Detachment - is it REALLY necessary? - long.......


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I grew up in the most dysfunctional family in the world.

- I remember seeing my dad pushing my mom down in the chair and the police were at my house

- I remember my little sister lighting a match and dropping it because it burned her and we were home alone

- I remember helping feed babyfood to my baby brother and he wouldn't eat (being baby you know) and my dad told me to eat the baby food and I did because I was hungry

- I remember having to sit on the sofa and be as quiet as a mouse because dad was watching Godzilla & King Kong on tv (black & white might I add !!)

= I remember my 5th birthday and crying because all I wanted was a birthday cake and I did not have one.

I remember my mom leaving my dad and going into hiding - I was 5 years old - All of the above happened before my 5th birthday and I am the oldest child

- when I am 8 years old I am shipped from Texas to Washington State to live with an aunt I didn't know because we were homeless (by now mom has 5 children & 3 step children & we lived in a tent on the lake)

- I saw my mom a year later and she brings me back to Louisiana

- when I am 12 years old - my mom disappears - my grandfather puts out a missing person report on her - the police question me intensly because my step-dad tell them that my mom tells me everything and I was scared because I didn't know where my mom was

- find out mom ran off with some man - and won't take any of her children back (my youngest sister is now 4 & half years old) because new man doens't want children

This is where I have trouble with detachment. This is how I see it. My children think I am over protective and so do many others - but no one knows what I went through as a kid and how STRONGLY I feel!! Now, I have taught my children how to cook, clean, and how to be a good person of society. I am VERY involved in EVERYTHING they do - and I think I do pretty damn good considering how I was taught.

My youngest easy child is not my biological child - he is my sisters child. She had him and let things happen so that he was taken away by the state - I stepped in to help her - I did NOT want her to be like mom - I wanted her to be a good mom to her son (she was 24 when she had him) - but no matter what I did - she seemed to not care! She seemed to not want him - I ended up adopting him because he would have been lost in the system forever. I love him so much and jus tdon't under stand how a parent can "DETACH" from their child -

Yes, my heart is breaking all the time with my difficult child - but I CANNOT detach - very, very, VERY bad experience for me. I don't want to be critical - I just don't understand - for a long time I hated my mom for what she did - but now - I love my mom. I talk to her, see her - & she regrets all that she has done - but she is STILL with the same man who didn't want any of us and convinced her of the same. My mother has no self esteem - neither does my sister (I'm guessing). But my relationship will never be the same with her and I do not want that with my difficult child.

I respect everyone's decisions that they make - I jsut don't understand.

I guess I will suffer forever....
(((((((((((((hugs))))))))))))))) for your little girl inside you. What a horrible childhood.

Detaching from your child is NOT the same as abandoning your child.

Detaching means, you see that your child is doing something they should not...say, stealing or doing drugs. And youdo not get involved by bailing them out. You boviously do not do this with your child if they are 8 or 12. this is for your older child, 17 or 18 and up.

Detaching is deciding that you have done all you can to raise that child, you have shown them good morals and values throughout their entire childhood, and if they decide not to follow it, fine and dandy, just not under your nose.

Detaching is letting your child sink or swim on their own. You can't be there to save them forever.

Detaching means you will always love them.

Here is a link to a great site on detaching:

No, you do not have to suffer.


New Member
thank you - I'm guessing I was looking at it all wrong - thank-you

Of course - I left a lot out - but i just got detachment & abandonment mixed up

my children can cook (well, the two oldest) an entire meal - so if need be - they can cook for themselves when what I cook is crap (although they cook like I taught them - haha)


member since 1999
Detaching doesn't mean walking away from a kid.

You know that gut wrenching, stomach churning, emotional response you have when your difficult child makes a bad choice? When you allow *his* choices to affect every aspect of your life and your emotional health? If you can detach, then his choices don't have the same degree of impact on you.

