The root cause of this enabling in a majority of cases of such enabling is, IMO, parental guilt over having their own lives separate from their children in situations in which the enablers' own families of origin frown on individualistic pursuits.
I considered turning this post into a game of Are the Freddies/Minnies just doing what is expected of them by their enablers, or are they in fact mentally ill? That issue came up in some of the letters. I decided against doing this because it would not be much of a game. None of the Freddies and Minnies described in these letters is bipolar!!
I apologize in advance for the length of the post. I like to illustrate all the different ways a phenomenon I discuss can present itself (and also illustrate how common it is), but they all do kinda boil down to the same thing. Read as few or as many of these 35 [!] letters as hold your interest.
18. 7/13/12. Dear Amy: Our adult son has a drug problem. Family and friends are aware of this because he has been in rehab and has had long periods of sobriety. He is a good person when he is not using drugs. But like all addicts, he will do what he needs to do to get drugs when he is using. He has stolen from us, and we have responded by not allowing him into our home. We have not allowed him to live here for years, but when he is doing well, we allow him to visit and begin to trust him. Recently, he stole from us again. We are coping with it, but I am wondering what to say to family and close friends who inquire about him. I don't really want to tell truthful details, because I am embarrassed and I still have hope that someday he will be clean for good. I don't want people to remember this about him. What could one say to be truthful but not share details? Are we enabling? — Distressed Mother
20. 7/20/12. Dear Amy: I have a friend who is 72 years old with three grown children. Two of her children constantly ask her for money to make mortgage payments, buy cars, furniture, pay for their vacations, pay for their children's birthday parties and even to send their children to expensive private schools. These two adult children do not have full-time jobs, are lazy, selfish and take advantage of their mother. I see the pain on my friend's face when she tells me about a phone call from one of them asking for more money. I would like to suggest that she say "no" to them, knowing that it would be for their own good to start being more independent and knowing that she is depleting the money that her late husband left her. I would like to suggest tough love. Should I? — Sad for my Friend
25. 9/18/12. Dear Annie: I am engaged to an intelligent, beautiful, loving woman. We both work full time and see eye-to-eye on just about everything. However, we are becoming increasingly frustrated with her four kids when it comes to doing their laundry, putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher, walking the dog, etc. If a trashcan is overflowing, they simply pile more on top of it instead of taking it outside. These kids are between 13 and 21. We want them to take responsibility for their actions and take pride in their home. We have tried making lists and assigning tasks, punishments and rewards, to no avail. During our most recent conversation with the kids, one said, "It's too difficult to remember." Another said, "You can't make us do it." Two of these kids are working. Any suggestions? — Frustrated in the Midwest
27. 10/15/12. Dear Amy: My daughter seems upset with me because she perceives that I give my other daughter (her sister) too much help. She does not want to discuss it, so at this point her feelings and concerns are unknown. The first daughter is married, with a home and a full-time job with health benefits and a retirement plan. She has two children who are also married. They have jobs and are self-supporting. The second daughter is divorced, rents and is unemployed. She also has two children, but neither is married or employed. Her children use drugs and have leeched every available cent from their mother. Over the past few years I have helped the second daughter with apartment rental guarantees (she has always paid all the rent). I bought her several cars averaging $3,000 a piece. I helped her children (before drugs) with cars that the first daughter's children have not needed. I think the first daughter should be thankful she has a strong financial future and does not need help, rather than be enraged with sibling jealousy. When the conversation finally comes up, what could I say to the "prodigal daughter's" sister? — Upset Mother