Editor's Note: This article is fourth in a 6-part series on how parents can stop enabling unhealthy behaviors in their adult children. Read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Have you ever heard any of these lines from your adult child? 

  • I’m just too tired
  • But Mom, things are different today
  • You just don’t understand
  • I’ll start on Monday—I promise
  • Things will be different this time
  • It’s not my fault

When you make the decision to stop enabling your adult child, you will have to be firm in not listening to these common excuses. Real healing begins when a parent stops believing the excuses and lies, and insists on truth. As we develop our action plan for dealing with our adult child, there must be no room for excuses. Our boundaries must be firm. There is a right and a wrong… and we are going to choose to do what’s right. Period.

After years of enabling, I was getting older and wiser — but not wise enough. The subtle ways I continued to enable were becoming clearer to me, but it took a comment from my son to shake me into a reality I had never before experienced — a reality that forever removed the blinders from my eyes, giving me an empowered strength of purpose.

It started as I sat in court — not for the first time — watching my son, who waited in handcuffs and shackles to hear his fate. A long list of charges was read, my son was assigned a public defender, a court date was set, and he was given a $10,000 bail — of which ten percent would be needed for him to leave jail that day.

A stranger tapped me on the shoulder.

“I’m your son’s bail bondsman.”

My son had his own bail bondsman. How convenient.

“If you can pay the $1,000, we’ll have him out of here in no time.”

“No.”

“No?”

“That’s correct.”

He looked at me as though I’d grown a third eye and then turned shook his head at my son, who scowled in return.

The tears came again. I tried to hold them back, swallowing hard, quickly wiping my already puffy eyes with a handkerchief. My pain was so great, expressed in a seemingly nonstop flow of tears, but I was determined to remain firm.

Somehow my son managed on his own to come up with the money and with someone to guarantee the $10,000 bail in the event he didn’t show up at his hearing. He was out of jail by that afternoon, spouting a list of excuses for what he called a “bogus bust.”

A few days later I was on the phone with a close friend who had talked to my son.

“He said you refused to help him get out of jail.”

“That’s right; I did.”

“Is it true it was only $1,000?”

Only? Clearly, she didn’t understand.

“It’s not about the money anymore,” I said. “I can’t keep doing this.” Once again the tears came. I was so bone-tired from the tears, pain, anguish, and fear for his life.

“His landlord evicted him,” my friend continued. “He has to move, and it’s stressing him out. He says they haven’t got a case. There weren’t any drugs in the house.”

I wasn’t about to get into an argument with my friend; she had no idea the long list of items the SWAT team had removed from his home. She didn’t understand how many times I had sat in a courtroom listening to charges brought against my son. She had no concept of the pain I felt every time I saw my only child in handcuffs and leg chains — or the feeling of talking to him on a prison phone through thick, plate-glass panels. She hadn’t experienced the never-ending list of excuses.