I love my kid. I'd walk through fire for him. But when he calls and says he got restrained or sedated or lost privileges? My honest and to-the-bone response is "Gee, thank you, sorry to hear that." I am neutral because it quite frankly is not my problem. I will *not* intervene with staff, I will not listen to excuses from thank you, I will not let his consequences affect me. This is *his* life now, even at the ripe old age of 16. I cannot control his choices. I have done my very best to insure that he has every opportunity to learn how to function, and will continue to have the opportunity learn how to function, but dragging that mule to the trough won't make him drink.

Used to be I'd completely flip out every time he did. It's not healthy - for me, for him, for the rest of the family. It was a doggone roller coaster ride. The admissions, the suspensions, the new medications, the restraints, the phone calls... yada yada yada. On and on and on. We start out totally engrossed in our young difficult children' lives and rightly so, but at some point we have to step away and say enough. I've done all I can, more than I really thought possible, and it's now completely up to you difficult child. I will support you and help when you ask but I am not rescuing you anymore nor am I going to continue to repeat the same things that have been said to you umpteen gazillion times in the last decade. I mean really, how many times can you say "it's an inappropriate choice to get violent because (insert excuse of the day)". He *knows* it.

We are detached, but we talk to him several times a week, we visit every other weekend. I am here if he has a crisis, not to give advice really but more to listen and try to guide *him* to find the solution on his own. He is more than welcome to return home once he has shown that he can consistently deal with everyday stressors without flipping out. But if he messes up? Bummer for him. I simply do not have it in me to continue to try to save him from his own poor choices. Funny thing - he's actually responding pretty well to it, at least in terms of impulsivity. He absolutely *hates* having to make any kind of decision for himself but ... he can do it, and do it well.

Go check out the Parent Emeritus section - there's a mom... possible Scent of Cedar (?) who has a link in her signature to an essay on what detaching is. If you can't find the right person, just post over there asking for the link.

Hang in there - and rest assurred, when we talk about detaching, we absolutely *not* talking abandoning.

Edited to add - Duhh!!! BBK had the link right there in her post. Sheesh... sorry about that, BBK. You rock!


No real answers to life..
slsh--you are NOT an idiot! No need for me to say more than ditto what has already been posted....they have it right!!!

Mrs Smith

New Member
To me, detachment means removing yourself from the responsibility of the outcome of your child's choices. Let natural or logical consequences follow their course. I don't think you ever want to cut off the emotional bond between you but don't take ownership of their choices, since you really don't have any control over them anyway. The sooner they learn to self-regulate, the better. Of course, it doesn't come naturally for a difficult child so the lessons take much longer.


Well-Known Member
You've gotten some great responses here. I can't add anything except that I've taken a similar journey and it's turning out fine. And so are my kids.



Well-Known Member
Sorry you had such a tough time early in life. I am glad to see that you broke the cycle and are a good mom!!

These days I detach from my 16 year old by trying not to comment too much about her choices. I give simple answers that are not confrontational at all. Even when I want to shake her and ask 'what are you thinking?' - I do not. She will have natural consequences. In fact, some of her choices, while would not be my choice, may actually work out fine for her - she may teach me something.

It does change with age, just like expectations & responsibilities change with age.


New Member
I totally agree that you've gotten great advice on detachment. Just remember that it doesn't mean you don't love, but rather that you love enough to help set them free. If we're lucky, they learn from their mistakes.

The one thing I want to warn you about is over protecting. I was that way when my little one was young. I taught her things like cooking and crafts but I protected her from almost everything else.

She didn't have to learn how to manage money, mom took care of that. Someone was bullying her? She didn't have to learn how to defend herself, mom would stop the bully one way or another. This was a HUGE disservice to my child. Instead of learning these life lessons when she was younger, she is now having to learn them as a young woman. So, do be careful that you don't make my mistake and protect your children too much. Kids need to learn that hurting is part of life and they need to learn to make their own decisions and choices.


New Member
I am struggling with detaching but I believe that it is the right thing to do - trouble is it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do. This is long but I though it might help. It's an email my husband sent me yesterday:

Ok, it’s time for a long-winded letter from me.

