Distance vs. detachment?

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by BackintheSaddle, Feb 8, 2014.

  1. BackintheSaddle

    BackintheSaddle Active Member

    Good morning-- I wondered whether you all have thought about 'degrees of detachment' in that in some cases, when our adult kids have repeated things over and over again and demonstrated a true inability or unwillingness to accept responsibility many times, that's when we need to totally detach from their lives...but detachment seems like too strong of a word (or pursuit) to achieve with a younger (or older) adult child that hasn't had the same patterns over time, may show signs of promise/hope in their attitude, etc...detachment to me is a word that conveys that I will have nothing to do with my difficult child and I don't like that feeling...my difficult child is 19...10 years from now I may feel differently but there is hope at this point that he will turn himself around...I don't want to 'give up on him' yet but I do want to protect myself from him and 'distance' myself from his drama and dysfunction...are there degrees of detachment? some posts here seem to indicate that you are not in contact with your difficult child for months or even years...some posts I can't tell...did you work your way 'up to' total detachment so that you're not in touch with them for a year or more? I'm not going to stop trying to reach my difficult child but I'm also not willing to be abused by him...I feel inclined to contact him maybe weekly just to check in...he's not responding to me anyhow but I want him to know that if he ever is ready for help (or to get his own place so he's out of my parents' house), I'll help him...at what point does remaining 'in touch' become enabling? that seems like a fairly straightforward line to me (being in touch doesn't mean you're doing anything to support how they're living)-- is it to you? if I'm in touch and he's abusive (verbally), then that tells me to distance myself even more...but I don't know...I have read the detachment article and am aware of what is written about it but i wondered if others have thought about 'degrees' of it because the full list of detachment (which for many seems to imply no contact AT ALL), isn't what I'd want for my life...
  2. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    I thought about all of that as well as I was maneuvering myself through all of this. I think asking those questions is actually a part of the process. I think as we progress, we have to come to terms with our own set of values and our own boundaries against the behaviors that our difficult child's bring to our lives.

    I do not think that detaching means cutting all ties with our kids. I think that when our kids are younger and as you mentioned show promise of change, show signs of taking responsibility, then it would seem appropriate to stay connected as you observe their commitment and intention to actually make the changes.

    I also think detachment is more about us then it is about them. It is us determining what our boundaries are around behaviors which harm us, disrespect us, manipulate us, lie to us, lie by omission to us, are abusive or violent to us, in other words, to make sure we are treated with dignity and respect. We would demand that of anyone we are in relationship with.

    I think our attachments are about control. Once our kids reach adulthood, there is little if anything we can actually do to change them, I think we have to learn to accept that and let go of trying to control their lives. So, much of this process is about us changing. That's all we have the power to do.

    For me detaching from my daughter means that I have little contact with her right now, but if she were to make some changes in her life where she demonstrated taking responsibility and that she meant to move ahead out of the manipulations of others to get her needs met and wanted to take another path, I would be right there willing to help her. She knows that, I have made that clear. She and I still have limited contact, holidays, email, FB, and occasional face time.................here is the bottom line of that, which I think is important to note, as I set boundaries around the behaviors that harmed me, she is the one who distanced herself from me. I did not make some statement that this is it, you are out of here, all I really did was continue to set boundaries, one step at a time, one day at a time, limiting her actions which hurt me............she is the one who detached physically.

    As we know, detachment is a process. It is not linear. It is all over the map. It takes so much time because we the parents have to go through so much letting go along the way.

    Your son is still young. You've begun the process. He will be the one who really initiates how much you detach from him by the behaviors he exhibits with you which do you harm and hurt you. If he changed and goes in a positive direction, you will be right there to assist him. If he doesn't, you will be working on your detaching skill set. It is entirely up to him how he is going to be................you are going to simply be responding to him...........either by moving towards him or by moving away, to protect yourself and your family. If he is going to self destruct, there is nothing you can do.

    I think checking in with your son once a week is absolutely appropriate. I contact my daughter via email or FB about once a week too..............she rarely if ever responds. For me, the truth is that my daughter usually only gets in touch with me when she needs something. Hard to even say, but it's the truth.

    Remember BITS, there is no right or wrong way, only your way, what you can live with, what feels right to you. We all do our very best under extraordinary circumstances............

    Remaining in touch is not enabling.

    My guideline was always, enabling feels bad, loving kindness feels good. That got me through a lot of the trying to figure it out part. It is not a linear process, I don't think you can figure it out with your mind.............it leads us to acceptance and most of us don't know much about how to do that, it goes against EVERYTHING.

