Relationship Connection: Am I enabling my daughter by providing daycare for her son?

Stock image, St. George News

Question

Three years ago my daughter had a baby out of wedlock. The father of the child, however, turned out to be a cheater and she broke up with him. Two and a half years ago I moved across the country to take care of my grandson while she worked.

Childcare is very expensive here and my grandson’s hyperactivity could make for a problem in daycare. The father of the child lives here, so moving isn’t an option. Some people think I am enabling her and worry that she won’t learn what she needs to learn. So am I enabling her by helping out?

Answer

Your daughter is fortunate to have your help with her son. Clearly, she didn’t plan to end up as a single mother, so any help you give her would most assuredly be a welcome relief. The question about enabling isn’t always straightforward, as there are many factors to consider. It’s common sense that stepping in to help your daughter with this unfortunate turn of events is an act of needed service, especially in the beginning. However, at some point it’s necessary to look closely at your efforts to make sure they’re not creating more problems.

By definition, enabling your daughter means that you are keeping her stuck in a dysfunctional pattern of living that prevents her from improving her situation. This takes an honest assessment of your situation from both you and your daughter. Here are a few questions you can ask as you evaluate your reality:

  • Is your daughter seeking to improve her ability to provide financially for her son by seeking education, training, or other career-building opportunities?
  • Is your daughter showing regular gratitude for your efforts over the past two and a half years?
  • Does your daughter take over care of her son when she’s home so you can have a break, or does she continue to live her own life without taking responsibility for her son?
  • Does your daughter have an “exit strategy” for you?
  • Do you feel like you’re taking care of both your daughter and her son, or do you feel you have a co-parent and adult relationship with her?
  • Does the father of the child also have a financial obligation he’s meeting? Is he contributing as well to the care for the child?

If your daughter is embracing this gift of having you available to care for her son by improving her life financially, relationally, and emotionally, then there will likely come a time in the near future when it won’t make sense for her to need your help anymore. The two parents of this child are ultimately responsible for his well-being. However, if your daughter is truly left to her own to care for this child, then your involvement is making a difference.

Ideally, your daughter should be moving from a place of receiving, to caring for herself and her son, and then to giving generously to others. To keep her in a perpetual state of receiving weakens everyone.

Of course, please keep in perspective that there is nothing wrong with you staying to care for your grandson. Intergenerational households are common throughout the world, so there’s no need to automatically assume that you’re creating more problems by being there. There is a strong modern cultural pressure to be independent. Healthy relationships are a mixture of dependence and independence. If it’s truly interdependent, then ultimately both of you will benefit and grow from the arrangement.

It all really depends on both of your long-term goals. If you have other aspirations pulling at you back home, then there needs to be a plan for you to eventually move on with your life. On the other hand, if you’re all thriving and enjoying this time together, then, by all means, continue forward!

Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you and your daughter are talking openly and regularly about her situation. Be honest about your observations and needs. Let her know your limits and availability. Challenge her to continue growing so she can care for her son and herself. Encourage her to hold her son’s father accountable in caring for their son. You don’t have to quietly continue forward hoping something will change. As you evaluate, discuss, and modify your situation, you can rest assured that you won’t be enabling your daughter.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • Proud Rebel June 7, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Sounds to me like you are what you’re doing is being a Godsend for your daughter! But do look at the questions Geoff has asked. If you answer these questions, and find you are not being taken advantage of, the tell those “some people,” to mind their own business.

  • Sapphire June 7, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Seriously? Enabling? “Ideally, your daughter should be moving from a place of receiving, to caring for herself and her son”. She sounds like she is! Young people often make stupid choices but most grow up and become responsible. On what planet would it be more beneficial to throw a little child into a daycare situation than have a loving grandparent care for them while the mother is at work? Or to spend hours after work getting a degree so she can earn more money and again pay for outsiders to care for her child, abandoning him further. Being a mother is a full time deal and she is already having to work to support herself and her child as well. If she is grateful, why rock the boat? What else could you do that would be more important? Kuddos to grandparents and other family that are filling in while families disintegrate in our disposable society.

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