Freedom from Enabling

Posted by on Jul 4, 2011 in Allison's Blog, Setting Boundaries | 16 comments

Today is Independence Day – July 4, 2011


Independence—freedom—has many faces.

Whether your child is eighteen or fifty, there are steps you can take to free yourself from the overwhelming bondage of guilt, fear, shame, anger, frustration, grief, and denial. You can get off the catastrophe carousel that has been spinning out of control for years. You can find hope and healing.


You can take back your life.


Parents, please realize you are not alone. Do not feel you are a “bad” parent when you do not give in to every request your adult child makes, especially concerning money. One of the greatest and most beloved men in history, Abraham Lincoln, had to apply tough love principles to a family member. Lincoln wanted his brother to experience independence, and to pass that experience on to his children as well.


As parents who love our children, we really do want to do the right thing—we always have—but what really is the right thing? For me, the right thing turned out to be far different than I ever imagined.


Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children is a book about tough love. It’s about coping with dysfunctional adult children, whether male or female, living with us at home or not. It’s about recognizing our own enabling patterns of behavior and how to finally stop the part we as parents play in the vicious cycle of repeated irresponsible behavior in our adult children.


On this our Independence Day, my prayer is that you will find freedom from the enabling epidemic that is sweeping our country. And like Abraham Lincoln, you will learn that one of the best things we can do is to say “no” with love.


God bless your journey as you set healthy boundaries and find S.A.N.I.T.Y. .

……Allison Bottke

Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children (2008) – Six Steps to Hope and Healing for Struggling Parents

Setting Boundaries with Aging Parents (2009) – Finding the Balance Between Burnout and Respect

Setting Boundaries with Difficult People (Fall 2011) – Six Steps to S.A.N.I.T.Y. for Challenging Relationships


A letter from Abraham Lincoln to his brother…

Washington, Dec. 24th, 1848.

Dear Johnston:


Your request for eighty dollars, I do not think it best to comply with now. At the various times when I have helped you a little, you have said to me, “We can get along very well now,” but in a very short time I find you in the same difficulty again. Now this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. What that defect is, I think I know. You are not lazy, and still you are an idler. I doubt whether since I saw you, you have done a good whole day’s work, in any one day. You do not very much dislike to work, and still you do not work much, merely because it does not seem to you that you could get much for it. This habit of uselessly wasting time, is the whole difficulty; and it is vastly important to you, and still more so to your children, that you should break this habit. It is more important to them, because they have longer to live, and can keep out of an idle habit before they are in it easier than they can get out after they are in.


You are now in need of some ready money; and what I propose is, that you shall go to work, “tooth and nail,” for somebody who will give you money for it. Let father and your boys take charge of things at home—prepare for a crop, and make the crop; and you go to work for the best money wages, or in discharge of any debt you owe, that you can get. And to secure you a fair reward for your labor, I now promise you that for every dollar you will, between this and the first of next May, get for your own labor either in money or in your own indebtedness, I will then give you one other dollar. By this, if you hire yourself at ten dollars a month, from me you will get ten more, making twenty dollars a month for your work. In this, I do not mean you shall go off to St. Louis, or the lead mines, or the gold mines, in California, but I mean for you to go at it for the best wages you can get close to home, in Coles County.


Now if you will do this, you will soon be out of debt, and what is better, you will have a habit that will keep you from getting in debt again. But if I should now clear you out, next year you will be just as deep in as ever. You say you would almost give your place in Heaven for $70 or $80. Then you value your place in Heaven very cheaply, for I am sure you can with the offer I make you get the seventy or eighty dollars for four or five months’ work. You say if I furnish you the money you will deed me the land, and if you don’t pay the money back, you will deliver possession—Nonsense! If you can’t now live with the land, how will you then live without it? You have always been kind to me, and I do not now mean to be unkind to you. On the contrary, if you will but follow my advice, you will find it worth more than eight times eighty dollars to you.


Affectionately your brother,



The above letter written by Abraham Lincoln to his brother is in Public Domain.


16 Responses to “Freedom from Enabling”

  1. Allsion,
    “say no with love” thank you Allison for your insights and the Abraham Linclon story. Even one of our presidents had a problem brother and Abe was wise in how he handled him.
    God Bless you as you influence many people wiht your God given insight.
    Suellen Roberts

  2. Lindy Combs says:

    This is worth a pound of gold…today’s market. Thank you for posting this!

