What Cape Are You Wearing?

Have you ever blamed someone for what they did / didn’t do?

Have you ever taken a stand against someone’s actions … only to finally see how that person’s life was partially shaped by how you’ve helped them?

There’s someone whom I’ve “helped” in several ways for a lot of years, always feeling love for them and feeling good about being able to help.

Even as this person moved from teenager to young adult to middle-aged, I’ve been there helping (or so I thought), rescuing, ensuring their life wouldn’t suddenly collapse.

But yesterday, I got a real metaphorical slap in the face when this person, whom I love a lot, needed just a small favor, one asked for many times over the years.

I wasn’t happy about it – it seemed like they could easily have done it on their own – but as this has been our “norm,” I said sure.

But something bugged me.

More than usual.

It actually felt wrong. Really, really wrong.

Surely they could have taken care of it alone … ? It wasn’t a huge emergency, but once again, there was a lack of planning on their part and a rescue needed from me.

How did they get so close to having nothing to work with? How could they not see it coming?

I stewed over it for a couple of hours, and suddenly, BANG!

Finally, I realized that we had danced to this tune for about 25 years, and I had trained them to be unable to manage on their own.

I thought I was being kind. Loving. Supportive.


I was enabling them.

Squashing their self-confidence.

Ensuring they wouldn’t even think about doing something proactive like planning / budgeting / organizing … because, why should they?

I was always there, ready to be kind, swooping in to save the day when things didn’t work out well.

Now, I finally realized that what I had been doing all these years – with the best of intentions – was enabling, which is NOT kind.

NOT loving.

It’s actually hurtful.

Totally wrong.

My actions stopped this person from growing up in a couple of essential ways, and that knowledge took far too long for me to even realize.

Finally, I did.

So, I rolled up my sleeves, reluctantly took off my “cape,” wrote, rewrote, and rewrote an email, explaining that I had been very wrong for too many years.

I apologized for never “forcing” them to think beyond asking me for help, for never saying “no.”

For never pushing them to think for themselves, to decide to take control of their life and live it.

For never working with them to figure things out, to put their abilities to work for them, to make their own decisions for now and for their future.

While I might have touched on those topics, I never enforced them. I just said “sure” when asked to help.


I finally closed the door, letting them know that I will no longer allow similar requests, because they need to work on their own future and figure out what they need, what they might need, and organize for all that.


Writing it was tough … sending it about killed me.

And so I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And … I got a most excellent and marvelous response! Agreeing and telling me they had already reached out to a friend who had offered – more than once – to help them with their planning. Supposedly they’ll meet up this week to do just that.

I can hope, right?

Of course, they’re not the only one who is learning. I’m also learning about boundaries, about how to help without enabling, and about keeping the communication lines open and honest.

Have you been in a similar situation on either side? How did you resolve the needs of both (or all) parties? What can we learn from YOU on this type of issue?


Susan Rooks
Susan Rooks
With nearly 30 years’ experience as an international workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. In 1995, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication, creating and leading workshops in three main areas – American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills – to help business pros enhance their communication skills. She also leads one-hour LinkedIn workshops (Master the LinkedIn Profile Basics) via Zoom to help business pros anywhere maximize their LinkedIn experience, offering it to Chambers of Commerce and other civic organizations free of charge. As an editor, Susan has worked on business blogs, award-winning children’s books, best-selling business books, website content, and even corporate annual reports (with clients from half a dozen countries), ensuring that all material is professionally presented.

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  1. “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.” Coaching is all about teaching someone to fish. It would be easy to work with clients and give them “the” answer, but it would be my answer, not theirs. Asking open-ended questions – What do you think…? What might…? What could…? – is sometimes frustrating to hear for those who have been spoon-fed. The key for the questioner is not to give in but to wait them out.