I jumped up from my computer and sprinted to the front entry way. Leaping into the arms of my twenty-year-old, six-foot-tall son, I screamed, “Hi honey!” Tim was a junior at UCLA and this was his first visit in four months.
“I’m so glad you’re home,” I said, excited to see my baby boy.
“Me too, mom,” he replied, taking me into his arms and squeezing me tight. “I’ve missed you.”
Not wanting to neglect a moment of this mother/son bonding, I hung on to his massive frame. Realizing he now towered over me, I looked up into his sweet face and said, “I think you’ve grown a few inches.”
“Maybe a little. I”m not a little boy anymore,” he proudly stated, and then with a wink he announced, “I brought you a surprise.”
“You brought me a surprise?” I cried out excited. “You never bring me surprises. What is it?”
“Well, I was sitting in my room at the frat house trying to think of something I could get you that would bring back memories of us,” he replied, while carefully detaching my arms from his neck. “I know it must get pretty lonely here now that all of us are gone.”
Astounded at his new found sensitivity, warmth and caring, I anxiously waited to open my gift. He was learning more in college than ever I expected.
“Where is it?”
Leaning over and kissing me again on the cheek, he stepped aside and pointed at the pile of belongings by the front door, “There!”
“There? There where?” I asked looking around.
Against the wall, all I saw were his golf clubs, suitcase and an overstuffed duffel bag that stood almost as tall as him. Picking the sack up, he smiled and said, “I brought you a project.”
“You brought me your dirty clothes?” I asked, annoyed and a little confused.
“Yeah! I’m sure life isn’t the same around here without it. Don’t worry,” he laughed while hugging me once more. “It’s only three months worth and I’ve sorted the whites from the darks.”
Dragging the bag to the laundry room, he proceeded to dump what appeared to be at least eight loads all over the floor – whites, darks, towels, sheets and extremely smelly athletic apparel. Smiling broadly at what he perceived to be a wonderful accomplishment, he leaned into my ear and said, “I love you mom.” And off he went to make phone calls to his buddies.
I know I should be angry, I thought to myself, looking at the mountain range erupting at my feet, as if a 9.0 angry earthquake had just exploded forcing the entire earth’s surface upward. I can just hear what all my friends will say, “Jackie, you’re too easy on your kids. You’re just enabling them.”
Now I know what an enabler is: someone who makes it easier for an addict (in my case my lazy child) to continue their behavior by rescuing them from their consequences or by supportive actions that fuel their habit.
For twenty-seven years, my main occupation had been raising four rambunctious kids. It was a job I took seriously and executed with pride. I wanted life to be stress-free, fun and magical.
Was I the typical helicopter mother who hovered over head, roto-blades swooshing in concentric circles with lightening speed, ready to swoop down at a moments notice to bail them out? Absolutely!
If a lunch or homework assignment was forgotten, I appeared on the playground at recess to hand it over. When a science project was due the next day and missing that one key ingredient (at 10:00 pm), off I ran to Walgreen’s to pick it up. And to protect their little feet and bodies, I drove them to and from school everyday, even though the campus was only half a mile away. Heavy backpacks can destroy a young persons spine for the rest of their lives!
Yes. No doubt about it – I was an enabler, but I like to think this word, which typically conjures a negative response, meant something positive too.
In my opinion, to enable can also mean to turn on, to activate knowledge, trigger creative tendencies, initiate a spiritual life and set in motion the freedom to make choices that are right for an individual. Enabling gives the power to take control of a situation and one’s life.
Folding Tim’s laundry that evening, piles began to form on every surface of the family room. As I separated sporting attire from school clothes, it dawned on me that I was not just an enabler of my children, but of myself as well.
Throughout my life, there have been times where I’ve been extremely lazy and relied on others to help me when I was quite capable of doing the task myself. When my computer acted up, instead of reading the directions on how to solve the problem, I called my daughter, Lauren, to rescue me. Why should I labor over the written word when I have a technological genius in the family? When the bill comes after dinner with my girlfriends, and I’m too lazy to find my calculator and glasses in the bottom of my purse to figure out the tip, I hand the receipt over to the ladies to handle it.
But also I have my positive moments. I maybe slothful when it comes to doing what I perceive as life’s minutia (boring daily chores), but when it comes to personal growth, I’m a zealous activist. After my divorce, I began to see that my life was now just that – mine. I took writing classes, took on a new career in real estate, tackled the dating world after being committed to one man for twenty-seven years and found new strength in my spiritual life by delving into my inner soul. I was never going to allow another human being the ability to take control again. It was up to me to see to it that my world would be rich and rewarding.
The key to enabling (whether it’s of yourself or those you love) is to know how much to give in any situation. This knowledge comes by knowing yourself. When we are truly connected with all that we are, we are in control and generate our own life experiences. Self-awareness gives us the options for discovering how to reach success, personal fulfillment and ultimately, happiness.
I’m here to proclaim it’s perfectly alright to be an enabler (as long as it’s not with drugs or alcohol). Permit yourself to do the things that help you grow and make you happy – even if others may disagree.
I happen to actually love doing the kid’s laundry. It takes me back to a simpler time for all of us. I do draw the line at paying their speeding tickets or other indiscretions with the law.