Relationship Connection: Are we enabling our daughter?

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A year ago our daughter had an emergency surgery that required a lengthy recovery. She and her two boys moved in with us so we could help her out financially (she is divorced and her ex does not pay child support).

She is now a year past the surgery and is very active and has a part-time job working about five hours per day. That means we cook and care for the kids daily. Her boys are involved in many activities that would not be possible if she worked a full-time job.

We have talked about the need for a plan for the future, including housing, full-time employment, training for a career that will support her family, and so on. In our opinion she is too comfortable living with us and has made no effort toward independence. We love her and the kids, but this is more than we bargained for. We are exhausted and see no end in sight.

I work full-time and my husband is retired. I can usually handle the chaos but my husband is stressed and worn out. Our daughter does not appreciate his health issues or show much consideration for him, but instead comes to me, which is cause for concern.

How can we encourage our daughter to move toward independence without causing major damage to this relationship? We would like this to be a positive transition. A friend once said, “It’s a fine line between helping and enabling,” and we think we’ve crossed the line. We have suggested she go to a support group or get some counseling to deal with her emotional issues but nothing has come of it. We are ready to go to counseling ourselves if it would help!


You’ve got a wise friend who has described your situation well. Indeed, it is a fine line between helping and enabling. Based on your description of the situation, I agree that you’ve unintentionally ended up on the unhelpful side of that line. The good news is that you can correct this and regain your peace and help your daughter rise up to the privilege of being a responsible mom.

Even though people who enable others often get criticized for their actions, it’s my observation that most enablers start out from a loving and sincere desire to help. Unfortunately, the enabler is held hostage by the possibility of a crisis, so they continue to carry the stress and responsibility for the other person’s problem. The love turns to fear, the willingness to help turns into resentment, and the relationship becomes soured as the enabler faces emotional and physical burnout. Thankfully, there is a better way.

You and your husband stepped in at an appropriate time to help your daughter with an unanticipated medical emergency. This was a selfless sacrifice that any parent would make for their child and grandchildren. Now that the medical crisis has passed, your job of caring for her and her children full-time can come to an end.

You are worried about your relationship with her. Is she worried about her relationship with you? Does she worry about the impact her children (as wonderful as they might be) are having on you and your husband’s health? If she’s not worried about any of these things, it’s time for her to carry that awareness so you can have a balanced and respectful relationship.

My guess is that she has settled into a comfortable routine and isn’t aware of the gradual build-up of stress you’re both experiencing. If she’s a thoughtful and sensitive person, bringing up your desire to see her move toward independence will make sense to her and she’ll embrace it. If she carries an entitled victim mentality, it’s likely she’ll react poorly. Either way, it is important to talk with her about her situation so she can carry the responsibility of her reality.

Even though you can give her suggestions, resources, and encouragement, the real change won’t happen until you change the routine. I recommend you meet with her and discuss a reasonable timeline for her to find housing and childcare. You don’t need to figure out how she’ll accomplish this, even though you might have some great ideas. This is a chance for her to create the kind of life she wants for herself and her children. From the information you provided, it sounds like she is fully capable of doing this.

The real test will happen when the deadline nears and she’s not ready with housing or childcare. You might be put in a situation where you have to ask her to leave without a formal plan in place. You might worry about the grandchildren and their safety. If it gets pushed to this point and you can’t bring yourself to follow through, I recommend you seek the counsel of a wise professional who can help you understand your own hesitations to help her be responsible.

Don’t worry about her counseling. Turn to your husband and seek the strength to help your daughter rise up to the full stature of her potential as a woman and mother.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.



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  • Brian August 19, 2015 at 11:21 am

    I didn’t see the word “rent” anywhere in there. If you aren’t charging her rent, you should be. Once that is in place, carefully decide on an amount between you and your husband that you will raise the rent each month. Then let your daughter know: “Honey, we love you and we want to support you, but we don’t want to raise you again. The rent will start at $400 a month, and will increase $25 a month. Stay as long as you like.” That gradually increase the motivation for her to move out, and is fair to all involved.

  • anybody home August 19, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    I think Mr. Steurer missed a critical piece of information here, and it comes right at the end of the mother’s letter: “We have suggested she go to a support group or get some counseling to deal with her emotional issues but nothing has come of it.”

    Emotional issues? What emotional issues is she talking about here? Is the daughter unstable? Can she actually hold a full-time job? On drugs? Too many things left out of this picture. My sympathies to the parents who seem to be stuck one way or another with an immature (how old is she anyway?) slacker daughter and her children. It’s going to take a lot more than a conversation to get this family back on track. Is there a father to the children anywhere in this picture?

    • anybody home August 19, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      Yes, I see now, there’s an ex who pays no child support. Too many slacker families like this.

  • Hataalii August 19, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    I agree with both of the above posters here. I think there is one major area of concern that Mr. Steurer failed to touch on, and that is child support! Deadbeat Dad may not want to support his kids, but by law he has to. Daughter should get in touch with Utah Legal Services in St. George at 435-628-1604 or 800-662-4245. Force dad into paying his fair share. If he can’t for some reason, (incarceration, mental or physical disability,) then legal services still can point you in the right direction for aid to dependent children.
    Daughter needs to do the right thing here, and start acting like an adult with her own kids, rather than acting like she is a kid herself.
    Perhaps it is time for a little “tough love,” from the grandparents here.

  • sagemoon August 19, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    I think there is more to this situation than the article had room to address. There is mention the husband has health issues. Perhaps the daughter feels a duty to be with her parents to help care for her father. That could explain why she only works part time. She may not realize that her “helping out” has actually created a burden for her parents. Mother helped daughter out after surgery, daughter is trying to help mother out with dad’s health issues. The daughter may have good intentions.

  • ladybugavenger August 19, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    “Are we enabling our daughter?” Yes

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