Mothering or Enabling?

When I first came to Al‑Anon, I spent a great deal of time wrestling with the term, “enabling.” I am a mother. Surely a mother’s role is to enable her children, is it not? It has been a struggle to understand, let alone accept, that the behavior I viewed as that of a good mother was actually unhealthy! All my life I have held the belief that a good mother encourages her children, fixes their problems, fights their battles and cooks and cleans for them. Surely a good mother is in service to her children.

With the help of Al‑Anon, I have begun to learn that being a good mother means loving my children but also allowing them to live their lives. My children should have the right to learn life’s lessons in their time, their way. I owe them that. Doing everything for them, unintentionally or not, would do more harm than good! By placing my children’s lives ahead of my own, I was doing everyone a disservice, especially myself.

What a phenomenal moment when I realized that what I was doing for my children was actually the opposite of why I was doing it. Wow—the freedom of that weight being removed from my shoulders! Not only could I stop the exhausting experience of doing it all for everyone, but it opened the door to self-exploration by allowing my children the freedom to live their lives. I found I now had the time and desire to look at myself, take care of myself, and define myself.

By Stephanie W., Ontario

The Forum, September 2017

2017-12-04T15:34:18+00:00September 12, 2017|Categories: Alcoholic Child, Alcoholic Sibling, Alcoholic Spouse or Partner, The Forum|


  1. Teresa August 2018 at 10:06 pm

    I’ve been going to Al-Anon for 6 years. I can’t imagine my life without those meetings. I learned that indeed I was the one who needed to change. My son was the addict/alcoholic and I was trying to manage his recovery. My husband rescued him every time he got evicted from an apartment. Something needed to change so we went to a Parents Al-Anon meeting. I was greeted by other parents suffering as I was. And I learned right away that the meetings were for ME, not to learn how to help my son. But by having the courage to attend the meetings, and practicing the tools they give you, it actually did help my son. I got off his case and started letting him figure things out for himself. His confidence grew and our relationship got back on track. He’s almost 3 years sober and I’m still going to meetings. He has his recovery, and I have mine. He has his higher power and I have mine. I tried to BE his higher power but surely you know how that must have worked out. I will be forever grateful to Al-Anon, the rooms that are filled with love, support, and wisdom, and the literature and serenity prayer. Al-Anon is the best gift I could give myself.

  2. Gina August 2018 at 7:46 am

    My 28 year old daughter is an alcoholic and lies about everything to everyone. I live in OR and she in CA. January I found out about her drinking problem 😢 fifth of vodka daily for over a year. She could function and you’d not know she had been drinking. Lied about having a job too. I flew down in hopes of taking her to detox. Clearance from the hospital is required with a heavy drinker. At the hospital she was .5 and had to stay over a week. After her release she would go on a 3 day binge every 7-10 days. During that time send texts to others pretending to be me saying she was in the ER. Brought her to OR in May. (I wish she were under 18). My first codependency appointment is tomorrow

  3. Davena July 2018 at 4:58 pm

    My biggest struggle with my husbands Alcoholism is his mother. I for months now have refused to buy alcohol for my husband, so to avoid any conflict his mother will buy it. I can not understand her logic having grown up in a physically violent alcoholic household. As a child she had no friends, she was terrified and yet here she is enabling her son allowing my children, her grandchildren to grow up in a similar fashion, its difficult enough to watch the man i love slowly kill himself but to have her aide that. How do i deal with her without losing my mind???????

  4. Karla June 2018 at 2:42 pm

    After having read these comments’ I’m really not sure how I feel now. I’m not the one with the addiction, my daughter is. The best way I can tell to handle this drinking problem of hers is for her to experience tough love at this point. Too many years I’ve tried to help. I’m exhausted, physically, mentally and financially drained. I would love to think that going to one of these meeting is going to help me, but from what I just read Al-Anon is teaching the loved ones to change their patterns of behavior. I’m sorry I just don’t agree with that…. My daughter ..the alcoholic needs to be the one to change …not me. She’s 28 and has been an alcoholic since her teens. I once found a half gallon of vodka hidden in her closet…she was 14 for crying out loud. Had gotten it from a friends house. The stocked bar of the friends dad….he never missed it. It’s been a roller coaster ride from hell. She is really intelligent. Graduated top of her class and a year early at that was accepted to Sam Houston State University at barely 17 years of age. Had so much potential. Unfortunately not any more I’m afraid. Just sad and angry these days. About time for this momma to just disappear.

  5. Carol F. April 2018 at 5:21 pm

    My 37 year old son is an alcoholic and meth abuser. He moved home last year after losing his job. He works for us as we own a couple of small motels. After almost destroying our business he is now on work release for the next 6 months. He knows he can’t drink or use meth because it will revoke his agreement but he refuses to admit he has an alcohol or drugs problem. Meanwhile his dad….my wonderful husband has been diagnosed with cancer and is receiving treatment which only multiplies the stress. I need help dealing with all of this.

