I am struggling with that fine line between loving and enabling . . . can you help?

One of our fellow moms says, “After many years of drug and alcohol abuse, my 48-year-old son has entered a 9-month recovery program and is 60 days sober. I am struggling with that fine line between loving him and enabling him. He had incurred several traffic fines over the last two years and with no income right now cannot pay them. My first instinct is to pay them so he can focus on his recovery. Is this wrong? Any advice from the ‘Mom’ perspective is very appreciated.”

Congratulations to you and your son. I know we sometimes want to reward our children—and no matter how old they are, they are still children to us—when they are doing the right thing. I would be very cautious about this for two reasons. First, when we “fix” things for our children, it takes away the opportunity for them to fix those issues themselves. Second, addressing the problem may give him the opportunity to feel in control of his own life and either successfully solve the problem or have the learning experience of realizing the consequences of continued alcohol or drug use.

I would suggest that he discuss this with his counselor at the recovery program. We become convinced that we have to answer every question and solve every problem because our children are impaired during active addiction, but he should have a team of people at his treatment center that he should be going to for guidance and advice. The more he utilizes the staff when making his newly sober decisions, the less he will rely on you.

The judicial system has become attuned to people working on their recovery. Perhaps they would be willing to work with him if he wrote them a letter explaining his current situation and what he is doing in order to maintain his sobriety. Typically, our addicted loved ones ignore problems such as these, and they turn into much bigger problems. Having him address this himself might build his confidence in handling other issues and possibly empower him to tackle other difficulties in his life.

It’s not easy to say no when our children are making progress, but try to find your own way of telling your son some version of an affirming statement such as “I love you and I’m proud of you. You’ve made some excellent decisions lately, and I believe in you and your ability to handle this problem.” He may not be completely happy with that, but, as he recovers, he should be able to understand your decision.

Keep up the good work of supporting your son, Mom, and stay hopeful!

Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.

Maureen Cavanagh is a peer recovery coach and interventionist who works with families and loved ones supporting a person struggling with a substance use disorder on their own recovery. She is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings and Magnolia Recovery and Consulting, and the author of If You Love Me: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Addiction and Recovery, published by Henry Holt/Macmillan. You can learn more about her at www.maureencavanagh.net

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Questions for Coach Cavanagh

1 Comment

  1. We are coping with our adult daughter during the Covid19 pandemic at home. We decided to bring her home as she was asked to leave her recent Sober home as she was not sober. She attempted suicide and upon release from the hospital with no follow up plan (her choice) she would have been homeless. Usually that means 1-2 days then back in hospital. Most days she is very drunk (our house rules on this ignored) and will also go beg money at local stores and not practice any type of social distancing or hygiene measures. We are at loss as to what the right thing to do in this situation as we don’t want her to die or ourselves! Please help us make a good decision


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