    Love is always there for our kids, no matter what they do or who they are. However, we may never be able to change who they are or what they do, but we can absolutely change our reactions and responses to them.

    I think most of us here have some contact with our kids. And, the ones who don't, it is probably because their kids don't want contact with them. I am not sure what "total" detachment is. Detachment is letting go of what we can't control which leads us to acceptance where we truly understand that we cannot change what is, all we can do is learn to live with that uncertainty and be okay with it. We can learn to respond differently. We can learn to accept and be okay with things as they are.

    You're doing a good job BITS, your inquires are thoughtful, earnest and filled with love for your child. Unfortunately our amazing love for them can't change them, only they can do that.

    Sending you a truckload of hugs and comforting thoughts................
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  3. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    No, detachment doesn't mean total cutoff all the time. It's very different in every situation. I had two kids who were asked to leave. One was the child I now call 36 because he was scaring the bejeezus out of me. I seriously thought he'd hit me if I didn't make him leave. He was very intimidating and verbally abusive. We stayed in contact, although he knew he couldn't live with me again. There is a lot more to it, but we rarely saw each other, but stayed in touch. The condition was that he had to be respectful or I'd hang up. This was in the day before cell phones so I never knew for sure where to call him. Contact was up to him. He did initiate it and keep in touch and try to keep his anger in and eventually his father moved up to the area, bought a condo and allowed him to move in there. That made me feel better, like difficult child was safer, but, really, it had been foolish for my ex to have done it. My ex has always been too thin and sickly and difficult child shoved him around a little and was verbally abusive to him too sometimes. But that was their business, not mine. Through the years, he has never lived with me again and certainly can support himself (he has a good job, thankfully in another state now). We talked regularly, but when he gets agitated, he gets abusive and I hang up. Period. Now I must add that me and my husband have no extra money so I am NEVER hit up for money or I'd hang up on THAT too. I do save up and send stuff for my grandson, but 36 makes enough to take care of his needs. So because he is not in my space, and is not asking for money, and is not under pressure right now, we are getting along famously and I don't even have to hang up on him, which was not the case when he was going through a very difficult custody battle for his son (he won 50/50).

    When my daughter was asked to leave it was because of drugs, stealing and lying. She was not out of the house long before it became very clear, from reports from her almost sanctimonious, judgmental brother that she was walking to her job and back, helping around the house a lot, and was not even smoking cigarettes, which would have gotten her tossed in the snow (he would have had no mercy at all...one misstep and she would have been gone). Daughter and I started talking, slowly at first, but she turned it around fairly quickly after leaving therefore we never lost contact and things really improved and she went back to college and we were very proud.

    My son Scott walked out on the entire family and I haven't seen him for five years. I doubt I'd see him now at all, even if he initiated it. He was so hateful, so hurtful, so God-awful...his leaving the family and what he did to me was so traumatic that I don't think I have it in my heart to ever trust him again. And so much has happened that I don't believe I can forget. He isn't a drug addict. He has never taken drugs or even been drunk in his life. He is uber-religious to the point that I believe he is over-the-wall with it. Yet he is one of the most critical, judgmental, self-righteous, unforgiving people I have ever met and I don't trust him with my heart. He has two children and I don't want to know them because at any time, if he decided to do me the great favor of being in their lives, he could pull them away from me. No thanks. Not playing. It is highly unlikely that we will ever see one another again and the only time I care is when I remember him before all this happened. If I think about the day I decided it was over forever (which he had also decided), I get the chills and I just want to forget it. I tell people I have four children, rather than five, to avoid questions.

    Scott was adopted at age six and maybe, in his heart, he never bonded with me the way he would have if he had come sooner. However, he still sees my ex, his dad, and includes him in all sorts of family gatherings. Whatever his real reason for cutting me and his siblings out, and I will never know the truth, I loved him with all my heart and soul, as if I had given birth to him; I would have died for him.

    I still love him in a distant, detached way and still feel creepy when I think of all he did to me. He knew how hurtful it was, but he is still doing it. It is shocking to me that he is so hateful because he did not present himself that way until he became an adult. It's like I raised one kid and he turned out to be somebody else. But that detachment is final. One day he will probably feel bad, maybe not, but, if he does, it's over. I'm afraid. I'm spooked. No more.

