QUIZ: True or False

  1. You have helped the same person with the same problem more than once and the situation never seems to get better.
  2. You have loaned someone money even though that loan placed a financial hardship on you.
  3. You think you are the ONLY person who can help because no one can handle problems better than you can.
  4. You step in to solve other people’s problems without being asked.
  5. Your life revolves around helping other people.

If you answered TRUE to any of these questions, please do YOURSELF a favor and take the time to read this post!

I love my family. Just like I’m sure you love yours. (And not just in February!) I’ve got some amazing nieces and nephews, more cousins than I can count, a slew of aunts and uncles, beautiful siblings, a fantastic adult son, a super duper cool new husband, and a mother I don’t know what any of us would do without. We tend to be relatively close knit (read: all up in each other’s business). So inevitably, we find ourselves helping each other out from time to time. Be it by offering an aunty ear for advice or being the expert family mechanic who extends the lives of our hoopty cars for free. Or we shell out a few bucks when somebody can’t make their rent. Pay for daycare for a week or two for new young parents. You know, giving help when help is needed. But sometimes we lean toward overextending. Assisting with one month’s rent is one thing … paying four month’s rent is, well, something else. A couple of weeks of paying for daycare is vastly different than becoming the daycare provider.

There are times when “helping” very dangerously slips into flat out enabling. And when you’ve become The Enabler (said using Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice from The Terminator), believe it or not, nobody is being helped.

Are you your family’s Enabler? Mr. Webster defines it as: “a person who encourages or enables negative or self-destructive behavior in another.” It’s also another word for co-dependent.

Now, don’t go getting uptight on me just because I called you co-dependent. Yes, co-dependents are people who support or enable another person’s drug addiction, alcoholism, or gambling addiction. But it ALSO refers to anyone who enables poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or underachievement! If the shoe fits, honey, you must buy it in every color!

And don’t act as if you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say immaturity, irresponsibility, or underachievement because I’m sure there are relatives of yours whose faces instantly popped into your head when you heard those words. They are the same relatives who’ve always got a hand out, selling their sob story to your mama on the phone. (And you know she’s buying it.) They need a co-signer for a new car because theirs got repo’ed. But they’ve owned and lost more cars in the last five years than you’ve had in a lifetime. There’s the son who’s asking to move back in and sleep in your spare room while he tries to become a rap star. Problem is, he can’t be bothered to keep a real job that allows him to pay his rent, and the landlord is threatening to evict his behind. Your mama clicked on an email spam link (again), and now you’ve gotta get The Geek Squad over to her house (again) to clean up all the unholy viruses she unleashed ‘cause it’s preventing her from spending her usual seven hours a day on Facebook.

None of these things are earth shattering. You can help. You can lend some dough or lend some time. But when this happens repeatedly because of their poor planning or lack of using all their brain cells, it is not your job or your responsibility to bail out your loved ones from their sticky situations time and time again. ESPECIALLY if you want to avoid these smaller bailouts from snowballing into larger ones. Like actual bailouts. As in, from jail. (Been there, done that, too.)

You see, we think we’re helping, but after a certain point, we’ve become Mr. Webster’s definition of The Enabler. Which in theory means we are encouraging these family members to keep on making the same mistakes because they never experience any repercussions. That’s what they have US for! We’re the ones lying awake at night trying to figure out solutions. We’re the ones worried about what will happen if the grandbabies aren’t placed in a quality daycare center. Meanwhile, the young parents are snoring loud and peacefully every night, without a care in the world, thank you very much.

Oh, and speaking of “thank you very much,” yeah, about that … when you become The Enabler, you start to notice you’re getting fewer and fewer thank-yous from those who are sucking everything there is to suck out of you. The Receivers have grown so accustomed to your “help” that they simply expect it. They are of the mindset that you can obviously afford to help, so it’s no big deal in your grand life. After all, they are the ones who are stuck on Life’s Struggle Bus, right? So they can’t be bothered to say “please” or “thank you” anymore. It’s too tiresome and redundant for them. Or they may say that they never asked you for the help so why should they thank you. Want to take the mother of all litmus tests to determine if you’ve truly become The Enabler? Here it is: it’s when you choose to ignore this lack of common courtesy and KEEP HELPING OUT THEIR TRIFFLING A**ES ANYWAY! Because YOU’D feel bad if they got evicted, the grandbaby lost the child care, or the car actually got repossessed. Is that you, honey? That’s not good.

