Debt and Receiving Gifts: Enabling or Encouraging?

FFC = Friend from Childhood
FFCM = Friend from Childhoods’ Mom
DD1 = Dear First Daughter
DH = Dear Husband
                 A friend from my childhood (FFC) was among the guests at my 50th birthday party in June, as was her mom (FFCM). After greeting them at the door, I opened the cards they had brought. Both FFC and her mom are readers of this blog, so they were in the know about our debts and the details of our journey out of debt so far. They knew, for instance, that I had planned to travel out west to visit DD1 this summer, using money from my discretionary fund that I would “carefully budget” over the months. They knew that I had not budgeted carefully enough and that a very sweet gesture on the part of DH – who cashed in his fifteen-months change jar and gave me the $600 total – allowed me to buy my plane ticket. (See post from June 1: “Discretionary Spending . . .”)
                FFC had included $100 in my birthday card, along with a wish for a great trip. When I opened FFCM’s card, I became weepy. “Oh come on now,” she said. “It’s just a 50 with an extra 0.” The generosity of FFC and FFCM had set me up to cover the expenses of my week out west. There would be no stress in calling a cab or in taking the ferry. I’d be able to treat DD1 to some meals out and maybe a play.
                So have I been spoiled? I think so. DH provided for the plane ticket. FFC and FFCM ensured an abundance of spending money. This was supposed to be the big test to see if I could manage a discretionary fund well enough over the course of a year to take a much desired trip. As it turned out, I failed – but I’m still going on the trip. Am I being enabled? I don’t think so.

Enabling? or generously helping?

                “Are You Empowering or Enabling?”is an article written July 11, 2012 by Drs. Morteza and Karen Khaleghi for Psychology Today. “In one sense, ‘enabling’ has the same meaning as ‘empowering.’  It means lending a hand to help people accomplish things they could not do by themselves. More recently, however, it has developed the specialized meaning of offering help that perpetuates rather than solves a problem.  A parent who allows a child to stay home from school because he hasn’t studied for a test is enabling irresponsibility.” As a society, I believe we are waking up to the fact that tough love is sometimes the best love to offer. Asserting firm boundaries; saying “no”; letting people live with the consequences of their actions; avoiding the tendency to rescue friends and family from a mess of their own making; sending that son to school – when he hasn’t bothered to study – to face that test. It’s a much needed societal shift.
                But is there still room for the encouragement of a helping hand? For mercy instead of justice?
In the words of Shakespeare, mercy “is twice blest / It blesseth him that gives and him that takes / . . . It is an attribute to God himself.” So how do you judge whether it’s best to go with your generous instinct or to withhold? Morteza and Khaleghi offer a checklist of questions to distinguish between enabling and empowering. Among the questions are these two:
  •  Do you find yourself resenting the responsibilities you take on?
  • Do you continue to offer help when it is never appreciated or acknowledged?
              FFC and FFCM were glowing when they offered me those birthday cards, just as DH clearly felt blessed when he handed over that money from his change jar. There was no resentment on their parts. And what about my part? Was the help offered appreciated? Very deeply.
                Yesterday, I submitted my summer school marks and started my holiday. In two days, I’ll be flying out west to see DD1. Some would say, “You deserve it!” Others would say, “You don’t.” But I wouldn’t say either. I would say that I’ve received a gift for which I’m very grateful. And I intend to enjoy it thoroughly. I would say I’m blessed.

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  1. Beautiful, insightful post. I think the ability to graciously receive generosity is a beautiful quality too. And you demonstrate this in your post. I’ve had the experience of being generous with someone and then feeling like an enabler. I believe the generosity just set them up to crave more; to become more dependent. Asserting a boundary in that case was a blessing to all involved including to the person I was enabling. I appreciate the distinction now between empowering vs enabling, supporting vs caretaking.

  2. Thank you, Laurie. The line between harmful enabling and helpful support is very hard to discern, and people with a generous nature find it difficult to hold that line. Well done for asserting that boundary where you needed to.

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