  6. Jane T April 2018 at 12:03 pm

    I have a 38 year old daughter who spent 90 days in rehab. The circumstances surrounded her going to rehab were very traumatic to our family. She was having seizures and coded in the ER. My husband witnessed this, and has triggered PTSD. Daughter completed the 90 days, went back home to her husband and directly into a three month out patient program. During the time she was attending the three month program her husband announced he was leaving and gave 30 day notice to their landlord. Prior to all of this my daughter was thriving, had a great secure job, and quit. Her husband was angry. 30days later he left her without a home, no support and did not offer any money. Daughter had a neighbor who offered her a place to live, for a small amount of rent. Her husband agreed to start giving her money after she went to an attorney. However, she will not go through with a divorce and they are always fighting about money (his income is quite well). They really have no bills and he’s also renting a room for a small monthly amount. My daughter attending AA and is mentally unhealthy. Her dad and brother will not talk to her, because she still has bouts of alcohol thinking and will not move forward, she’s stuck. It’s very difficult being a mom right now.

  7. Patty January 2018 at 6:25 pm

    I feel both anxiety and compassion reading all the posts I have read. I searched this site today because yesterday my son admitted for the first time to being an alcoholic (after another close encounter with death in his vehicle). I and others have believed he is an alcoholic for several years already. What a huge step for him. I looked here for support to see what is best for me to do to support him and to not enable him as I have in the past. What I can share is that I have attended Al-Anon periodically and found the people who attended to be very genuine and honest in their sharing and how they use the program to help themselves through. I still feel somewhat awkward but safe. Over and over, there is profound growth they have had in following the steps at whatever pace worked for them. I have made some efforts in doing the steps and read some materials and have found the support very helpful. I also use other support systems. It’s hard to accept that I did not cause it and I cannot cure it, but when I accept this I can come from a more loving place to support my son and myself. I will be going back to meetings to get more support. They welcome me to come as needed and there is no pressure to show up or to do anything specific.It is my responsibility to do the work for my own recovery and no one else’s. Same for the alcoholic. I highly recommend attending Al-Anon and allowing yourself to receive support even if it’s just to know you are not alone in this.

  8. Debbie January 2018 at 11:43 pm

    My spouse is an alcoholic, although he would disagree. I am struggling with attending a meeting not sure if could help me. I am not sure what I am going through but feel lonely, confused, mad and so unhappy. I am not sure if a meeting would be helpful for me to attend. Really contemplating this next move for me.

  9. Holli December 2017 at 3:52 pm

    I went to my Al-Anon meeting on 12/07. I am so grateful to have this group of people that are just like me! I’m not the only one! This is the first step in my recovery process. I am so ready. I have been dealing (very badly) with an acoholic daughter and drug addict son for 13 years now. Wish me luck as I let go and let God!

  10. Nancy December 2017 at 5:09 pm

    This was such an encouragement to me! I am thrilled that my sibling has 25 years of being sober, as of last month! But understanding the basics, that Al-Anon shows, it is great to help me create and maintain a healthy relationship with him!

  11. Mike W. November 2017 at 10:43 am

    Wow! Reading all these posts on Thanksgiving morning. So many people in need. You’re in the right place, keep coming back and you will find the help you seek! Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  12. Janice November 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Just put our 31 year old daughter in rehab. 2nd time since we retired in June. After 32 years of teaching, helping, and providing support for many, I am broken. She’s lost 11 year relationship, and trust of siblings. Our family of 6 was pretty dang good and I’m mourning. May have to seek counseling

  13. Marchell November 2017 at 6:03 pm

    Going to my 1st meeting scared as heck. I have to for my sanity. My 23 yr old is a drug addict pill user and drinker. Lost multiple jobs since out of prison 14 months ago. Was in for 15 months for assault. He’s a liar manipulator. And I’m the enabler. Will it ever stop. I can’t do it anymore. My heart is breaking.

  14. Karen November 2017 at 2:33 am

    My son is 29 and addicted to alcohol. I’ve been divorced from his dad since 1989, he was an alcoholic, addict of cocaine and sex. I’m remarried to a wonderful man. My son admits he has a problem but doesn’t know what to do. How can I help? He lives a hour from me. I sense hopelessness and depression… I want my son back!

  15. Renee November 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I started to go to Al-Anon years ago because my life was terrible at the time. It took me a long time to work up the courage to go but it’s been totally worth it. Within 6 months, my 13 year old daughter started to do drugs. That made my life worse for a while but I had the greatest group of people to help me deal with that crisis and I got desperate enough to ask someone to be my sponsor. Today 6 years later my daughter still does drugs but I’m not totally crazy. I have hope that my younger boy won’t go down that path. I lost my home and my car. But God brought me to a better home and a nicer car. My daughter and her boyfriend live in my home. They take care of their bills and pay rent and we are able to have family dinners together often. I can’t fix my girl but I am doing my part to to live my life and let her live hers. Ps. They suggest going to 6 different meetings before settling on a home group. I did this. When I first got to Al-Anon my life was hopeless. Now my life is like a fairy tale whether the alcoholic is drinking or not. My life has changed but so has my perspective.