Let me start with the obvious: men are different than woman. You (a woman) have your way of dealing with this (Alex) and I (a man) have my way. Neither is all right and neither is all wrong; it simply is what is.

I won’t address the other obvious things in detail. You’ll just have to trust me: I love Alex; I wish that he was with us and “normal”; I worry about him 24/7; and inside I cringe at every phone call and every thing we hear about him or from him. I can stand toe to toe with you and be as emotional, sad, and angry as you. He is my son and I am devastated over these events.

The difference between us is, of course, how we handle it. I have no interest in the way you handle it and you have none in mind. No problem. The problem is that I would do nothing to change how you handle it and completely understand how you are going about it. But you can not deal with mine and “hate” me for it. Let me try to explain my side of the story. Right or wrong, this is what I believe and you have as much chance of changing my mind on this as I have of changing yours.

I have, what I believe to be, a complete grasp of reality and truth in this situation. It is my belief (as I have said before) that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that we can do to change current and future events of Alex’s life. He has set his feet on his path; one that he believes to be correct and meant for him. It is meaningless to the situation how wrong or how misguided his decisions are. It is his path and he will walk it regardless of what forces work against it. He will walk it until he decides it is the wrong path and then he will set about changing it. Or not.

Here is my proof. You spend a great deal of time in correspondence with others in similar situations; you talk to other parents; you talk with support groups; you read every web-site you can to educate yourself on the topics; you’re in contact with people all over the country trying to make sense of all of this; you read his on-line stuff and that of his friends; you talk to parents of his friends; you read books on the subjects; and probably a lot more that I don’t know about. Yet, Alex remains gone.

He’s been to psychologists, psychiatrists, hospitals, in-patient drug rehab, out-patient drug rehab, one-on-one counseling, jail, detention, home arrest, emergency rooms, and the back of a police car; yet he remains gone and committed to his path.

I have chosen to move on with my life. That doesn’t mean move on without Alex. That statement has nothing to do with, and has no effect on, my love for him, my worry, or my sadness. The door to our home and to my heart will always be open to him. But I have a wife, a daughter, two pets, a job, and a house to worry about as well. And I can do something about them; with them; for them. I cannot do anything with or for Alex because he has chosen to not be a part of our lives right now.

Don’t saddle or dismiss me with “You (meaning me) don’t want to be around someone who doesn’t want to be around you.” That is still very true and always will be; I can’t change that. But that doesn’t apply to blood. I want Alex in our house, even if he doesn’t want to be there. I want him in school even though he doesn’t want to be there; I want him to have a good life, even though “good” has a different meaning to him than to us. But, he’s not here. He has chosen to stay away. He has chosen other things and other people over us for right now; hopefully not for a long period of time. I will not ever hold that against him or reject him because he has rejected us. I simply know that he is not doing any of this to hurt us; we bring the hurt on ourselves because we miss him and worry so much. We have very little to do with it in the grand scheme of things, really. He left because he wanted to be on his own, making his own decisions, and not being told what to do. It’s all wrong, it’s all backwards, it’s crazy, I hate it as much as you, but it is the situation as it exists, and we cannot change it no matter what we do.

I simply know the truth: he has his own priorities and his own life. And we are not a part of that for the time being. We may be again, and need to keep working towards that……you in your way and me in mine.

One final thing: what would you be doing or how would you feel if Alex were 20 or 21? I can hear your answer from here, “But he’s not. He’s only 17!!) Maybe this is the gap between us. It might be as simple as me saying that he is mentally as old as a 20 year old (or thinks he is) and so that is how I will treat him and view these situations. You might say he is still a child and 17 means 17. I get it; and it would certainly help explain why we don’t see eye to eye on this. But believe me, I think about his age all the time; but then I look at his life and what he is doing now and I don’t see a 17 year old. Let’s don’t go around in circles on this. Let’s agree to disagree that I think he is “older” than 17, and you feel that he should be treated like a 17 year old, because that is how old he is.

