Boundaries Of The Heart


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Just venting....and so very thankful to have this forum in which to do it.

Last weekend my husband and I went on a biking trip to Canada with a group of friends. Spectacular mountain scenery, fantastic long-time friends, and a very carefree weekend. Good livin'!

We came home to multiple, frequent "hang-up" calls (rather than voicemails) on our home phone from numbers we didn't recognize. Well, we all know who that was. When our difficult child calls often, he's desperate. When he leaves no message, he's wanting to get us "live" on the phone to begin manipulation attempts (he's a master). We did not call any of those numbers back and we are actively screening calls (which we usually do, anyway, because of difficult child). difficult child is currently AWOL from Facebook, jail and anyone we know. Never a good sign.

The last 2 days several people ask how difficult child is. We've now narrowed our response to a simple, "Same-same." Close friends/family know what that means. However, the last couple of days several close people are suddenly telling us, "Oh, he'll come around. Just wait, he'll change." Uh hunh. Well, sure.....we hope. But, ahem.....reality....

The Tug Of War inside is that OF COURSE we love him and hope he changes! OF COURSE! But, as you all know, too many crimes, lies, manipulations, police calls, etc take their toll.

Detaching feels like ripping a bandaid off of a DEEP wound on an arm quickly. OUCH! But then, after a while, a scab forms and we're able to use our arm again with minimal problem. But even though "mostly" detached, it doesn't take much for a heartstring to be pulled. Damn.

We are resolved to keep our boundaries in actions (and we do), but boundaries are tougher to keep on a calm, even keel. As time goes by and we let our difficult child (and God) carry his own burden, it's easier on my heart............MOST of the time.

However.... difficult child's must come with stickum on 'em because they still pull at our hearts sometimes. I don't know about you all, but.......I am not build to LOVE and then UN-LOVE -- anyone, anywhere, any time. It's just not how I'm built.

My head knows all about love with wisdom and healthy detachment. My heart usually follows along quite willingly. But every once in a while a stray, frayed heartstring is pulled. Today was such a day.

Not acting on it. But am definitely feeling it in my heart.

Lastly, our difficult child gave us a phenomenal grandson (now almost 4 yrs old)! We spend much time with this beautiful, smart, funny, engaging boy! We were recently at a pool party playing with him, laughing, having all the beautiful times grandparents dream of. IT....IS.....AWESOME! Sometimes our grandson looks so much like difficult child and I miss when difficult child had a sweet side in his early youth. I miss his smile, his tears, his humor, his "reachable" moments. Now he rarely has any of those. I've heard others mention the "flat/blunted affect" look on their faces -- a horrible look. Honestly? Creepy. That's mostly what I see these days. I miss faces of innocence (at least greater innocence than nowadays). Heartstring....

I keep looking at our beautiful grandson and praying he will not follow in his birth father's (our difficult child's) footsteps. He's being raised by another father figure for whom we have great respect.

Fingers, toes, eyes, crossed....

Comical Aside: Another friend told me earlier today how upset she was that her young adult son had found pornography on-line. I understand her dismay -- not great news for parents. Then she asked about our son (whom she knows little about). I hit a few general highlights (bullet point fashion). I think she 'bout had a coronary. She was empathetic. I appreciated that. And, while I was sorry to see she had a coronary, I must admit it was rather validating to me. :)

Thanks for your listening ears and hearts....


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Hon...I know what you mean. You have to understand that detaching does not mean stop loving. I have a son we adopted from another country at age six and he left the family about seven years ago and I know for a fact I will never see him again or see his children (long story). In my heart, I still love him, even though I will never see him again. I hate what he has done to us and how he has behaved, but I still love him. I know it's not his fault that he was yanked from his country at age six and expected to know how to fit into a family and to love us. I know he can't, but I still love him, if I let myself dwell on it. I can become very sad.

It's not that we don't love them. Even at their worst, we love them, even when we don't like them. But often we can't have a relationship that is in any way normal with them. We don't choose it to be that way...they do by their behavior and then we have to decide if it is worth it to give them our life's blood and indeed have no life at all because we allow them to abuse us or pull us into their drama that they chose to involved themselves in. Love isn't the issue. It's survival and our own happiness. Most of us have other loved ones who get neglected because our difficult child suscks all the air out of our world and we have to decide if that's fair. Also, we have to decide if giving everything over to them, and neglecting ourselves, is ok with us. Most on this forum decided, after lots of thinking and experience, that we can't help our difficult children so we may as well fix ourselves, which we have control over. And we can chose to be happy.

