Gracious verses Enabling

What is the difference between being gracious and enabling? I see confusion of this issue regularly in my pastoral work with families.

Take the example of a mother with an alcoholic son. Mom loves her son and wants to help him any way she can. She is the epitome of graciousness. But somewhere in her attempt to treat her son in a loving way she has crossed a line into enabling behavior. Her "love" has turned into provision, she provides what her son needs to continue his drinking. He may be 30 years old and without a job, but she continues to make sure he has a bed to sleep in and a few dollars to spend...which he uses to buy beer. She has become an enabler. And even if she realizes what she is doing, changing seems impossible or too risky.

The short answer to my question is this: to be gracious is to do for someone what they cannot do for themselves, to enable is do for someone what they can and should be doing for themselves.

The way out of the enabling dilemma is to define responsibilities. To continue my example of the mom with an alcoholic son, the enabling mom must give back personal responsibility to her son. Until her son has to take responsibility for his own life, and the fact that it has become unmanageable due to his drinking, he will not change.

I know there is so much more to this issue. In this post I only want to highlight what I believe is one of the complicated barriers to change, recognition of the role of the enabler.

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