    As you can see, the level of detachment is in the situation. I would never chase after my kids for a crumb of their time. If they don't want to give it to me without strings, then we really have NO relationship anyway. I think it's fine to text once a week and say, "I hope you are doing ok. I love you and am here if you decide to get serious help." But I would not personally offer a dime or to rent a place for him or to give him anything. It is up to him to decide to move out of your parent's house. If he wants to stay there and if they want to enable his horrible behavior, that is really not your problem or issue. Why get him a place to stay by himself when he will probably just get thrown out on your dime or get into more trouble? He assaulted you and is acting as if YOU did something wrong...in my world it just would not happen that he'd get anything from me after that. He's old enough to work. Of course, I am speaking from my own perspective, as we all do, and you have to do what you want to do.

    Remember, though, money can't buy you love. You find out who your true loved ones are when you lose everything...many people snub you...they don't really care about you then. The ones who stick around are your true loved ones. Your own son should want to see you because he loves you, whether or not you give him any money. If he won't, then, sadly, he really doesn't want to see you. I know how hurtful it is to think about that. Nothing hurt...nothing in my life hurt...as badly as when Scott dismissed me from his life. But the fact is...I had to deal with it and I did.

    I don't know if this hodgepodge of thoughts helped or not, but it's another cold day in Wisconsin and I have cabin fever and I've been on my computer and inside far more than usual...I hope you have a peaceful day. And this is my view on detachment. To me, it is a decision to make contact, but not to give monetary gifts that don't teach our grown difficult children to actually act adult-like.
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    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014
  4. Echolette

    Echolette Well-Known Member

    I am running out the door, but I have to pause and comment that no no no no don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Detachment is sooo important, so good for us...and no it does not have to be absolute. It just means that you don't own their choices. You do own your choices. Thats it. You can't control other people, not even difficult child's. If you have tried the same helpful thing 10 x or 100x well guess what..it isn't helpful, it is an attempt at controlling and you are trying and failing to control their choices. Thats it! Please please please use it as a tool to get the space you need to find the right place with your difficult child.
    more anon!
  5. Tiredof33

    Tiredof33 Active Member

    Back, I've learned to detach from my difficult child and it (in my opinion) never means no contact at all. But that being said, my difficult child was back to his old manipulations, conns, and lies for money which he and girlie were spending to party. This went on for about 3 months and I finally found out.

    This was the point I drew the line in the sand and said no more. He then threatened suicide because I refused to send money and that made me realize that my helping was not helping and he would continue in his comfortable (for him) path as long as he could.

    I found, and called, clinics close to him for help but stood my ground no more money. He went no contact with me for about a year, totally fell off the face of the earth. I took this time to focus on ME and I finally understood how much I was enabling him, I thought I had it all under control.

    I changed and things changed between us, he finally understood that I was passed his manipulation and I would no longer be treated with disrespect. I learned to set boundaries and stick with them. He has contacted me (then he will disappear again depending what is going on with his life) but he doesn't ask for money and he now has a job.

    Detachment for me is not trying to fix his problems and enjoying my life without constant worry about his. I finally accepted him as he is and I finally accepted that he may be like this forever. That does not mean I love my son any less.

    I never give up but I don't hold my breath and I allow myself to be happy regardless what he is doing. Changing yourself is all you will ever be able to do, his life is his responsibility.
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  6. Childofmine

    Childofmine trying to do this thing one day at a time Staff Member

    We can detach as we are standing there at the front door with them, they are asking to stay, we are allowing that, but just for dinner....on the phone....each time...not drawing that proverbial line in the sand that says, if you cross this, I am completely done, I will never see you again.

    Oh, I never want that to happen, no matter what. BUT, I must detach in order not to cause that type of breach. Otherwise, the things i might say in my pain, in the heat of the moment, that could cause that type of breach.

    I think there is physical and emotional detachment both. Sometimes we need physical for a time, for a while. I am trying to move to emotional always as I believe that state offers respect for another---even if, plus gives me some room for peace.

    A picture of me sitting in one chair across the room, and him, sitting on the couch. We are separate. We are detached, but we are still in the same room. That would be so wonderful to be there someday.

    Right now that is not possible for my situation. I need more space as the little space I provide is filled with things (words, actions, requests) I don't need and can't respond to. Can I stand and maintain my peace even as those rain down on me? Right now, no, so I must have the physical space and the little moments of interaction, always with the tool in mind that I can pull out and use:

    I need to talk with you later. Goodbye.

    I hope to get there, this time. Detaching with love, with kindness with respect. That is my goal, as that is what I wish for in return.

