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How to Know If You’re a Financial Enabler (and How to Stop)

6 minute read

David Ning

By David Ning

I have a confession to make. I’m in my 40s, have two kids, but I don’t know how to cook. Like, at all. On a scale of one to ten, I rank myself a one. It would possibly be a zero, except for the fact that my wife is currently out of the country and I have cooked extremely simple meals like instant noodles and chicken wings (with ready-made sauce) for me and the kids. I’m that bad.

How did I become this way? Thinking back, it was probably because of the two most loving woman in my life – my mom and my wife. Growing up, my mom was adamant that we spend our time on school work. And nothing else. So she did everything for us. There were clean clothes in our closets, food on the table, and our room was always tidy. She took care of my sister and I so well, that cleaning, washing, and cooking never ever crossed our minds. We simply took it for granted.

Why It Matters Now

I’m somewhat better now. I realize how much work is involved with keeping the house clean, the clothes neat, and food prepared (and tasty). I definitely do some house chores. Still, I don’t know how to cook. Part of the reason why I’m still so useless in the kitchen is because I simply don’t need to be competent. You see, I’m the breadwinner while my wife is the house maker of our family. She naturally handles more of the house work. Sure, it’s a bit “traditional,” but it works for us. The other reason is because Emma is a loving person and an amazing cook.

Most days, I don’t think of this flaw as something that needs fixing. Let’s face it. She’s always here and food is always on the table. On the few occasions where she is tired or simply wants a change of pace, we can go out. (Or more recently, we order delivery due to the pandemic).

But these past few days were different. Emma isn’t here. Her dad is in the hospital and she needed to fly to Taiwan to help out with the family. Due to the mandatory 14-day quarantine in Taiwan, she is going to be gone for one month.

Pizza Month?

One month! Pizza just isn’t going to cut it for 90 meals straight. I can order takeout all the time, but that gets extremely expensive. Let’s not forget that restaurant food often isn’t as healthy as homemade food. My current situation has put a spotlight squarely on my inability to put basic meals on the table effectively.

My mom and my wife both became an enabler for my bad behavior. It wasn’t intentional. In fact, it was a result of them being extremely loving and caring. But due to my laziness and negligence, I’m now paying for it. I find myself stressing over food for my kids three times a day.

The Cycle Continues…

I too, am an enabler with my kids. My wife smartly started having the kiddos wash the dishes once in a while. However, I am undoing all the good progress by washing all the dishes myself these days.

I am a financial enabler, as well. I try to be responsible with my money, but we spend relatively freely with the kids. We don’t spend that much on material things like toys, but we are loose with paying for experiences. After school activities? Go ahead. Birthday parties? Seems appropriate. Vacation? Let’s do it.

However, being an enabler can be dangerous for our kids. This is especially true when it comes to money. We are providing for our kids in ways that make them oblivious to the cost of everything. We can justify it now, since the kids are still young. However, it will become a bigger issue when they grow older. What if they continue relying on us for financial help even after they get out of school? After all, Mom and Dad have always made sure they have whatever they need. Will we become a financial life raft?

How do I stop being a partner in crime? Are you a financial enabler? How do you stop? I did some research. Here are some suggestions for you (and maybe for me). They very first thing you need to do is simple: talk to them about the issue.

Talk It Out (And Come Up With a Plan)

It all starts here. In order to address anything, you need to talk openly about the situation. Gather the relevant parties (spouse, parents, kids, etc) and discuss the issue, and what’s at stake. The situation isn’t going to improve unless you have open communication with the other party or parties..

Once you are comfortable talking about the issue, then it’s time to develop a plan of attack. If you were offering financial support unconditionally before, you need to come up with a plan. Figure out whether you are going to just stop instantly or if you’re going to remove that support slowly. Maybe there is something the person you’re enabling can do to “earn” the money you’re helping them with. Doesn’t have to be hard — a car wash, some free babysitting, or helping you rake the leaves might be enough.

The best use of your money, though, is to help them find a steady income on their own. Like the old saying goes, it’s better to teach a man to fish than to just give him a fish. Consider shifting your support into things like polishing their resumes, helping them get to job interviews, and ensuring they don’t miss shifts.

Make Boundaries and Consequences — Then Stick To Them

The fastest way to get someone to behave responsibility is to let them live through the consequences. Once someone has lived life without much money, they will know how precious that commodity really is. But here’s where your role becomes as important as ever. You absolutely need to stick to your guns. If you are always give in and open the door to the bank of Mom and Dad (or sibling or friend or whatever), then you have no one else to blame but yourself.

I know you don’t want to see your loved one suffer. It’s often easier to simply write a check than to watch someone you care about suffer. But trust me, neither of you are learning any lessons if you keep doing that.

Get a Mediator

Sometimes a fresh perspective is needed. So find a third person, who has no skin in the game, to talk things over among the three parties. Sometimes, a suggestion coming from a third party is all that’s needed for all parties to accept the plan. Remember, the end goal is to come up with a plan to stop the financial enabling altogether. If the initial discussions come to a standstill, then consider seeking outside help. There are plenty of retired legal minds who would act as a professional mediator for you.

Get Some Personal Support

The road to success is going to be a journey. That’s why it’s best not to do it alone. Find yourself a friend or family member (not involved in the financial situation) who’ll lend an ear. They will be able to calm your emotions and help you through the whole process. After all, dealing with money and relationships at the same time can be extremely stressful. This support might also be a good sounding board for ideas you come up with. Who knows? They may even give you a really good suggestion to help alleviate the enabling. Find help. It’s one of the best things you can do.

Force The Issue (If You Have To)

If you find yourself consistently forking over money to same person, with no end to the cycle in sight, you might need to take a hard stand. You may need simply to cut off the support you are providing. And then let them deal with the consequences. It might not be pretty.

If it’s money you’re offering, then you may need to just tell them that it’s being cut off in the very near future. Give them a hard deadline, and then stick to it. If you’re expected to always bail them out when things go wrong, then it’s time to say “No” for once. Let the situation play out on its own. It’s time they learn to live with the consequences. Only after a bit of suffering will they learn to weigh the risks before they make a leap next time.

There’s a bright side to my new found food problem, at least. I’m much more appreciative of what my mom and my wife did for me. Still, enabling can lead to really bad consequences. It needs to stop with me. I’m making the commitment today to not only stop being an enabler, but to also stop receiving the benefits of loving acts if it means I’m being enabled long term.

I’m going to learn how to cook. Hopefully my kids will like the food I make!

Man Pulling Money Out of WalletShutterstock
David Ning

Experienced Finance Writer

David is a published author, entrepreneur and a proud dad. He firmly believes that anyone can build a solid financial foundation as long as they are willing to learn. He runs, where he discusses every day money issues to encourage the masses to think about their finances more often.


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