The 5 Pitfalls of Enabling Adult Children

The 5 Pitfalls of Enabling Adult Children

abril 10, 2024

Are you providing healthy support or enabling?


  • Enabling parents support their grown children in ways that hinder personal growth and responsibility.
  • Supporting your adult child doesn’t mean shielding them from life’s challenges.
  • It’s essential to empower adult children to navigate the challenges of adulthood independently.


Parenting is a lifelong journey, and as children grow into adults, the dynamics of the parent-child relationship evolve. While it is natural for parents to want to support their adult children, there’s a fine line between being supportive and enabling.


The New York Times recently published an article citing studies that indicate most parents are highly involved in their grown children’s lives. Details include stories of parents texting their adult children several times a week and offering advice and financial support. These adult-child relationships seem healthy and fulfilling.


I was pleased to read a depiction of healthy, harmonious parent-adult-child relationships. I know of situations, for example, where adult children live with their parents and contribute to shared home responsibilities and finances. These arrangements benefit both the adult children (saving money and feeling good about contributing) and the parents (time with our kids).


Balanced Give and Take Versus Enabling


At the same time, I often see how enabling adult children can inadvertently lead to a myriad of problems related to hindering their growth and independence. In the remainder of this post, I’ll explore the common issues associated with enabling and provide a quiz to help you determine if you might be enabling your adult children.


Enabling adult children refers to a parenting dynamic where parents unintentionally or knowingly support their grown-up offspring in ways that hinder personal growth and responsibility. This behavior often stems from a desire to shield children from life’s challenges, but it can inadvertently impede their development into independent, self-sufficient individuals.


The parents I coach share stories of enabling behaviors, including financial bailouts, constant rescuing from consequences, and overprotective decision-making. While parents may have the best intentions, enabling usually fosters dependency, hinders problem-solving skills, and impedes the development of resilience. It may prevent adult children from learning essential life skills, facing consequences, and making autonomous decisions.


5 Dangers of Parental Enabling


  1. Stunted Personal Growth. Enabling adult children may impede their personal growth and development. When parents consistently bail out their children from challenges, whether financial or emotional, it prevents them from learning essential life skills. Adult children need to face and overcome obstacles to develop resilience and self-reliance.


  1. Financial Dependence. Financial enabling is a common issue where parents continuously provide financial support to their adult children. I have seen many adult children attempting to live a lifestyle way beyond their financial means. This includes situations with adult children who are likely capable of standing on their own. This dependence can create a cycle of financial irresponsibility and hinder the development of budgeting and money managementskills.


  1. Lack of Responsibility. Enabling can foster a sense of entitlement and a lack of accountability. Adult children may come to expect that problems will be solved for them, leading to a lack of motivationto take responsibility for their actions or decisions.


  1. Strained Parental Relationships. Over time, enabling behavior can strain the relationship between parents and adult children. Resentment may build on both sides—parents may feel unappreciated, while adult children may feel stifled or controlled. This strain can lead to emotional distance and strained family dynamics.

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  1. Social Implications. Enabling adult children may also impact their social lives. If parents consistently step in to resolve conflicts or shield them from the consequences of their actions, adult children may struggle to navigate social relationships independently.

Now that you’ve seen the hazards of enabling, check out the quiz below (in the References section) to get an idea of where you stand.


Final Thoughts


Recognizing and addressing enabling behaviors is crucial for fostering a healthy, balanced relationship with adult children. While parents undoubtedly want the best for their children, it’s essential to empower them to navigate the challenges of adulthood independently.


In researching the third edition of my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, which addresses struggles between adult children and parents, I found that communication, setting clear boundaries, and encouraging personal responsibility are key steps in breaking the cycle of enabling and promoting the growth and development of adult children. Above all, remember that supporting your adult child doesn’t mean shielding them from life’s challenges but helping them build the skills to overcome them.


© Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. (All rights reserved)




Are You Enabling Your Adult Child?


Please realize that the following quiz is presented as a rough guide to help you look at how you may or may not be enabling your adult child. While this is not a psychometrically researched instrument, it can help you look at patterns of how you support your struggling adult child. With this in mind, please answer the following questions with either “Yes” or “No.”


1. Do you often find yourself solving your adult child’s problems, such as financial issues, without allowing them to attempt to find solutions on their own?




2. Have you continued to financially support your adult child despite them having the means to support themselves?




3. Do you frequently intervene in your adult child’s conflicts or disagreements, even if they haven’t asked for your involvement?




4. Have you made excuses for your adult child’s behavior or choices, protecting them from facing the consequences?




5. Are you afraid to set boundaries with your adult child, fearing it may strain your relationship?




6. Do you find yourself feeling responsible for your adult child’s happiness or success?





0-2 “Yes” answers: You are likely providing healthy support without enabling.

3-4 “Yes” answers: There may be some enabling behaviors that could benefit from reassessment.

5-6 “Yes” answers: It’s possible that enabling is a significant factor in your relationship with your adult child.