    We can always change our minds. That is our adult prerogative. There are no absolutes, unless we choose them. I am ever-hopeful of a miracle and I believe that he can completely turn and walk in a new direction---not perfectly, but progressing---if he chooses. If he chooses.

    Until then I will work toward detachment with love, learning every day just what that means for me.

    P.S. there are lots of good readings in Al-Anon literature about detaching with love, if you have any of those books or access to them, you can look up detachment in the index. Many perspectives.
  7. SeekingStrength

    SeekingStrength Well-Known Member

    This is a very helpful discussion. Detachment seems the only route that will give gfg32 and his parents much chance at happiness. Still, I feel sometimes that we have abandoned him. Clearly, he wants nothing to do with us, so that's pretty silly. Even if I called him right now and begged forgiveness for any real and imagined wrongs, he would be unmoved. I was happy to see one of you heard from your difficult child after a year of nothing.

    Because, I really, really pray that gfg32 and his dad and I can have some sort of relationship in the future.

    Right now, he is furious with us because we don't love him unconditionally (his definition: give him what he wants when he wants it). Perhaps he will grown and soften and find another way. And, yes his dad and I must spend this time growing and letting go.

    There was no detachment with love and I feel sorry for that. If husband and I and done that years ago, perhaps it would have been a much better experience.
  8. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    If you had known better SS, you would have done better. It is extremely helpful for us parents to let go of any guilt for our grown adult kids. We did the best we could, period.

    Often the beginning of detachment happens with a breakdown............there is anger..............but remember, there can be no breakthrough without a breakdown. Otherwise we would still be in the same old place.

    The old way just blew up............like a nova............and when the dust settles, there will be a genesis...........for you and husband.................your son will have to work for his own new beginning, or not............
  9. lovemysons

    lovemysons Well-Known Member

    As usual, You all have really gotten my to thinking.
    I looked up the definition of detach and this is what it says...

    "disengage (something or part of something) and remove it"...synonyms: unfasten, disconnect, disengage, seperate, uncouple, remove, loose, unhitch, unhook...FREE.

    And that last word...to Free something or someone is compelling to me.

    I think when I look back on my parenting I did not "loosen" or "free" as a natural process for my difficult child's in particular.

    It's like learning to ride a bike. You start out with balancing from training wheels and eventually are "allowed" to have the training wheels removed and ever so slowly learn to use your "OWN" balance.
    I see it similarly with our kids. So many times now I wish I had allowed my son's to do for self when they were young. See, their homework was my homework...as I felt it my responsibility to ensure they got A's and B's throughout school. Why? Because my mother NEVER helped me with my homework. She was absent as a working single mom (and somewhat neglectful)...I was a full-time stay at home mom and felt there was NO excuse for my not helping them achieve.
    And no, I don't think I was a "bad" parent...I just didn't have the tools then to know any better.

    When we finally realise (when they become legal adults) that they need to be "free'd" I think it can often feel hurtful on both sides. Our children seem to still act like we need to be tucking them into bed and spoon feeding them. But we are past that point...It is time for them to do for self. And for ourselves...we realise that we no longer have any control over their situations. It' can be very scary.

    My Aunt used to tell me that when a child is born you hold them tightly and as they grow, you loosen the grip, and eventually set them free. I never understood what she meant then.
    I see it now.

    I went from one extreme to the other when it comes to parenting. I thought I was doing all the right things...They had a mother and father, siblings, stability, structure, activities, friends, good quality everything. And yet...what I gave them, might just have been too much of ME.

    So now, we are taking back "ourselves" and setting our children free. We are no longer co-dependent on one another...and it feels almost cruel at times...as it is still in it's infancy and awkwardness as I step out of the way and allow my children to fail or succeed on their own merits.

    Detaching, for me, has nothing to do with "distance"...but everything to do with independence.

    Thanks for giving me more to think on today. I think most if not all parents on the board have done their almighty best at loving, helping, nurturing, guiding, caring for their children. And we are still here...learning together...There is always hope and love as long as we are alive.

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  10. Echolette

    Echolette Well-Known Member

    Oh, Child, that is so important! detachment helps us to be kind. If we are overly involved, overly invested, then we can't step back and see with loving eyes, we can't "allow" space for them (or anyone else in our sphere) to just be who they are and be OK. YOu put your finger on it!!!