Barring addictions, most of us probably fall under the auspices of helping out family members who tend to be irresponsible, immature, and underachievers. We don’t like to think those things about our kin folk, let alone admit them OUT LOUD. So instead, we overcompensate by helping them out of every sticky situation they get themselves into. STOP IT. I want you to go cold turkey and STOP IT RIGHT NOW!

The longer you spare them from dealing with what the world throws at them, the longer they will continue to repeat same said behavior that needs you to come to their rescue. It’s a vicious circle, and just like Smoky the Bear says about forest fires, “Only YOU can prevent” it.

Here’s how: You need to sit down with whomever is the biggest repeat offender and set some boundaries. Be gentle, be kind, be firm.  Ask questions like, “Momma, why didn’t you go to the computer class at the library I signed you up for so you can learn what’s safe and what’s not on the internet? If you don’t take the class, I am not going to be able to save your computer next time the hackers take it over.” Or “Son, I know you don’t like your boss, but if you lose this job, you cannot move back home with me. Yes, I know that means you may be homeless unless you figure out another solution to becoming a rap artist.”

And while you are at it, you might as well have some preemptive discussions, too. “Niece, I know you like to drink and drive. But if you get pulled over by the cops EVAH again, I will not bail you out of jail. You had a nasty attitude about paying me back the last time I helped you, and that makes me not want to help you EVAH again—and yes, you still owe me the remaining $520, and I want my money back. So you need to get your life together, or find someone else to call. Consider this advance notice.”

No doubt these conversations are not going to be easy ones to have. They may even get heated, so be prepared! The folks who count on us for help can get really NASTY when that help is being revoked. There may be tears (yours and theirs). There may be accusations (yours and theirs) hurled back and forth. They may threaten (and follow through on) cutting you out of their lives. So be it. (Trust me. They are going to need you waaay before you need them.) But their pattern of behavior is taking a toll on YOU, and it cannot continue. It’s wearing you the heck out emotionally. Eating into your wallet financially. And not fostering any personal growth in these trifling people.

Yes, I called them TRIFLING (twice now if you’re paying attention). If you took off your Enabler-colored glasses and saw them for their true selves, you would call them trifling, too. But because these people are related to us (or even our own children), it’s often difficult to call a spade a spade.

If you want to break the cycle, and force them to grow up (or, at the very least, go find another Enabler) tell them you love them and that you are glad you are at a point in your life you can help them out. But they get one bailout, as in ONE and they are done. If they’ve already used their ONE, oh well, so sad, too bad. Your name ain’t Wonder Woman, and you can’t rescue them constantly, no matter how fabulous you look in those red boots!

This isn’t easy. I KNOW! I KNOW! I KNOW! I promise you I do. But if you truly want to save them, cut the cord and let them fend for themselves.  You may just be surprised at how well they do on their own when forced to.


P.S. Names have not been mentioned in this article to protect the innocent. But if you think I’m talking about YOU with my definitions of immaturity, irresponsible, and trifling, I probably am.

4 Responses

  1. I receive THIS with Love…I am guilty…but I have been wheening myself away from the dependents slowly but surely.

    1. Happy to know it has been received with the love in which it was intended. Not saying we can’t help others sometimes, but the repeat offenders gotta get to steppin! Wishing your much success!

  2. Great piece, Cheryl. This is a BIG, BIG, BIG problem for me. Just so happens that your advice comes in handy right about now. Thanks ever so much. Enabler coloured glasses flung out the window in the rainy snow. I can see clearly now.

    1. We are so guilty of it because we love our families! But I’m cracking up that you have flung your enabler coloured glasses out the window into the snow! GOOD FOR YOU! And whichever family member doesn’t like it, have them come see ME!

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