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Taking Action

What will we do when we stop living our adult children’s lives for them?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

As might be expected, the actions Stan and Sandy need to make will not be popular with Roger. He will almost certainly accuse them of not loving him or of being selfish themselves, or he will make any other number of untrue assertions designed to get them to resume the game they’ve all been playing for so long.

One young woman, whom I’ll call Sarah, related her anger when her parents established boundaries in her life:

I was pretty ticked off at my parents when they closed my checking account and canceled my credit card. But looking back now, it was the best thing they could have done. I was blowing it, and I think on some level I knew it, but it was kind of like smoking, you know? We know it’s bad for us, but it’s a hard habit to break. I had to drop out of a few classes and take another part-time job, but all that talk about gaining self-respect and becoming empowered turned out to be true. The more I accomplished on my own, the better I felt.

Change Can Be Freeing — or Frightening

When we make the decision to release our adult children to fend for themselves, it can be both freeing and frightening. For many of us, this sudden freedom to live our own lives will seem like a breath of fresh air. For others, it will bring deep foreboding and fear.

What will we do when we stop living our adult children’s lives for them?

We will start living our own.

On my journey to freedom from enabling, I’ve found the following ten steps helpful:

  1. Memorize the Ten Suggestions for Breaking the Enabling Cycle. You’ll need to remind yourself of these often. Having them just a thought away will be very helpful in time of need.
  2. Make becoming healthy a personal goal. Decide from this moment on to become stronger spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, financially, and physically. If you’re married, make the commitment to strengthen your union. Get counseling or join an appropriate support group, if necessary.
  3. Decide to live your life and to stop living the life of your adult child. Find a hobby, join a gym, volunteer, or take a dance class. Do something you’ve always wanted to do.
  4. Take a step back and view the situation with your adult child from an unemotional perspective. Write a bio about your adult child as though you were not his parent but instead were a bystander who has been watching from afar for months. What is your adult child really like?
  5. Develop your action plan. This written document will clearly state the things you plan to change and will include nonnegotiable rules and boundaries, firm but reasonable consequences, and time frames. If you’re married, you should do this as a couple. Remember, you and your spouse must agree on all areas of your plan and be prepared to present a united front at all times. If you’re a single parent, get help from a support group or from an accountability partner. Detailed guidelines to help you develop an action plan can be found in chapter 12 (“Developing an Action Plan”) of Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children.
  6. Prepare yourself for worst-case scenarios. Taking a stand often precipitates a crisis, and the situation may get worse before it gets better. Think of this like an emergency fire drill and carefully plan your course of action in as many scenarios as possible. Role play with your spouse or a close friend. Stand firm!
  7. Commit to being consistent — Do not back down, do not negotiate. It could take days, weeks, months, or years for your adult child to change, if ever. There’s no way to tell. He may never change — but you have. Prepare to wait it out.
  8. Stay connected to your support group and ask for help when needed.
  9. Read the Bible along with a Bible study. Do this with a group, if possible.
  10. Pray, and always remember to “let go and let God.”

I can hear many of you saying, “That sounds great in theory, Allison, but I don’t have time in my life right now to follow a list. Things are falling apart around me, and life is out of control.”

Most parents in pain know this feeling. If your present crisis has so incapacitated you that you must make important choices prior to starting your plan — if it is indeed that bad — I strongly suggest you seek the advice of a professional interventionist or a member of a support group right now. You don’t want to repeat a response or behavior that hasn’t worked before. It’s time to do something different.

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