The other day, after reading yet another post in a Facebook group in which family members were sacrificing themselves, their families, their finances, and their careers to try to make their parents happy despite their parents’ unwillingness to do what was recommended, I suggested, and advised by professionals, well, I had HAD IT!

I hopped on social media and made a 15-second clip about how enabling was NOT caregiving. Admittedly, I did not add much context, but the post sparked much conversation about good caregiving, abandonment, enabling, and how to tell when you are setting healthy boundaries or leaving your family members to “die alone.” (Things get a little extreme in the comments sometimes.)

So, I wanted to take this opportunity to explore in more detail what enabling is and isn’t in the context of caregiving for our loved ones, especially parents.

Our journey through caregiving can often blur the lines between healthy support and enabling harmful habits. Understanding these differences is crucial to creating truly supportive environments.


Healthy Caregiving

Healthy caregiving practices help your loved ones while empowering them to maintain their independence and well-being.

Here’s what it can look like:

  1. Respecting Boundaries:
    It’s important to set and respect both your boundaries and those of your loved one. This ensures that the caregiving relationship remains healthy and mutual. Boundaries can be one of the most difficult things for caregivers. I certainly know that was the case for me. But boundaries can be loving and actually foster deeper connection in a healthy way!
  2. Encouraging Independence:
    Empower your loved one by allowing them to make their own decisions and perform tasks independently when possible.  I remind my mom often that as long as she can advocate for herself, she should. I will also advocate for her, but it is important we encourage our parents to use their voice as long as they can as it helps their brain health and memory.
  3. Providing Emotional Support:
    Offer a listening ear and emotional comfort without taking over or making decisions for them. If your parents have the cognitive ability to make decisions, try to allow them to make them, even if you do not agree. You can provide insight or suggestions, but they make decisions. A key part of this is understanding that all parts of the decision are theirs, including the consequences of them. 
  4. Promoting Healthy Habits:
    Help them establish routines that are beneficial to their physical and mental health, such as regular exercise, nutritious meals, and social interactions. Ok, this is a tricky one because while you can help them establish these routines, you can’t MAKE them participate in activities, social events, or exercise. Do what you can and let the rest go.

 Enabling Bad Choices

On the other hand, enabling often leads to unhealthy dynamics. Here’s how enabling behaviors manifest:

  1. Ignoring Harmful Behaviors:
    Turning a blind eye to behaviors that could be detrimental to their well-being. I discovered that my avoidance (see #3) was actually ignoring behaviors that were hurting my mom. She was not moving enough, not getting the medical help she needed in a timely manner, and was not eating healthy meals. In other cases, there may be substance abuse or a parent who keeps driving long after they should. When we ignore the behavior but try to “fix” the consequences for them, this can be a sign of enabling.
  2. Doing Everything for Them:
    Taking over tasks that they are capable of doing themselves, thereby stifling their independence. Let them do it if they can do it safely, even if it takes longer.
  3. Avoiding Difficult Conversations:
    Shying away from necessary but uncomfortable discussions about their behaviors or needs. I did a whole workshop on this one! You can learn more and access it here: Say NO! and Mean It (without being Mean): A step-by-step guide to creating compassion and confidence in your caregiving conversations.
  4. Supporting Unhealthy Habits:
    Allowing or encouraging habits that harm their health. This is another area that is complicated because we can’t force someone to do what is healthy for them. What we can do is choose how we respond. Again, as long as they are mentally and physically capable, we make suggestions, and they make decisions. That said, if your loved one is living with you, it is up to you what you allow in your own home.

When To Step In

Knowing when to step in can make a big difference:

  • Daily Tasks: Assist with tasks they truly can’t handle alone, like medical appointments or heavy lifting. Avoid doing tasks they can manage.
  • Setting Boundaries: Establishing boundaries is essential in maintaining a balanced caregiving relationship.
  • Explain Your Limits: Be honest about what you can and cannot do.
  • Prioritize Self-Care: Make sure you’re taking care of your own needs to avoid burnout.
  • Seek Professional Advice: Sometimes, getting help from a counselor or support group can provide perspective and strategies.
  • Communicate Openly: Keep lines of communication open to discuss needs, concerns, and boundaries clearly.

Take The FREE Caregiver Capacity Quiz

Encouraging Independence

Encouraging independence is a key part of healthy caregiving:

  • Let Them Make Decisions: Allow your loved one to have a say in their care and daily activities.
  • Support Their Hobbies: Encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy.
  • Encourage Social Activities: Promote participation in community or social events.
  • Adapt Their Environment for Safety: Make necessary modifications to their living space to ensure it’s safe and conducive to independence. *Remember, you can make the modifications, but it’s up to them to use them!

Providing Support, Not Control

When providing support, focus on empowerment rather than control:

  • Listen Actively: Pay attention to their needs and concerns.
  • Offer Guidance, Not Commands: Provide advice and alternatives, but let them make the final decision.
  • Be Patient and Understanding. Recognize their efforts and progress, no matter how small. *It is also important to recognize when they are not making an effort when they could be to help you set boundaries.

Closing Thoughts

Remember, healthy caregiving empowers your loved ones while enabling can hinder their well-being. Aim for a balanced, supportive approach that promotes both their independence and your own well-being.

Another important thing to note about enabling is that what an enabling behavior is in one circumstance can be a helpful behavior in another. It is important to understand your family dynamics and patterns in order to determine what works for you and your family.

Let’s Learn More Together

To dive deeper into the concepts discussed in this post, I invite you to join our *Summer Book Club*! We’ll be reading “The New Codependency” by Melody Beattie, learning more about how to have healthy relationships in our caregiving and supporting each other in our journey towards better connections with our loved ones and ourselves.  The book club starts on June 25, and I can’t wait to discuss this impactful book with you. For more information and to sign up, click here.



Join the Summer Book Club!

Designed specifically to help people who find themselves caring for aging parents and want to prevent unhealthy patterns, create healthy boundaries, and reclaim their own lives without the guilt.

The Book Club Details:

-Dates: June 24-August 5

-Purchase your own copy of The New Codependency by Melody Beattie -Read on your own schedule! -Be encouraged by and connected to other Book Club members in a Private Book Club Instagram Group Chat (optional) -Receive weekly motivation to keep you on track via email – Get exclusive access to The Book Discussion via Zoom on Monday, August 5 at 7pm eastern

BONUS: Free 45-minute 1:1 Caregiver Coaching call with Jeanette

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