Thursday, October 19, 2017

enabling, disabling and re-engaging

Anybody can be angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person to the right degree at the right time for the right purpose and in the right way, that is not easy

Today I met a mother whose college-aged daughter had become belligerent and rude. When the daughter asked for something like a glass of water, the mother either complied, bringing it to her with a "Here you go, dear," or denied the request explaining that she was just too tired to get up from the couch at the end of her long day.

In the first scenario, the daughter rarely thanked the mother and, sometimes, didn't even acknowledge her.  The mother felt invisible, like her daughter was acting all entitled.  But if the mother did not comply, the daughter pressured her relentlelssly, sometimes even treating her to a litany of explosives which criticized and demeaned her.  The mother was appalled at what she perceived to be her daughter's lack of empathy.

She knew, "I'm an enabler" but her alternative strategy, to disengage, seemed to be doing more harm than good. What to do, she wondered...

The mother came from a family where you either cared for others or looked after yourself. She never learned how to engage needy others without enabling them. Not surprisingly, the mother's two gears for dealing with her daughter's requests were: enabling or disengaging. Lo and behold, she created a monster!

But there is an alternative.

The mother could make her service to others dependent on their respect. She could do this by enabling civility, at the very least by inviting them to say "please" and "thank you" before and after doing something for them.  This disables rudeness without disengaging, a pretty simple way to turn this mother's situation around.  She may not be able to control her daughter, but she is always in charge of herself.


  1. This sounds like the dynamic going on in my home with a disabled teenager who is understandably frustrated with diminishing physical capabilities, though she is still polite with everyone outside the house, in public. At home though, even requests for civility elicit rude illogical rants and swearing from my daughter. Disengaging seems to be the most peaceful (quiet) route, as I will not put up with blatant disrespect. I recognize her pain, but I don't think she realizes how this whole situation hurts me also.

    1. It must be very painful for you on many levels... If your daughter is capable of cvility, I think she would appreciate your pushing back on her a little more at home. I always think our rude teenagers feel badly when they are ugly to us when they know how much we love and care for them; yours especially since you do so much for her. I think you would be doing her a favor to insist on civility before doing anything for her! If she grumbles, just disengage untl she collaborates. You can always explain you care about her and love her, and can listen to why she is so angry, but not until she speaks to you in reasonable tones.