The day we told our then 19 year-old son he had to move out of the house I thought a part of me might die.  It was one of the most difficult parenting choices we’ve ever made, but also one of the best.

Why did we do this nasty deed?  He was a good kid.  He was smart, polite and articulate.  He had good friends and was a leader at youth group.  He was an Eagle Scout for crying out loud!  But, he was living out what we had taught him. We thought we were helping him, but we were actually enabling him.

Admitting Our Part

Although highly intelligent, he was floundering.  He hadn’t done well in school and wasn’t working.  My husband and I finally came to the unfortunate realization that we had created this situation with our codependence and it was up to us to reverse it.  We had been resentful and angry over his ‘laziness’ and ‘irresponsibility’ for too long.  Our son was resentful of my over-involvement and his dad’s under-involvement.  All this resentment was building and it wasn’t pretty.                                                        

My husband and I slowly came to understand that through our misguided parenting style, we had developed an environment that made it too easy for him to make excuses about why he wasn’t doing well in school, why he didn’t have a job or why he didn’t have time to help around the house.  We also knew we’d been treating him differently than our daughter for years, and that wasn’t fair, either.  She’d been responsible and working hard all along.  We’d really made a mess of things in this area. 

Giving Him a Different Message

Our son spent hours playing video games and hanging out with friends.  When asked if he’d applied for any jobs, he always had clever excuses about why that wasn’t coming together.  There was just no winning the battle.  We sought advice and were wisely counseled that in order to give him the message that he was capable, we had to treat him like he was capable.  This meant no more coddling or nagging.  It also meant pushing him out of the nest.

We gave him the dreaded speech along with a deadline for D-Day.  He was surprised, but recognized we couldn’t be talked out of this one.  He promptly got a house-sitting job and moved out before the deadline.  We questioned our decision for weeks; made more difficult by the fact that in his hurt and anger he shut us out.  He rarely called or texted and only came by when we weren’t home.  There were signs he’d done his laundry and eaten.  Although this was probably ‘cheating,’ we just couldn’t bring ourselves to deny those things to him.  (It was exactly this type of justification we’d permitted all his life that had gotten us in this mess initially and yet we continued it!)  It was really hard on us, this tough love stuff. 

He really struggled for a time, but one day he called to say he was re-enrolling in school and was moving into an apartment with some friends near the university.  He wanted us to come see it!  Gradually, his attitude shifted, and he became more focused.  Eventually we let him move back in with us for about a year while he went to school and worked.  It’s been two years since he moved out and he’s truly living out his potential.  Working in corporate, continuing his education, married and saving for a house.  And, we have a much healthier relationship with him.

I asked his permission to tell this story to encourage other parents to consider how they might be contributing to a difficult situation with their own kids.  He readily agreed.  And while he acknowledges this was a challenging time for us all, I am grateful to report he also says we did the right thing.  My husband and I learned yet another hard lesson in the damaging effects of dysfunctional parenting. 

How about you?  Have you had to deal with repercussions of codependent or enabling behavior?

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