When my parents were alive, they weren’t well off financially. Yet they helped their two older daughters time after time. My sisters paid Mom and Dad back part of the time, but when Daddy passed away, his cash journal showed debts due from several of his children. I was not among them. I seldom borrowed money and when I did, at the outset I set a repayment plan and stuck to it without being pestered. It was a matter of pride with me.
When you think about how I was raised in the same household with my brothers and sisters and had the same parents, it is hard to figure out why I was the only one who couldn’t stand to owe them—or anyone—money. Maybe it’s because I watched my parents struggle to help out my older sisters when they were in financial straits themselves. Maybe it’s because of that reason I stated above—I was just too proud to depend on anyone else.
These days, I am the one of those other people turn to for help when they need it. Just as I can’t stand to owe other people, I can’t stand to say no to anyone who presents a plausible case of need. So I am what is called an “enabler.”
Being an enabler is an insidious disorder. It starts simply enough when you help someone with an extraordinary expense created by an unusual event. Then when people find out you will provide aid, they ask you more and more and you—being a nice person—just keep giving. It’s a hard cycle to break and I personally have no clue how to escape.
I’m not angry. I’m not holding a grudge. I don’t try to tell my children or my sisters how to run their lives because they ask me for money. Yet I would be so proud of all of them if they would make more of an effort to handle things themselves, perhaps by doing some financial planning—like planning not to spend money they don’t have!
And I don’t see why they can’t do this. After all, I’m not lassoing them and forcing them to take my money. I’m just not good at saying “no.” So I ask you, what can I do about my enabling when so many people around me have no shame in being enabled?
On the other hand, I am doing them a great disservice by my “kindness”. I remember as a child how my father always said these two things, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” and “’I can’t’ got stuck on the fence. ‘I’ll try’ pulled him over.” As an enabler, I have prevented my children from learning to keep trying instead of turning to me for help. Yes, they could change their ways and learn to get along on their own, but why would they do that? Who among us would choose to be out of a car because we can’t afford to fix it when Mom will supply the money to get it fixed.
Yes—I am an enabler; and I am wronging my children by enabling them to be less than self-sufficient. I have known this for a long time but I still can’t say no.