Are you doing more harm than good by enabling?

Cindy JobsUncategorized

Enabling is taking the easy route. 

By age five, kids should tie their own shoes, but teaching them is hard. Why is that?

  • How do you teach something you’ve done thousands of times that is such an essential life skill? 
  • Tying shoes requires dexterity and skill that may not have developed yet. 
  • Learning a new skill is hard, and kids often get frustrated and act out.

Sometimes it’s just easier to tie them ourselves, right? But, what’s the cost of not teaching our kids how to tie their shoes?

  • You are responsible for tying their shoes every time they leave the house.
  • They don’t learn the dexterity necessary for other life skills in a low-risk environment.
  • As adults, they will have to find dress shoes that only use a hook-and-loop style of closures.

Yes, the last one might be a bit extreme, but it’s true. If you never learn to tie your shoes or other life skills, your long-term options are limited.

When we don’t teach our kids to tie their shoes, we are enabling them.

My favorite definition of enabling is: to make possible, practical, or easy.” Indeed, helping your child tie their shoes falls into the enabling category. Still, when you think about life-lessons, no matter the age or relationship, there is a myriad of ways we negatively enable those around us.

Here’ are some examples of how I see parents enabling their children, stifling adult development, and not preparing them to become the highly-functioning adults they are capable of becoming:

  • Not teaching laundry skills; by doing their laundry for them.
  • Not teaching financial skills; by giving them access to the parents’ credit card, no strings (or budgets) attached.
  • Not teaching driving skills; by becoming their chauffeur or covering their rideshare costs.
  • Not teaching resilience; by never letting them fail to “protect them from disappointment.”
  • Not requiring our mature dependents to learn to live independently; by paying for their rent or letting them live at home longer than necessary.

Here are some examples of how I see employers enabling their employees, limiting the opportunity to learn, grown, and get promoted:

  • Doing mundane tasks themselves because they don’t want their employees to “get bored.”
  • Allowing employees to arrive late because “it’s not that big of a deal.”
  • Forgiving employees for not completing assignments accurately because “I must not have communicated correctly.”
  • Turning a blind eye to office pranks because “no one’s complained yet.”
  • Encouraging employees to apply for other positions because “the problem will resolve itself.”

Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios? Although I’ve never tried to teach a five-year-old to tie their shoes, the employer examples are all mine. My heart breaks that I didn’t introduce more life-skills to my team. When they left me and went out on their own, some didn’t have what they needed to succeed. My bad.

I often say there is a fine line between enabling and empathy. Empathy means I can identify with what you’re going through, but it doesn’t mean I will enable a way around it.

  • Yes, I understand tying your shoes is hard, and we will get through this together.
  • Yes, I understand it’s hard to launch into the “real world,” and I’m here to support you emotionally.
  • Yes, I understand filing is tedious, and it’s necessary to be productive in the future.
  • Yes, I understand it’s sometimes hard to get going in the morning, and if you are late one more time, there will be a note put in your personnel file.
  • Yes, I understand it’s fun to pull pranks on your co-workers, and it’s against company policy. Keep it up, and there will be consequences.

So, where might you be providing harmful enabling, not providing supportive empathy? At what consequence?

Cindy Jobs

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