I realize that there is nothing very new in what I have said. And I realize that you can easily dismiss it all because of all you have learned and the things you have discussed with others. I accept that. But I look around and I don’t see Alex, and I know that we won’t see him until he is ready to see us. I know that we are beyond making changes in his life. The changes must come from him and we must be ready to help him if he asks. Short of that I am not going to loose the rest of my life because of one part of my life. I want that part back, but I don’t want to loose any more of it.

I love you.


Well-Known Member
Detaching to me doesn't mean no longer loving or caring. I would not detach from a child under 18.
I do have one son who has decided to detach from us for his own reasons and I am trying to repair it, so far with no results, but he is basically a good person--I believe we will reattach one day. However, I have detached, meaning I don't walk around thinking about him often. I concentrate on the kids who want and need me. I live my life and enjoy the things that I do.
I also think that detaching means not bailing over 18 kids out of trouble because they will never get better if they don't experience the very worst. Hard? Yeah. But we did it and now we have a happy twenty-three year old daughter who is into health food and exercise instead of drugs. Good luck. I know it's HARD.


New Member
busywend - I don’t know - difficult child he has certainly detached from us. Is it considered detachment on part of the parents if they don’t force treatment on their difficult child? The difficulty that husband and I are having is on many levels:

I am depressed – I know its way past time for me to seek help & medications but in addition to being depressed I hold a PhD in Procrastination. I am angry with just about everyone (husband for not taking charge, for not finding difficult child & beating some sense into him – instead he just takes the position of ‘waiting’ - difficult child 2 for being oblivious to what is going on right before her eyes; her lack of empathy – my friends for not being better friends - difficult child 1 for choosing this way of life, for throwing away his opportunities, his family, etc., and angry most of all with myself.

In addition to feeling like a failure as a parent (having your 16 y/o runaway 5x, turn to drugs, drop out of school, and have ZERO direction) I feel like double failure for not forcing him into treatment AGAIN and AGAIN till something clicks. As MidwestMom mentioned she wouldn’t detach from a child under 18, I feel like the entire world views our inactions as neglect. I typically don’t give a hoot what the world views or thinks but I gotta admit this is different. Sometimes I agree that it is neglect on our part for not dragging him wherever and other times I agree with- husband.

Does that make any sense?


New Member
First, it is time to quit proscrastinating. Get thee to your doctor and get some help for the depression. Being angry at everyone, especially yourself, is not helping your situation.

Right now, your son is not your son -- he is a teenager possessed by drugs. His choices probably are not ones he would make if not using. Forcing him into rehab probably wouldn't do much good. He has to want to go. The best you could do right now is get him into an Residential Treatment Center (RTC) and the odds of him staying there sound pretty slim. Right now, he thinks he can make it with friends and the like. Sooner or later, that will change -- his friends will have had enough of him living there and will kick him to the curb. That's when his trip to his rock bottom will begin. Until then, there really isn't much you can do.

Forcing him home right now doesn't sound like it would really help anyone -- he'd just run the first chance he got.

You're not giving up on him right now. Hopefully, you're waiting for him to want to change, to get his life and family back.

Your husband's letter had me in tears. He loves his family so much. He wants so much for all of you but knows that he can't help his son right now. You know he will be there when your son finally asks for help. That's not giving up, that's being realistic for this situation.

I wish there were easy answers for you, but there aren't. I suppose you could call someone and see what your options are in getting him home but I honestly don't think they would do much good. He would just keep running. I'm sorry.



Sometimes you have to detach from a child who is under 18. We moved heaven and earth for our difficult child 1 and she kept doing what she was doing. We did try an Residential Treatment Center (RTC) and it kept her safe for 8 months to the tune of $50,000 dollars--I am hoping part of the reason she can take care of herself now is from that experience--otherwise it was a waste of money since she relapsed and was worse than ever after coming home. She went to a dual diagnosis rehab when she was 17 for drug abuse and basically living on the streets.

