Am I Caring For or Enabling My Teen? One Mom’s Honest Answer

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: Am I Caring For or Enabling My Teen? One Mom’s Honest Answer

Written By: Jessica Manning

“Why am I doing this?”

I ask myself this question almost daily when I catch myself putting my kids’ dirty dishes in the dishwasher or clearing their bedrooms of months’ worth of collected stuff or putting away their clean laundry or packing them a lunchbox for their bus ride to their game. 

So often when I ponder this question, it leads to me feeling completely taken advantage of by my kids.

Am I Caring For or Enabling My Teen? One Mom’s Honest Answer


I know my kids can’t developmentally comprehend the extent of my love for them (yet, anyway), but is it too much to ask that they recognize (and maybe even appreciate) my gestures of care and love instead of just chalking them up to “things mom does?”

I do so many things for my kids that they’re fully capable of doing for themselves.

Did I mention that my boys are teenagers?

So when I say “fully capable” I mean, “at an age where they should be doing certain things themselves.” I know I’m not helping them in the long run when I enable them. I’ve even admitted to them (while doing something for them I know I shouldn’t) that their future wives are going to hate me for potentially making them incompetent and reliant on someone to care for their needs.

Part of the problem is that these gestures are my love language. I truly relish in making my boys feel loved and cared for. I know I need to back off a bit and let them do more for themselves – these are life lessons they need to learn. But I find myself justifying my actions with thoughts like:

They’re so busy. 

School is their job right now.

They’re so tired from everything they have going on.

They’re good boys, and I know they’re grateful.

And it’s all fine and dandy… until it’s not.

And I don’t care… until I do.

And I keep doing it… until I’m overwhelmed and annoyed and have repeatedly asked for help to no avail, miffed at their lack of appreciation, or what I feel to be a lack of reciprocated love.

That’s when I find myself spewing (mostly internally) a tirade of, “You’re taking advantage of me,” or,  “Other kids’ moms don’t do this much for them,” or “I love you so much, and this is what you give me in return?”

And then I vow to stop doing everything for them. I tell myself I’m not going to pick up anything of theirs for a week, make any food for them, or be their on-call chauffeur every time they need a ride.

I’ll just withhold my love in the form of not doing just to show them how lucky they are.

But let’s be honest, I know that when I’m feeling hurt or resentful, it’s my own fault. I have wavering boundaries of expectation; I’m the one who crosses them, not my kids. It’s probably even fair to say that if I’m getting taken advantage of, I’m allowing it to happen. 

I have to keep reminding myself that allowing it is not good for them and that’s why the enabling needs to stop. Oh… but it’s SO hard!

I wish I could better explain how I’ve found myself in this pattern with my kids, but I can only sum it up as somewhat faltered love. My innate desire to care for them is stifling their ability to “adult.” Unfortunately, I don’t have any quick tricks for finding a better balance between caring and enabling, but I can certainly say that recognizing enabling behaviors is step one.

Here’s where I’m at in my self-analysis: 

Control Issues

I’m very particular about my house. When it’s messy, I feel stressed. With five people living in my home, I’m constantly picking up after, well… everyone. Dirty dishes in the sink? You bet I’ll put them in the dishwasher. Piles of stuff on the counter? I definitely won’t be leaving it there.

I know I need to change my definition of “messy,” stop aiming for perfection, lower my expectations, AND expect much more of my boys. Time with my boys is fleeting. I need to care a whole lot less about “stuff” lying around the house or a few clothes on their bedroom floors and just enjoy this time I have with them while they’re living under my roof.

Over-The-Top Nurturing

I’m constantly making food for my boys – partly because I hate the thought of them being hungry, but also because I genuinely care about the food they’re eating. If I don’t make my oldest son something substantial, he will live off those frozen sausage sticks wrapped in pancakes.

What I need to remind myself, though, is that he’s old enough to make healthy food himself. And, if he chooses to skip breakfast (or another meal), that’s on him, not necessarily me. Sure, I’m going to cook for my kids, but I’m allowed to take a break – especially considering they’re fully capable of making food themselves. 

Time Keeper

I want my boys to do things on my time. Sometimes, I do things for them because I’m worried they won’t do it at all. Mostly, I do things for them because I know they’ll do it later than when I want them to. “Oh, forget it.. I’ll just do it myself,” I utter under my breath.

When my kids were little, I used to say to another school counselor I work with, “Please, don’t let me be that mom.” For example, our high school has a volunteer program, and kids have to submit their hours to eventually receive a service cord. I used to balk at the forms I could tell were completed by moms — hence “that mom.”

But I get it now! Those moms probably reminded their kids a thousand times to finish the forms and finally, threw their hands up in the air and said, “Oh… I’ll just do it!” Haven’t we all been there?

Feeling Needed Feels Good

I’ve been a mom for 16 years now, and I can hardly remember what it feels like to not have someone depend on me for their care. I love it. I savor it. And I grieve the thought of it being over. There, I said it. My whole world is wrapped up in my kids. And, I’m clinging to the feeling of being needed.

Do you see the common thread here? It’s me. These are mostly ME problems. 

I know it’s time for change. I need to do less and help them become far more independent and empowered by their capabilities. 

I’m guessing you, too, have your own list of justifications if you’re enabling your teen. From one loving mom to another, ask yourself, “Am I caring for or enabling my teen?”  If you’re enabling them, it’s time for change... for your sake AND your kids’ sake.


About Jessica Manning

Jessica is a high school counselor with over 20 years of experience working with teenagers. She earned an M.A. in school counseling and a B.A. in English and secondary education. Jessica is married to a high school principal and has three teenage boys; her current life revolves around all things teen. When not working or following her sons’ sporting events, Jessica appreciates any opportunity she gets to veg at home with her family and her dog, Phyllis. 


If you enjoyed reading, “Am I Caring For or Enabling My Teen? One Mom’s Honest Answer,” you might enjoy these posts, too!

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I’m Spoiling My Teen While I Still Can

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Kay January 11, 2024 - 12:24 pm

I think the only part that needs to happen is finding a way to be at peace with the boys experiencing the natural consequences of “not doing”. Part of that is “your mother is annoyed at you”. As long as you don’t lash out, being angry or disappointed is part of being a human. So is not going on trips or joining the sport team because you refused to get the forms signed. Or repeating a grade for not doing your work. Or getting hungry at lunch because you didn’t bring a lunch or money.

Shrug. “Yeah, that sounds like it wasn’t fun. Do you want to talk about some ways you can organize your time/set reminders so this doesn’t happen again?”

Missy Bullard January 12, 2024 - 12:23 am

Wow! I relate so much to this! I have 18 year old twins boys.


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