I’m a mother. When my kids were little, it was my job to keep them safe from harm. If they ran across the street with a car coming, I might have spanked them a little so they’d remember to look both ways the next time. Yes: pain; yes: consequences. Yes: both good teachers.
But when Angie was twenty-one and started making terrible choices, I still thought it was my job to protect her from harm, self-inflicted or otherwise. And I still treated her like a two-year-old.
When she first stole from me early on, I went into a long period of denial and guilt, minimizing my feelings and believing her incredible explanations. My inaction only emboldened her, and she went on to steal in other ways. Several times, she stole my identity, with no explanations. So even when it was clear to me that her behavior was sociopathic, I still behaved inappropriately: I did nothing. Even when the credit card company told me to do something—that it would be a lesson for her—I still did nothing.
Where was the smack on the rear she would have gotten from running across the street? Where were the consequences that would have reminded her to be careful? I presented Angie with no consequences in the beginning of her illness and so she learned nothing. Her progressive illness got much worse. My guilt was crippling me as an effective parent.
Not until I started working my own program of recovery in Al-Anon was I able to release myself from the hold that was strangling us both. I needed to get out of my daughter’s way. She wasn’t two anymore.
I’ve made a lot of progress since those early days. I’ve learned to let go and leave Angie to the life she has chosen. Four rehabs helped her turn her life around for a while, but she always slipped back into her addiction and the life that goes with it. But staying out of the way has given me the freedom to take back my life and learn to live joyfully by focusing on my blessings. It has also given Angie the freedom to take responsibility for her own life and hopefully her own recovery. If she reaches for it again, and I pray she will, how much more rewarding it will be for her to find her own way!
8 thoughts on “Getting Out Of The Way”
This is so true. I was a stricter parent than a lot of my son’s friends’ parents were. He had a curfew until he finished high school and got his own place. If his grades were bad I held electronics hostage until the grades improved. But once he was grown and gone from the family home and went wild, I felt like there wasn’t much I could do about his behavior. Now I know that instead of allowing consequences I only enabled him to continue on this path when I paid his rent or car insurance because he’d wasted his whole paycheck. I wonder now why it was so hard and took so long for me to learn this.
Judith, this is the story for so many of us. But I had to grow a lot of hair on my chest before I could see that all my “helping” was only holding Angie back from growing up and facing life on life’s terms. We can’t do this for our children. Letting go truly is the hardest thing to do, especially when our children are courting death. But we must—if we want to be free to pay attention to the rest of our lives.
I just had to hang up on my son and not answer his calls and texts begging me to pay for AAA to get his car towed even though he works. No money and no working car to get to work! No money because he works 2 crappy jobs. No debit card because he has overdrawn his account and can’t go to a bank. On and on it goes. After 2 days of begging he gives up and starts calling his baby sister with the soft heart! He will not call his Dad or older sister because he knows he can’t play on their hearts. His baby sister is now sick of the excuses and the sick life we have all been dealing with. I tell her to not answer she doesn’t have the strength! Then as she listens to him she gets sick of it and tells him she can’t do it anymore and won’t talk until he is clean. Of course he is clean when she probes further he stops responding. We are all sick of it! My sponsor in Alanon says give him his dignity and give him space! We are there but broken hearted!! Thank you for your words!!! I pray we all see our children recover!!
Judy, your sponsor is very wise. We are encouraged in Al-Anon to look at our enabling behavior and try to understand it. Why are we doing for our children what they should be doing for themselves? When we find our own individual answers, we develop some clarity about our behavior and are in a better position to change it. For example, it wasn’t just my daughter Angie I was protecting with my enabling behavior; I was also protecting myself from the shame her consequences would have brought on me and our family. So…hindsight is 20/20. We need to be honest with ourselves if we’re going to serve our children best. And letting them experience the logical consequences of their actions is a good start. There is no way around our broken hearts, but I join you in your prayers that our children will recover.
I recently joined Nar-Anon and already I’m better able to understand that I enabled the way I did to spare myself from fear and worry. I could sleep at night knowing my son wasn’t being evicted and he wouldn’t be asking to borrow my car because his insurance had been cancelled. I was doing it for myself as much as for him. And I hadn’t learned yet to say No. Still working on saying No, getting better at it little by little. I read a post on the Nar-Anon forum called, “I loved my daughter to death” about how the father would give anything now not to have enabled her as he did. Whenever I feel myself slipping, I think about that post.
You and I and so many other well-meaning parents are learning the difference between helping and enabling. Yes, we can love our children to death by over-protecting them and not allowing them to face life on life’s terms. We shield them from the logical consequences of their choices, and they, driven by addiction, become emboldened to continue the same behavior. Check out some of my earlier blogs, from October 2014, on the same subject.
I’ve read every one from beginning to end. I just reviewed Oct and it’s all so true. Right now I’m trying hard to sit frozen in inaction. This is the scariest time yet, waiting and holding your breath.
In the rooms, I often hear a turn of a common phrase: “Sit there. Don’t do anything.” Your post reminds me of a passage from my memoir: “We learn eventually to sit frozen in inaction, to do nothing. We learn to let our addicts be accountable for their own actions, and hopefully learn from the consequences (eviction, jail, death). But it’s that last consequence that holds us hostage, keeps us doing for our addict all that he should be doing for himself. We say to ourselves, ‘As long as he’s alive, he can recover.’ True, but when will we ever get rid of our God-like parental power, thinking that his recovery is all up to us?” I know how scary it is, Judith, waiting for the next shoe to drop. But life goes on—and we with it. Try to keep busy, and most of all, as you’ve learned in Nar-Anon, take care of YOU. You’ll need to be strong when your son chooses recovery.