I knew her when I was younger. A sweet woman who struggled with rebellious children. Instead of letting them experience the consequences of their poor choices, she repeatedly handed them money to pay for their mistakes and paid their bail when their sins led to jail stints. She called it unconditional love; I called it enabling.
Jesus told a story of a father who loved unconditionally but who learned to differentiate between that and enabling. The younger son told his father, “I want my share of your estate now before you die.” So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons (Luke 15:12 NLT).
Distinguishing the line of demarcation between unconditional love and enabling isn’t always easy for parents, but it’s possible. I remember the call I once received about my adult son: “If we can’t come up with $600, he’s going to jail.” Unconditional love tempted me to say, “Okay I’ll send it,” but knowing I’d be enabling led me to say no.
When a parent loves a child unconditionally, they set no limits…no “I love you ifs.” Rather there is an “I love you regardless” mindset. Regardless of whether you make all A’s, even if you live with your partner before marriage, when you never darken the church doors, and yes, even if your bad decision lands you in jail.
But when a parent enables, they help a child continue unhealthy patterns by rescuing them. If a child is repentant-as the prodigal was, then they should be assisted as the father in the story illustrates, but continuing to help when there’s no evidence of remorse only enables them to continue down their wayward path.
Let God give you wisdom to know when to help your children and when to permit them to feel the heat of their decisions.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we recognize You as our perfect parent. Grant us good judgment to shepherd our children as You shepherd us.
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