  3. Beverly Eden says:

    Oh that we would all follow President Lincoln’s example and be so bold with our children! What a wonderful letter to share! Thank you, Allison!

  4. I just finished reading the book and am starting to develop the action plan. I am looking for a support group on line and advise.

  5. Rhonda Riley says:

    I am looking for a support group online….other parents who are dealing with a difficult adult child who has two children.

  6. Tom Hess says:

    “Nothing will work unless you do.” – John Wooden

  7. Good morning, at least in Ohio it’s morning.
    I have been reading your book, ‘Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children,’ and it has had a profound impact on my husband and I. I’m not going to lie, I have been TERRIFIED to set any kind of boundaries with my 19, will be 20 in Sept, year old. I was raised in a very abusive home and refused to hit/ abuse my kids. So, instead, I went totally the opposite…way too permissive. And my wonderful husband HATES confrontation.
    So, my 19 year old began to really rebel when she turned 18 by getting tattoos and drinking while my husband and I weren’t home. Now I feel like a prisoner in my own home; I am afraid to leave for fear that the police will be called and BOTH my kids will be hauled away and it will cost us a small fortune.
    Sooo, I was hoping to ask a question. Our 19 year old has run this household for LONG ENOUGH. We would like to ask her/ tell her to move out but we are afraid of the drastic measures she might take, such as attempted/ commiting suicide. She has never talked about/ attempted it; however, her life is spiraling out of control. She lost her driver’s license because she drove on a suspended license and next month it will be gone until March of 2012 because she has accumulated over 18 points. In the state of Ohio, ones license is revolked if one accumulates more than 12 points. She WON’T pay rent of $25 a week, which by the way, we wern’t spending. We were putting it in an envelope for when she moved out, we don’t WANT her money. We simply wanted to teach some responsibility. So, because she WON’T pay rent, she spends hundreds, close to a thousand dollars, on tattoos. Nasty ones at that. She just got her upper chest tattooed with skulls….hideous. I know some day she will regret it, but right now she thinks they are cool. When I asked her to explain why skulls, she went off the deep end…shouting at me that she doesn’t have to explain herself in her own house.
    Sooo with that, what is a parent to do when we can not sit by and allow her to use her own money to destroy herself but asking her to leave might potentially push her over the edge?
    Also, I would like to add, that we are TERRIFIED about the impact her behavior is having on our 17 year old; he will be 18 next month and is talking about getting a tattoo when he turns 18. They are BEST friends, which I’m glad about, but that friendship has had a very bad impact on our son.
    Any kind of help would be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you in advacne.

  8. Emily walker says:

    I understand your terror. She is controlling you and your husband by keeping you in fear. In our case we had to have our son evicted. That wasn’t the exact legal term for the process in S.C. But it was a similar process of notifying him, going to court, and then giving him the date for move out. Check your small claims court/magistrate court for the proper channels there. I was also scared of what he might do to himself. Depression is an issue with him. He was angry with us and said all kinds of hateful things, but you know what? He was angry with us anyway so this was nothing new. And immediately after he left, the tension level in the house dropped 80%. I still worried about him and cried for him and prayed for him but I didn’t have the 24/7 immediacy of having to live in the same house with him.
    He did not hurt himself and he did have to go from friend to friend for a long time-over 2 years.
    He is now in an apt with 3 other guys and making progress but still going through the school of
    hard knocks.
    Take care of yourself and your husband and son. Do the hard thing and make her leave. It isn’t her house-it is yours. Get rid of the fear-it is controlling you. 2 Timothy 1:7 God has not given us a spirit of fear but of POWER and love and a sound mind!

  9. It’s amazing sometimes what our kids are capable of accomplishing when left to their own devices. It’s so hard for us as parents to take that tough love stance, and I thank you for sharing your experience with us. An 80% drop in stress is a major accomplishment! Stay strong and stay in touch!

  10. Sorry to take so long to respond, but I’m wondering what the status is with your daughter? More important, what is the status with you and your husband? When it comes to the chronic enabling of our adult kids, WE ARE THE ONES WHO NEED TO CHANGE….not our kids. You indicated that you had my book…have the Six Steps to SANITY helped you find the courage and strength to set boundaries with your daughter? I can understand being terrified…but it is imperative that you change your responses to your daughter instead of trying to change your daughter. I know that’s rather blunt, but it’s true. I’m praying for you, and for all the kindred soul parents out there who understand how hard this is. Remember, God will always make a way when there seems to be no way.

