough to cook, I put them in charge of cooking a meal one night a week. When they wanted a cell phone, they had to buy it themselves and pay for the bill each month. When they turned 16, they had to buy their own cars and pay for the monthly insurance for the car. My husband and I challenged them to think for themselves, and not believe everything they heard; just because an adult had said it, didn’t mean it was the truth. What on earth was my friend talking about?? How was I an enabler??? And then I saw it. . .
Have you ever watched a butterfly emerge from its cocoon?? When it first starts to emerge, it’s wings are wet with a fluid from inside the cocoon. Watching the butterfly struggle for freedom is painful to witness! It’s not all pretty– most of it is down right ugly!! I find myself tempted to want to help it along while it emerges from its prison. Perhaps if I just nudge it along by breaking the cocoon open…. not a lot, of course, just a little. Surely that would help, right? But what I’ve discovered is that when the butterfly is struggling to escape from its cocoon, its wings are taking this time and using it to dry off from the fluid. The butterfly is getting stronger as it tries to free itself from its captivity, and its wings are drying out as it struggles to free itself. If someone were to interfere in the process, it would actually hurt the butterfly, because she would not be as strong when she emerges from her cocoon, if she even survives getting out at all. If her wings are too wet when she escapes, she will not be able to fly and will die. The struggle is real. But the struggle is also necessary.
The same is true for our daughters. I discovered that when I tested the theory of my friend, he was right. From my perspective, I thought I was teaching them how to maneuver through life. But, in actuality, I was telling them what to do and not allowing them to learn on their own how to manage the challenges of life. What I was missing was that, when the going got tough for our girls, I came in on my white horse and tried to ease the consequences of reality. I thought maybe if I helped ‘nudge the consequence along, eased it a little, that it would be better for them. But, I wasn’t allowing the struggle to be real for them. My intentions in the small scheme of things as their momma was good, but in the big picture, I was hindering them becoming stronger and wiser by learning from the full impact of what life handed them. I discovered that I was so focused on protecting them in the moment, that I was missing the big picture. I was in fact hurting them in the long run, when I was not allowing them to learn from the consequences of life. My heart ached for them as their mom knowing I had been unintentionally doing this and that I cannot go back and change it.
Once I’d realized what I had been doing was harming them, I knew that needed to stop enabling them. But where do I start? At this point, I can talk to them about what I have discovered about myself through this process. I can let them know I never meant to hurt and that I was only trying to help them. From now on, I can allow the struggle to be real for them. Now I know that there is a balance between helping them with their rent one time (because they had an unexpected emergency) and allowing them to get so far behind financially that they become homeless. I can be willing to help them if they ask for help (giving guidance when requested is a good thing). But bailing them out every time they have an emergency in life is not helping them.
As I watch our girls struggle through “being an adult,” I am so proud of how they are handling ‘adulting’ (as they call it). Not every day is easy. Not every decision comes swiftly. It’s about progress not perfection. And the rewards they are receiving and the confidence that is being built within them is priceless! As a parent, watching them struggle is real. It’s difficult and its painful. But, allowing the struggle to be real for them, is not only making them better, it is making me a better person too!