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Three years ago my daughter had a baby out of wedlock. The father of the child, however, turned out to be a cheater and she broke up with him. Two and a half years ago I moved across the country to take care of my grandson while she worked. Childcare is very expense here and my grandson’s hyperactivity could make for a problem in daycare. The father of the child lives here, so moving isn’t an option. Some people think I am enabling her and worry that she won’t learn what she needs to learn. So am I enabling her by helping out?
Your daughter is fortunate to have your help with her son. Clearly, she didn’t plan to end up as a single mother, so any help you give her would most assuredly be a welcome relief. The question about enabling isn’t always straightforward, as there are many factors to consider. It’s common sense that stepping in to help your daughter with this unfortunate turn of events is an act of needed service, especially in the beginning. However, at some point it’s necessary to look closely at your efforts to make sure they’re not creating more problems.
By definition, enabling your daughter means that you are keeping her stuck in a dysfunctional pattern of living that prevents her from improving her situation. This takes an honest assessment of your situation from both you and your daughter. Here are a few questions you can ask as you evaluate your reality:
- Is your daughter seeking to improve her ability to provide financially for her son by seeking education, training, or other career-building opportunities?
- Is your daughter showing regular gratitude for your efforts over the past two and a half years?
- Does your daughter take over care of her son when she’s home so you can have a break, or does she continue to live her own life without taking responsibility for her son?
- Does your daughter have an “exit strategy” for you?
- Do you feel like you’re taking care of both your daughter and her son, or do you feel you have a co-parent and adult relationship with her?
- Does the father of the child also have a financial obligation he’s meeting? Is he contributing as well to the care for the child?
If your daughter is embracing this gift of having you available to care for her son by improving her life financially, relationally, and emotionally, then there will likely come a time in the near future when it won’t make sense for her to need your help anymore. The two parents of this child are ultimately responsible for his well-being. However, if your daughter is truly left to her own to care for this child, then your involvement is making a difference.
Alma taught the early church members a principle about caring for one another that can guide your decisions about your daughter’s situation. He taught that the people “should impart of their substance, every one according that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.”[i] Ideally, your daughter should be moving from a place of receiving, to caring for herself and her son, and then to giving generously to others. To keep her in a perpetual state of receiving weakens everyone.
Of course, please keep in perspective that there is nothing wrong with you staying to care for your grandson. Intergenerational households are common throughout the world, so there’s no need to automatically assume that you’re creating more problems by being there. There is a strong modern cultural pressure to be independent. Healthy relationships are a mixture of dependence and independence. If it’s truly interdependent, then ultimately both of you will benefit and grow from the arrangement.
It all really depends on both of your long-term goals. If you have other aspirations pulling at you back home, then there needs to be a plan for you to eventually move on with your life. On the other hand, if you’re all thriving and enjoying this time together, then, by all means, continue forward!
Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you and your daughter are talking openly and regularly about her situation. Be honest about your observations and needs. Let her know your limits and availability. Challenge her to continue growing so she can care for her son and herself. Encourage her to hold her son’s father accountable in caring for their son. You don’t have to quietly continue forward hoping something will change. As you evaluate, discuss, and modify your situation, you can rest assured that you won’t be enabling your daughter.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Mosiah 18:27