  16. Carol November 2017 at 12:45 pm

    I have been going through this roller coaster with my son for years. He is an alcoholic, and spinning out of control. He can no longer keep things together, and function. He very recently lost his job (which was a good thing). His job was a very big source of his enabling, and drinking buddies. The drinking buddies were NOT friends, they actually used him as their entertainment. He had a great job with a good wage and benefits, but went back to this previous job, and now fired from it. He leaves and I have no idea where he is for days, because he is on his black out benders. He is in denial, and refuses to think that he is an alcoholic. He is not paying his bills, now has a fine for public drunkenness and public urination, and I like a fool, gave him the $25.00 monthly payment last month, so the police department wouldn’t put a warrant out for his arrest. HUGE mistake on my behalf. This time around, I have pad locked the doors, and securely locked the windows, because he will open them from the outside, and crawl through the windows to get into the house. I looked up the local Al-Anon meetings, and know that I must go to get the knowledge on how to handle all of this crisis before I lose my sanity.

  17. Aron October 2017 at 3:20 pm

    My son, 38 went to rehab in 2008 for drugs and alcohol. While in rehab he met his wife, they have now been married 6 years with 2 children. My son started to drink again 4 years ago, so did his wife (also went to rehab) about 3 weeks ago things blew up bad. He relapsed, police were called, lots of drama. My husband and I were called when the police were at their house to help with the children. It was and is still a mess. We have now been banned by my son and his wife, no contact. I am concerned about the children. We think my son moved out of his home and has been in a sober living house for almost a month. It is a very helpless feeling.

  18. Maureen D. October 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Do keep coming back. It is suggested that we attend at least 6 meetings before making a decision whether or not to stay. Try other meetings.

  19. Jan October 2017 at 9:37 pm

    My son is 29, an alcoholic and addict. He is living with me now. He can’t get his own place because his credit is bad and he spends all his money on alcohol. He just went through his first hospital detox, but left the program after 3 days. That was 3 weeks ago and he is drinking again. I’m so tired and discouraged.

  20. Deb October 2017 at 11:18 am

    First meetings are often uncomfortable. It really does help to keep going.

  21. Lori b. October 2017 at 2:30 pm

    I had to do the same thing, called the cops to do a “well check”. I was able to have the peace of mind that she was ok.

  22. Lorra October 2017 at 9:05 pm

    Looking for an answer! I’ve been a mother/enabler and always hoping that this will be the last time that he (my oldest son) gets in trouble and I help. My other 2 kids stopped talking to me, they are concerned that I’m spreading my self very thin for him by using money for bail and lawyers etc.

  23. Dianne K. September 2017 at 6:24 pm

    i have a 20 year old son who is in a rehab at present going on 30 days. I want to ask him is he aware of all the damage he has done….I want to ask him about ALL the lies he told….I want to see him grovel and be a lot more humble than he is showing…what is wrong with me?

  24. Kathy P. September 2017 at 9:29 am

    I have a daughter who struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. Her drinking is becoming a huge concern. My daughter knows what to do but isn’t ready to help herself. I feel helpless, it’s hard to watch her suffer. My daughter does not live at home, she is 31 years old. She is of the impression she can, her words “fix herself and I sometimes really do not know what is best.”
    Right now she is angry with me and does not plan on calling me any time soon. Yesterday her boyfriend who’s away on a business trip, called my youngest daughter, concerned for my daughter’s safety. (this happened once before and I didn’t do anything) apparently she had been drinking excessively, called work saying she needed a mental health day and told her boss she was not doing well.
    My daughter was making threatening comments about her life to her boyfriend and similar things to my youngest daughter. I didn’t now what to do so I called mental health, they advised I call the police. I did. Now my daughter isn’t talking to me because I phoned the police. I responded to her email, yes I did call the police because I was scared for her safety and well being. I said, I care about what is happening to you. I do not know what to do how to do it. I am a caregiver maybe I enable, I don’t know. I just know it took everything I had to call the police rather than go to her home. Try and talk to her under the influence, watch her, try and help herself until the next time. Next time just escalates into something more. I’m looking to go to Al-Anon meetings to learn how to cope with my daughter’s choices and learn new ways to be a better support system for my daughter.

  25. Hope September 2017 at 9:30 pm

    I don’t know what meeting to pick, my son is an alcoholic, drug addict, thief and manipulator. He’s ruining my marriage to my husband who has given him so much since his release from jail. I am just falling apart from keeping so much inside.

  26. Lynn September 2017 at 10:57 am

    You might try a different meeting, as each one is different. Perhaps your friend could go with you for the first time. You don’t have to do it alone. I hope you find the help you need.

  27. Gay September 2017 at 7:59 pm

    I am afraid. I don’t like anything new. I talked to a friend and she suggested Alanon. Been once and really was uncomfortable. Don’t know why. I came from an alcoholic home.

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