Spring garage sales are seasonal celebrations where I live. Along with cleaning out the clutter, the high point of these community events is visiting with old friends who stop by and meeting new folks—getting a taste of the amazing difference in humanity.
“Edna” was the perfect example. I didn’t have the baby clothes she was searching for, but after visiting with her for close to an hour, I wanted to rush out and buy some for her. (Apparently my enabling includes strangers as well as family members.)
During our chat, I found out that Edna worked three jobs, one full time and two part time. The job interview she’d had that day was for a third part-time job. As Edna talked, she collected items from my garage sale, placing them on the picnic table where I sat, and told me how much her daughter could use each item for her house.
“I sure hope I get the job,” she confided. “I need it to help my daughter pay for her car. She bought a new SUV last year, and she can’t make the payments now.” She then told me her daughter was a stay-at-home mom with two children and a third on the way.
Now, I’m the first to admit I’m not a very shy person, and I probably overstep my boundaries from time to time (okay, often), but this is a matter near and dear to my heart. I had to know more about this situation. Why was Edna responsible for making her daughter’s car payment? How long had this been going on? I looked at Edna’s car, a late-model Ford in reasonably good condition from what I could see, yet far from new.
“How many hours a day do you work now?” I inquired.
She rattled off her schedule. “About fifteen hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are short days at only ten hours each, and on weekends I only work five hours each day. That’s why I’m looking for another part-time job on weekends in the afternoons.”
My heart ached. This woman worked seven days a week! Why did her daughter need a new SUV that I was told cost almost $500 per month in bank payments—not counting gas, insurance, and maintenance? I thought back to my first car when my son had been a baby—a sturdy, used Dodge Polaris bought at a police auction. Sure, the times had changed, but when did parents start feeling responsible for supplying their adult children with vehicles better than their own at the cost of their health? How long could a woman in what I presumed to be her late fifties be expected to keep this grueling schedule? And did her daughter even care?
Perhaps the saddest part of all is the lack of recognizing this enabling lifestyle for what it is: a crippler of both the adult child and the parent. But once we do finally own up to our negative behavior for what it is—and how damaging it’s become—we won’t be able to pick up where things left off. God willing, we will feel a deep conviction in our soul to make changes, to stop our enabling behavior.
One of the critical first things we must immediately stop is the flow of money to our adult child. We must stop being the First Bank of Mom and Dad or the Community Bank of Grandpa and Grandma. And that is particularly important in today’s economy, when funneling unlimited funds to our adult child could not only cause them harm but also force us into bankruptcy—or worse.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not advising you to march up to your adult child and declare, “That’s it! The gravy train stops right now!” The flow of money must stop, but unless your adult child has broken the law and been told to leave your home immediately (as in the case of drugs or other criminal behavior), this severance of financial dependency must first be carefully considered and planned by you and your spouse and any other enablers in the immediate equation: grandparents, siblings, and other family members.
No matter how angry we may be, no matter how broken our heart, we must act in love. Our goal is to release and empower our adult child, not to bring them even more pain than this change in our behavior may cause. Therefore, stopping the flow of money is not the only thing that must be carefully planned.
Remember, although it is our prayer that our adult children become healthy, independent, and responsible members of society, just because we develop a plan and present it to them does not guarantee they will joyfully embrace the change or even recognize it for the opportunity that it is. What they do with their lives as a result of our newly implemented boundaries—financial or otherwise—will be their choice.
Our primary goal is not to stop their negative behavior, or to stop their drug or alcohol abuse, or to stop their lying, cheating, stealing, or the never-ending chain of excuses we’ve grown accustomed to hearing and they’ve grown accustomed to delivering. We’d love for all those things to stop—but it’s up to them to change their lives, their behaviors, their habits. Our part is to stop our negative behaviors, gain SANITY in our own lives, and if we’re married, in our life as a couple. Stopping the flow of money to our adult child is often the most crucial—and the most difficult—step we will take in this process.
Whether we are on a fixed income or blessed with abundant financial resources, whether their request is for $20 or $20,000, we must stop coming to the rescue with our checkbook. Our money must cease being the life preserver that buoys up our adult children, keeping them afloat through yet another storm. We might be amazed at just how well our adult children can swim when given the opportunity to do so. More important, they just might be surprised at their own ability to survive without our financial life support, a powerful lesson that no amount of money can purchase.
Allison Bottke is an award-winning, best selling inspirational author of 29 published non-fiction and fiction books, including the acclaimed Setting Boundaries® series from Harvest House Publishers. She is also the founder and general editor of over a dozen volumes in the popular God Allows U-Turns® anthology. A frequent guest on national radio and TV programs, including Focus on the Family, The 700 Club, Family Talk, TBN, and Good Morning Texas, Allison also has a passion to help writers achieve their dreams, and she has served on the faculty at many national writing conferences, such as Jerry B. Jenkins Writing for the Soul, Blue Ridge Christian Writers, Roaring Lambs, Seattle Pacific, and others. To find out more about the popular Setting Boundaries® book series.