That doesn't mean we don't have sad moments. When I think too hard about the son who left us, I remember the brilliant, toothless little eight year old who always wore a smile and lit up my world. He is my one child...a child who really isn't my child because he doesn't want to be...that can bring me to tears if I allow it. But I have a husband, four other adult children, two grandchildren and a very nice husband. I also have myself. I have to stay strong, healthy and happy for all of them and for myself too. It won't change a thing if I dwell on this one adult child. So I choose not to do it.

I love my 36 year old too, although he has been a problem since very early in his life. Even when I wish he'd just disappear for a while, I still love him. But sometimes I detach from him. And he can't live with us anymore. Ever. But it isn't because we don't love him.

It is very confusing, especially to newcomers, I'm sure, but detaching doesn't mean we stop loving them. It just means we don't buy into the drama, enable bad behavior, have unrealistic expectations...and we decide not to lay down our lives for them. We all did our best and we all deserve to have great rest-of-our-lives. To do so we often have to detach. But we still love them.


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MWM -- Thanks for your kind words. It's definitely a toughie at times. Like I said, my head wraps around it easily, but my heart still has that tug-of-war at times. Today was such a time. I'm new to this group, but not new to this concept (of detaching). Years in the making, I do better with detaching than I used to. But every now and then it can jump up and bite me in the tookas when I'm not looking! LOL! Today definitely did. But, then my sage of a husband came home and I told him my heart. He said, "Do you remember our last visit with him in May?" Well..........uh.......yeah. Blech. Not fun. So that helped. Sage hubster.

You said some really good stuff in there and I appreciate you sharing more of your story. Like you, I, also, am surrounded by much love in a very loving husband, family and friends. And you're so right on the money about loving ourselves -- taking the time to ask ourselves what WE want to do. Getaways like our Canadian biking getaway last weekend are so rejuvenating. Gladly, we're out of state next weekend for a college football game at our alma mater (Go Ducks!) and seeing friends. It is so very important to live OUR lives! :)

I hear your strong heart, MWM, and I appreciate it and you! Best sentence in your post? "difficult child's suck all the air out of our world..."

True that!


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PS -- I forget that many others, including you, MWM, have other kids. Our difficult child is our only child. All we know as parents is difficult child-dom. Yowza.

MWM -- Tell me, how did your other kids react to your difficult child? I do recall your story about your dogs. That still breaks my heart.

Speaking of which........ How do your dogs react to your difficult child? Our old dog was a border collie/lab mix and it just made her antsy to all get out. She'd run and hide (to which hubster and I would look at each other and say, "Can we hide under the table with you when it's bad?" ;) Our current dog is a black lab mix and he just seems to let everything roll off his back. He never lived with difficult child.
I swear, our current dog may just be the most advanced soul I've ever met. Really.


Active Member
Headlights mom - I understand- and being new at this, it's been hardest to BOTH love and not like. I mean, I know living with the difficult child brought those feelings out- I loved him but didn't like him much.

Right now, I'm ok with the none to minimal contact. Less is more. It 'feels' cold to me, but necessary.

You spoke of dogs- my little dog never did like difficult child. Like, my dog (he's little- 10 lbs) could be in my lap and difficult child could walk in the room and that boy would start growling and going crazy! They know more and sense more than we think.


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Sweetmama -- Yeah, sure can be a dizzying experience sometimes. We've had no contact since his last release from jail (last May) and it has been calmer. I was tempted today (thinking back on a particular experience some years ago with him) and my husband quickly reminded me how awful our last visit with difficult child was. Did not go well at all.

So, actually, I appreciated that reminder to refrain from contact, etc. Well-worded... "cold, but necessary".

Our border collie responded much the same way your little dog did. Growl or run and hide! Our current dog (lab) will try, but will move away if difficult child is on a bender. You're right........the dogs know!


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Staff member
HLM, I only have one child too, my difficult child daughter, turning 42 the end of this's been a rough ride at times and there are still moments if I give any thought at all to it, it can hurt my heart in a way that nothing else can. I too have been at this for a long time, the devastation of it and the detaching of it and from where I stand now, I think those moments of having our heartstrings pulled simply get less and less frequent......longer periods of time between the hurts.

My difficult child lives in a very different Universe, responds very differently to life and makes choices I will likely never understand. We are separate people leading separate lives which often do not intercept in any meaningful way. The sorrow of that is something I actively choose not to allow (much). But, as you stated, sometimes it just slips in and I simply have to ride that wave to shore until I am safely back on level ground.