For our own mental health and the health of the rest of our family we had to emotionally detach from her before she turned 18. It didn't mean we didn't do everything we could to help her, it meant that we got on with our own lives and didn't jump on the roller coaster with her. It meant we didn't consider ourselves failures because of the choices she was making. It meant that we were upfront and unashamed when talking about her to other people--we did not let it reflect on our own sense of worth. It meant we went dancing and had fun with each other. It meant we could count on eachother for support when one of us was feeling upset about her. My husband (her stepfather) and I became closer during that time and my love for him has deepened because of his love for this stepkid who has been so difficult. He loves her despite all the trouble, financial difficulties, etc.

Once she was 18 we had to detach physically as well as emotionally but we now have a success story--a difficult child who is making it on her own under her own terms who loves her family and is able to connect with us again.

I think your husband loves you and your kids very much and is actually reacting in a very healthy way. I hope you will get some help with the depression, please don't let your marriage fail because of a difficult child.



New Member
I am not sure that many people know this but a person brain is not fully developed until the age of 25! So yeah they are teenagers and almost "considered an adult" but they are still thining like a child and will till they are about 25 for males. I believe it is 24 for females. Just something to chew on.


New Member
Jere, I think for most of us are well aware of that fact and probably even consider our children's brain growth even slower. However, there reaches a point where there truly isn't anything we can do. Our hands are tied not only by our children's actions but by the law and social services. Sometimes detachment is our only sanity.


Well-Known Member
Nola, I would walk on my hands and eat poop if it would give my difficult child a better life. But, that would not work. It would not give her a better life.

What would giver her a better life?

*difficult child making better choices
*difficult child putting effort into school
*difficult child caring or trying to get out of her depression
*difficult child not refusing medical treatment for that depression
*difficult child not mouthing off at school
and a myriad of other things that bring her life down.

You get the common theme here, right? Even if I kept difficult child punished in her room every day with nothing to do in her room...SHE still has to choose to not be mouthy to her teacher and SHE has to choose to do her homework. It is her choice. I can not put the pencil in her hand and force her brain to think about that assignment. I just can't, it is not possible.

So, when your difficult child starts doing things for himself, trying to make a better life for him and putting real effort into it...then you can start to support him again. When he is making better decisions.

That is really what detachment is to me. I have to step back because I am powerless to do anything that would make difficult child make her life better.
I do what I can. I provide a nice home, with a bed and clothes (I even wash them now and then because she will not) and food. I try to encourage as much as I can. I am always willing to bring her places or trying to encourage social interaction. I do what I can.


Well-Known Member
NOLA, your husband's letter is pretty powerful. I thank you for posting it. It does highlight a difference between men and women. It is important to remember that we are different, we react differently to some situation.

He is telling you that it is OK for you to react the way you do and he supports you in your way. But, he has his own way and it sounds like you are not accepting of his way of dealing. I think it is because you feel you should do more.

Can you think of anything else to try that you have not already tried? I am sure husband would be willing to listen to a new idea.


My difficult child is not quite 13 and if I haven't detached somewhat, I would be in a locked ward. As I tell her all the time, I can offer her the resources (therapy, medications, etc), but I simply cannot do the work for her. I can guide her, hold her hand, show her the way and be her support, but she has to take me up on the offer. I told her that no matter how much I want to be able to do it for her, I can't and even at almost 13 she has to want to help herself. I finally told her that if she doesn't want to use these resources or try to find others that she feels might be better, that is fine; it's her life and her choice. However, I will not let her dump her misery on me anymore.

by the way, this came about after a long meltdown one night after which she was still refusing any kind of help. I told her I could see how miserable she was and I wanted better for her. Her response was, "So?! I'm not going to die!" Simply put, it's easier to do this than to have to do something that will take some work. She had said that numerous times before, but that time something clicked. I just thought, why am I killing myself trying to help her when she doesn't even care.

It seems to have worked as she has willingly gone back on medications and has talked to me about therapy. *knock on wood, throw salt, sign of the cross* Don't want to jinx it. When she was forced to own her problems instead of making them someone else's, it opened her eyes.