    I soooo want to not be angry. I have always been angry with him to some extent..I said it was fear (for him) presenting itself as anger, and I think that was often the case. Fear for his future for what his behavior AT THIS MOMENT meant for his hopes of being a happy aadult...then later, fear for what his behavior AT THIS MOMENT meant for my own hope of future happineess, for that of our family. So I was fearful and angry. NOw I stll cannot stop being angry...I am physically detached, which is the funny part. Haven't spoken to him in 6 weeks. I sometimes rehearse the harsh things I want to say to him in my head (I am not proud of this, I am only confessing it), and then I remember...I can't say them, because HE ISN"T THERE FOR ME TO SAY THEM TO. He has stopped calling me. For now.

    I am a big fan of time, Child, as I know you are as well. Time passes. Emotions ease. Love or at least kindness returns. The big picture becomes clearer. I'm not afraid of losing him for a year...I think going a few weeks without talking or seeing each other is fine. If I am afraid of anything I am afraid of going to my deathbed still angry at him. And I am afraid of him going to his feeling unloved by me, because I didn't get the detachment part quite right.

    I am always soothed be Recovering's oft repeated comment--"if you had known better you would have done better". If I had known better I would have been better. But I didn't. And those days are gone. I try now to know better. We all do. It is a feeling of groping through a dark, foggy, windowless, signless place. YOu guys provide little flares of light that help me find the way.

  11. BackintheSaddle

    BackintheSaddle Active Member

    Thanks for being so open about this...today is the 5th day I've gone without texting or emailing him, or hearing from him at all...so I had to ask..I guess I'm doing better because it used to be that I was counting the hours since I'd heard from him...;-)...now, it's the days...I can't imagine going so long, MWM, without word from my difficult child...I guess it's some peace to know he's ok/safe but how horrible for you to have gone through that...and the messages show that this journey will never end either, huh?...even if I 'check in' with him this weekend, which is what I was leaning toward, he won't respond and if he does, it'll be something ugly...then I get to start the cycle all over again of feeling angry, sad, on and on...it just never ends, does it? he's mentally ill and thinks nothing is wrong with him so even if it got better it'd likely only be for a little while...it sounds like all of you still have some degree of hope for a 'miracle' no matter how long the time goes by...I am doing more and more to take care of myself and rethink our future (me and husband)...I was pretty excited about this next 'empty nest' phase of life, getting to do things I'd always wanted to do, but had imagined it happening another way...so it was more sudden and 'ugly' than I'd ever imagined which makes it harder to enjoy...maybe I'll find that place where I can enjoy it and not think so much about what he's doing, does he think about me too, does he miss his home, his animals...what's he doing and what's he telling himself to be able to keep up this situation...
  12. Echolette

    Echolette Well-Known Member

    I think you will get to that place. You are already putting your feet on that path. Because what other choice do you have? You can continue obsessing over him, keep yourself in chaos and limbo. which isn't helping him anyway, and likely never did....or you can put your feet on a path of wellness...and you will find that place you are seeking. I am sure of it.
  13. BackintheSaddle

    BackintheSaddle Active Member

    ok, I don't think I've been obsessing over him...not like I was certainly but just trying to find my boundaries with him and thought I'd ask how you figured it out...sorry to have come across that way...that's a pretty scary looking lady and I certainly don't want you to think that's me
  14. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Oh BITS, I only posted that because of the words not the face, although I thought the colors were beautiful, sorry that you thought that..........it wasn't directed at you, it was what we all face and decide while we're attempting to detach............I apologize.
  15. Echolette

    Echolette Well-Known Member


    I only meant obsessing as in thinking about him to your own detriment, whether that is 5 minutes or 25 hours a day. I 'm sorry that resonated wrongly with you...I don't think you are doing anything different than the rest of it! I think of myself as obsessing when I find myself thinking repeatedly in ways that don't lead to any productive end--I was only reflecting off of your expressed desire to "not think so much what he is doing". I used too strong a word.

    Hang in there.

  16. tryagain

    tryagain Active Member

    Recovering enabler, I cannot improve upon the way that you have clarified the myriad meanings of detachment. I agree, detachment is different for each person. I would add that I see it as a fluid process with ever-changing boundaries that we set in order to live peaceful and stable lives. I see contact or the lack there of as an element of detachment, but again, the amount is different for everyone.
  17. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Well-Known Member Staff Member

    I think detachment is so individual. I doubt I will ever get to the point where I never hear from my boys. I have gotten to some sort of letting go with them. If I dont like what they are doing I simply dont ask. I do have to admit I have irritated the heck out of Cory by telling him where I think he is going wrong in parenting but only because his lack of watching the baby impacts me. I sometimes get so ticked off that I can do nothing else but yell at him.