All I can do now is accept those moments you speak of, they seem to be a part of this landscape I live on ............I can't control any of it, however, I can usually choose how to interpret it and how to respond to it...........recognizing that, for the most part, misery is optional.

Something that helps me is a comment made at a workshop I took many years ago. The facilitator was a political leader from another country who had been in jail for quite awhile for his views, he was a writer and an educator. His opening line at a 3 day workshop was this, "Suffering is a linguistic phenomenon, it happens in our languaging." I never forgot that line, I have thought about it a lot over the's helped me quite a bit in relation to my daughter. Just knowing I have choices in how I feel and respond is a huge help.

I hope your day tomorrow is a really good one........sending you good thoughts..........


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Headlights Mom, you are talking about a child we adopted and who lived with us for three years. Obviously nobody ever wants to see him again. He also had sex with them and forced them at knifepoint to have sex with each other. He is gone forever...I don't/can't consider him my own child. He wasn't with us for very long. And, yes, he killed two of our dogs, stole, abused every child he could...and did it all by acting "good" to adults so that adults never knew what was going on. Yet he terrorized my younger kids into not telling on him "or I'll set this house on fire and we'll all burn and go to hell. I am the Devil." Being so young, they believed him. It was a nightmare that my younger children got lots of help for and may have to get help for later in their lives.

My more "normal" difficult children are not beloved by their siblings either. Nobody cares for 36 and Scott left us, being cruel to his sister, whom he was really close to. 36 was abusive to poor Julie (seems she got it all) and to me and none of his siblings wants anything to do with him. Jumper has asked me why I even talk to him. She can hear him cussing through the cell phone because he yells so loud.
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Interesting sideline to this thread in that it has brought up the issue of siblings and their feelings etc. They are often overlooked in the turmoil, the effect on them and the changing dynamics of the family, etc and also, in my case, how they react to their sibling in quite different ways. The sisters tend to worry, whereas the brother thinks it's all highly amusing.

Maybe we should start a separate thread about this.

Headlights, I've detached from my son and practise radical acceptance, but I don't love him any less of course, in fact I now love him unconditionally without any strings attached about how I think he should be behaving/living. I don't think it's about "loving and then un-loving", for me it's just about accepting what is and letting them get on with it, while concentrating on living your own life.

Scent of Cedar *

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Headlights, I've detached from my son and practise radical acceptance, but I don't love him any less of course, in fact I now love him unconditionally

without any strings attached

about how I think he should be behaving/living.

I don't think it's about "loving and then un-loving",

for me it's just about accepting what is and letting them get on with it, while concentrating on living your own life.

Beautifully expressed.

Radical acceptance would be to practice not judging the kids or ourselves for what they do or where they land.

So easy to slip back!

I love that last sentence.



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Great comments, everyone. Much appreciated and much good learning shared.

Recoveringenabler -- You and I sound very similar in the first several paragraphs. You may be farther down the same road I travel. :) Will contemplate (and savor) that line in your last paragraph ("Suffering is a linguistic phenomenon, it happens in our languaging."). Language (words, tones, silences) is powerful, indeed -- but only a mirror image of realities (subjective or objective).

LucyJ -- Your last paragraph resonates very well inside me. I've heard the phrase "radical acceptance" before and, honestly, have completely forgotten it. Thanks for mentioning it! It is where peace resides. I have lived this at times (and not at other times) and felt its calm, loving presence (especially while battling illness). It really is the better way to live. Again, thank you so much for reminding me, LucyJ!

Daily reminders of the gifts of Radical Acceptance! (a concept which merits caps!) Gratitude....Gratitude...Gratitude.... The name of the game is Gratitude. I'm a big fan of Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning". Frankl had this to say after surviving his time in a Nazi concentration camp.......

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Gratitude is the path I choose. I get lost on the trail repeatedly in the fog of my "Shoulds" or "What if's...?", but it is always my choice to return to Gratitude (also merits caps). I want reminders, I want and choose to return to it, and I am thankful for the path which leads me to reminders of how much beauty inhabits this phenomenal.......and for this reminder of Gratitude this morning!

I find what I look for! Sometimes the most is gained when looking for Gratitude right smack-dab in the middle of the ugliest storms. Tough to do sometimes, but when I truly let go and give thanks, the mind-fog of "Shoulds" or "What if's? dissipates.

Must get going with my day. But thank you all for teaching Radical Acceptance and inspiring Gratitude! :D