Do You Need to Stop Enabling Your Kids?

I’ve heard the word “enable” bandied about recently. It’s been used in a negative context when talking about parent/child relationships. But the word “enable” isn’t a negative word in many contexts. In fact, as parents, a main part of our job is to enable our children.


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Definition of “Enable”

According to the dictionary enable has three meanings:

  • to make able; give power, means, competence, or ability to;authorize:
  • to make possible or easy:
  • to make ready; equip

Negative Enabling

Often when we think about enabling, we think about orchestrating events so that someone can continue to make bad decisions without having to fully face consequences. As parents, we do this when we constantly try to alleviate natural consequences that come to our children as a result of bad choices.

A young child accidentally leaves a favorite toy outside in the rain after being told not to take the toy outside. When we see tears we feel bad for the child, so we buy a replacement.

A child has a project for an outside class he’s taking. The night before the project is due, he confesses that he hasn’t finished (or maybe even started) it. We rush to jump in and help finish the project so that he won’t get in trouble or get a bad grade.

Negative enabling can be even more destructive as kids get older. A teen gets arrested when he’s a part of an underage group that has alcohol in the car. We jump to his defense, sure that our child isn’t really a part of it. He was just caught up in the wrong place. We rush to pick him up from the police department so that he doesn’t have to spend any time waiting and contemplating his actions.

All of these things are negative forms of enabling. This kind of enabling can inadvertently encourage out kids to stay in a wrong place, doing the wrong thing instead of growing closer to God.

There are probably lots of reasons that we as parents fall into negatively enabling our children.

~We don’t even stop to consider what we’re doing. Sometimes we enable because we aren’t taking time to make a deliberate decisions contemplating the consequences. Instead we’re just reacting to the situation.
~We take the easy way out. It’s certainly easier to go buy a toy to replace one lost by our child’s carelessness than it is to listen to her wails and moans over the loss of the toy.
~We are worried about what other people might think. Sometimes we bail out a child- from something as simple as a school assignment to something as big as time in jail- because we’re worried about what other people think about us and our family.

Postive Enabling

On the other hand, enabling can have a positive focus. When we make deliberate decisions to provide opportunities for our children to do the right thing, drawing them closer to Christ and helping them to make good decisions, we are enabling them in a positive way.

Homeschooling, for us, has been a way to enable our children to have experiences that they wouldn’t have in a traditional school.

Choosing curriculum that comes from a Christian worldview has enabled our children to defend their beliefs and be grounded in their faith.

Teaching logic and critical thinking has enabled our children to make good choices.

Parents can even enable adult children in a positive way. Over the years, my parents have helped us financially in some ways so that I could stay home and homeschool our children without our family having to make as many sacrifices. Jason’s parents have offered free childcare when we wanted to go on a date or even off for a weekend. This financial help has enabled us to do what we believe God called us to do while still allowing us to give our kids experiences like sports and vacations and great homeschool curriculum.

All of these things are forms of positive enabling. I believe that we are called to enable our children in this way. We are to make deliberate choices that enable them to become what God calls them to be.

The Ultimate Enabler

God is the ultimate enabler. He has given us the Holy Spirit Who enables us to choose what is right instead of choosing sin, despite our sin nature.

Here are some things Scripture tells us about the Holy Spirit. The words in bold are from the definition of “enable.”

John 14:26 -But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to remember.)

Luke 11:13- If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (God gives the Holy Spirit to us.)
Acts 1:8- But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (God gives power through the Holy Spirit Who gives us the ability to be witnesses.)
Christian parenting

What kind of enabler are you?

At a homeschool convention several years ago, we heard Paul Tripp speak about parenting. He made a statement that has stuck with me and made a huge impact on decisions I make as a parent. He said that everything we do in parenting is either drawing our kids into a closer relationship with God or standing in the way of God’s work in their lives.
Did you get that? It’s heavy stuff. 
The real question isn’t whether or not we’re enabling our kids- because we are. The question is whether or not we are positive enablers or negative enablers. 
With every parenting decision I make, am I leading my child to Christ, to a deeper relationship with Him? Or am I getting in the way?
I want to be an enabler of my children- a positive enabler.
**Paul Tripp has authored an excellent book on parenting teens- Age of Opportunity. His brother, Ted Tripp, authored one of my all time favorite parenting books- Shepherding a Child’s Heart.**
I’d love to know what you think about enabling. Leave me a comment.

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