  11. I’m at the library. No online access at home. Anyhow, I had to have my 24 year old son arrested yesterday. It was a hard choice to make and Im not sure it was right but my husband and I have been living in a bad situation for many years. Nothing ever changes. We forgive and go on and the same things happen over and over. We say it is for our grandchildren who live in our home along with thier dad who is my son and his girlfriend. DCF is involved again. The fight were always between son and girl but the other nite it became personal, more than just holes in th wall and yelling and threats. I was pushed down by my drunk/drugged son and my husband was punched in the face/knocked down. Why do I still so guilty about calling the sheriff and having him arrested? I know I need to do this but feel so much dread and guilt. How does one cope and stick with the decision? will lose his job, his kids time. He says i’m the one who messed up by calling. Still in shock! Any advice? Please pray for all of us

  12. The story of Lincoln and your explanation forces me to think seriously about the issue.Thanks for posting such kinds of articles.

  13. Liz chevalier says:

    I too have been going thru a difficult time with my 20 year old twin boys. It started three years when my husband died. They thought they should be the “leaders” of the house and “knew what was best”. I emancipated one because of wreck less behavior and I did not want to be personally sued. I had evicted him from the house so the next night he and his friend decided to steal from some unlocked vehicles. He ended up spending 6 weeks in jail which obviously was not pleasant. He now is back at home has a steady part time job and finishing up a 2 year program in welding. He is completely off of drugs but thankfully to me he is on probation. I really thought he was a hopeless case. Now I am working on the other boy who is not as bad in regards to stealing but is doing drugs. Really and truly Allyison your book was a life saver and I have shared it with many parents.

  14. I have just read all of these comments and simply know how it feels to be a prisoner in your own home. We have dealt with issues with our daughter for 5 years. It started 2 months prior to her 17th birthday. My daughter was awesome girl who loved the Lord and her father was a dedicated dad who was a Youth Pastor. My husband resigned to go back to school to recieve a Masters of Theology. During this period we started experiencing problems with our daughter who was almost 17 it starting spiraling out of control. For a long time i ask my self what did we do wrong. My husband said it was not us it was her choice and free will. We did everything possible from counseling to having to call the police on her for not coming home at night to insane rebellious behavior. At 19 she was living out of our home and had her first child which sometimes complicated maters more. She finally moved back in but continue to control our household. God is always working when least expect it i found Allison’s book Setting Boundaries for adult children and that book was my turning point. Boundaries are so important to protect the rest of the family and most of all it saved my life. I finally ask her to leave a year ago in Nov. and my husband was already ok with that it took me as a mom to realize that i cant fix her but with a little tough love and a lot of boundaries and prayer anyone can do this. It is not easy at first but each day just gets better when you can finally live in freedom. She still is learning lessons the hard way but has come a long ways. I feel freedom and peace in my home now and we are enjoying and making up for lost time that my oldest daughter stole from our family and her sister. Your children will come back if you let go and break the cycle. Holding on just prolongs the healing process and prolongs their need for accountability for their actions. Remember this behavior and decisions are their choice not ours and this is not our problem it is theirs.

  15. I received a phone call from my 22 year old from the county jail 2 hours ago. I feel like Im on a roller coaster and I can’t get off. I am a enabler, and what I thought all along was helping my son, was far more damaging. I am his safety net, mom will fix it. I have paid for attorneys, I have bonded him out. It has been four months since his last release. I have made it too easy for him. His father and I divorce when he was a year old and I felt forever guilty and tried to compensate for his dads absence and in return I robbed him of his accountabilty and survival skills. He has never held a job for more than 6 months, never finished anything he started. I cant do this anymore. I know to help him I have to do the hardest thing a mom has to do and is break away, let him figure out his life and let him pay for his consequences. Like Teresa last wrote it is not my problem and I dont have to fix this one. I gave him a roof over his head, and a clean start and he choose to self destruct. All I can do is pray, and to have faith in knowing that God is in control and he is where God needs him to be.

  16. Becky Denmead says:

    5 Six Steps to sanity meetings have started in the last year in my home town. Parents need education support and a knowledge of what God expects of them Thanks for the book and for the Lord spreading this meeting for parents in Pgh PA. Becky

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *