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When our loved ones are suffering, our instinct is to protect them and shield them from harm. We want to take away their pain and prevent them from experiencing yet more suffering. Our intentions are to support our children, but we can fall into patterns of enabling them instead. We enable other people’s addictions in multiple ways. We might make excuses for their bad behaviors and dangerous choices. We might try to absolve them of responsibility, blaming other people in their lives or blaming ourselves, trying to take on the responsibility ourselves. We might lie for them, cover for them, or look the other way when they’ve done something wrong. We often know consciously that we’re not doing right by our children when we do these things, but we’re so embroiled in our emotions, in our anxiety, worry and fear, that we act impulsively. We might think we’re being protective and acting on their behalf, but eventually we see that we’re not actually helping them or acting in their best interest. We’re actually contributing to their addictive patterns by preventing them from learning accountability and taking a hard look at their choices. We often enable other people’s addictions because deep down we’re afraid to face the truth.

In order to support our children’s healing without enabling them, we want to encourage them to be honest, both with themselves and with us. We want to remind them of the importance of honesty and openness. We can teach them how destructive denial and avoidance can be. We want to teach them about unhealthy coping mechanisms and the various ways in which we try to escape our pain. We want to encourage them to develop healthy coping skills. We want to suggest therapy, support groups, working with a sponsor, and taking advantage of all the resources available to them. We want to help them confront their addictions head on rather than turning a blind eye to them.

When we stop enabling our children, we stop making excuses for their harmful behaviors and decisions. We stop trying to convince ourselves, or them, that they don’t in fact have a serious problem. We don’t cover for them or lie to other people on their behalf. We start to approach the situation with honesty and clarity. We muster the courage to admit that they’re struggling with addiction and need help. We accept our own emotions on the subject, our sadness, fear and disappointment. We accept our vulnerability. We admit just how hard this is for us, without trying to bury it, suppress it or magically make it disappear. Learning to support our children through their struggles with addiction, without also enabling them, is challenging work but so crucial to their chances of recovery.

Riverside Recovery is committed to helping you uncover the issues fueling your addictions. Our treatment programs include multiple forms of therapy, family workshops and mindfulness-based relapse prevention education. Call (800) 871-5440 for more information.