lessons from wise warriors on detaching?


Active Member
My son is 17, and I am in the throws of trying to detach. It is gut wrenching, confusing, and nauseating - and something I do not come by naturally. He is floundering at the moment, doing nothing, absolutely nothing - and somewhere inside I have to kindle some tough love. I have always been the most giving, loving, sacrificial parent - but I know this is no longer what he needs. In fact, if anything, it has hurt him more than helped. He is spoiled, and soft, and lazy.......not to mention angry, self absorbed, and indifferent to going forward. Reading your posts, I can tell many of you are experts in detaching - and I would love advice, feedback, and stories of how you were able to truly become a warrior mom or dad and detach. I need fuel for my fire to be a different, stronger, better mom.


New Member
Weeping Willow, I love your quote. That has such meaning!!

Detatching isn't easy and I don't know if there is any real rules to it. You just kind of have to follow your heart. You sound like you are definatley ready, so begin by doing for yourself and not getting swallowed by his life choices.

Maybe you could tell us a little more about your life and what he is doing. Is he using drugs?? Or just being a general pain in the you know what???

I detatched a few years back and because I did, it helped my easy child/former difficult child become the person he is today. Today he barely resembles the difficult child I knew 2 years ago.


New Member
I read your question to my sister today and her response was, "did you write that"? She knows that I am at the same point although my difficult child is almost 16 years old and sitting in the detention center for 30 days again. I really hope some of the others kick in and give you more replies as I am looking forward to seeing the answers myself. And for what it is work, I am feeling the same pain and knowing there has to be a way to step away.


New Member
I detached from my daughter's behavior, but not from her. That is, what happens to her, happens to HER, not to me. I will be there to give her advice, comfort her, be with her but I will not bail her out in any way, shape or form.

She does live with me at the present time but she has definite rules she must follow. If she chooses to not follow them, she knows the options -- anywhere from no computer access to leaving home permanently.

To me, detaching doesn't mean not loving, it means having the strength to force my child to grow up. It is much easier to do for her than it is to watch her try and falter and, even more sadly, give up. Since I am not willing to help her, I am seeing her get stronger every day.

However, my daughter is 20. Your son is 17. Has he graduated from high school? Is he going on to college? If either of these are yes, then your situation is different. It is much easier to tell an adult child out of school to leave home than it is a child in school. Mind you, not less painful, just easier.

If no school, you may have to force him to start doing. Give him a set deadline by when he has to have a job and tell him that right now his job is to find a job. That is, he has to be up and out by X time every week day looking and you'll expect him to bring home the job applications to prove that he has been out there. With us, it was out by 10:00 am looking, home around 1:00 pm and filling out applications until 5:00 pm. Not quite a full work day, but enough to get a basic routine started.

She is required to pay rent on top of some basic household chores. (I'm putting her rent money to the side for her when she is ready to spread her wings but she does not know this.) If the chores don't happen by X time on a given day or if rent is not fully paid by the 5th of the month, I let her know I'm assuming she plans to move out by the end of that month and if she's not planning to move out, she better get the money paid and the chores done. She knows I mean it so whatever is necessary happens.

I think detaching became easier when I realized that I was helping more by detaching from the problems and day-to-day drama than when I was trying to help or jumping in and doing it for my child. I have seen dramatic strides in my daughter since her last foray into "adulthood." Hopefully, the next time she leaves she will be leaving as a young woman embarking on her life's journey.


Well-Known Member
I think we need to know that when we give way, we don't give up. We let them make their own way. For me, when I started to recognize in myself that in spite of my best efforts I had made parenting mistakes that shouldn't be held against me, I began to realize that my children need to be able to make their own mistakes as well. That I can't hold those mistakes against them so long as they learn from them. They have to learn 'from the mistake'. Not from me pointing out to them the error of their ways. All I get to do is love them. And wait...


Spork Queen
Detaching is difficult. Everyone has their own time frame when this is necessary. For me, it was when the rest of my family was in jepordy (sp? I can't find spell check.). It doesn't mean you don't love them, but you are doing what is best for all involved.

Good luck with your venture. It sounds like you have a good plan.

I agree with all the above posts. But it is still a personal thing. Detaching is hard. I am still trying to do it right after 7 years. My son is 24. His last time in jail was 52 days ago. We told him then while still in jail he could not come home after jail. We hoped he would chose rehab - he did not. Now he is living with a friend - not living like we would like but living. He called me today and asked for money - i said no - ididnt have any anyway. We did just take him to the dentist, etc. and tohis probation officer. When he lived at home we tried everything we knew, counselors, doctors, career people, GED classes, rehabs, drug classes, etc. love and support nothing worked. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done but I hope it makes him realize he is in charge of himself. Good Luck. This post has helped me so much. :thumb:


New Member
My summary on my detachment ~

I came here and was advised to detach. I read all the info on detachment and I thought I was practicing it.

Each time something 'new' happened with my son I would dive right into the middle of it. I tried everyway imaginable to manipulate the situation. When I had exhausted every chance, every next time...

I let him go. I didn't call. I didn't look.

One of largest humps (mountains!) I had to get over was that it was okay for me to be happy even if my son wasn't living right.

In my mind, he was miserable. Running from place to place, abusing drugs, etc. The reality was he was living it up in his mind. He wasn't miserable he was doing EXACTLY what he wanted to do.

The pursuit of happiness.....it is an activity
I think that is exactly how I feel. I was thinking today about how he lives. I cannot understand how anyone would be happy but I asked him and he said he is happy - he would rather live the way he is living now than in a rehab or something. He doesnt have a car, presently no job, etc. So I detached and I can be happy even if he is living different than I would or different than we brought him up. That is the thing. It is hard to see them step down.


Well-Known Member
<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: hearthope</div><div class="ubbcode-body">
One of largest humps (mountains!) I had to get over was that it was okay for me to be happy even if my son wasn't living right.</div></div>

Amen, Sister!

scent of cedar

New Member
I don't think there is an easy way to detach. What I really believe is that, until the kids are successfully launched, there is some hormonal something that creates an almost obsessive fixation on the child who is not doing well. Just as we mother our infants through every stage, totally attentive to every sound or step, we mother our adolescents. Kids in trouble never leave that "adolescent" stage. (And they do say that, too ~ that kids who use or drink don't progress beyond the stage of maturity at which they began using.)

Having said that though, I think that if we do not make that conscious choice to detach, we will become weakened and exhausted and depressed. We will fixate on that lost child to the exclusion of our marriages and our other children. We will allow inappropriate behaviors from the "lost" one because we literally do not see them as inappropriate. We lose sight of the fact that we have, and can make, a choice about how we expect to be treated as parents. (For instance, difficult child calls both husband and myself by our first names because we are "friends" not family ~ until he wants money, that is. And then? Our "family" is the worst, most heartless family that ever was.)

Unless we can detach enough to state our healthy expectations, we will be treated worse and worse by the child who is not doing well.

Hearthope made the other key point ~ the point that enables detachment.

The child who is willfully not doing well IS happy doing what he or she is doing, or the child would make a different choice.

A key phrase for me was "You were raised better than to do what you are doing."

A key understanding for me was to realize the truth in that statement.

The child is doing what he or she wants to.

And they aren't about to stop for you.

If there is drug use, you will have to face up to that. It took us a very long time to acknowledge the part drug use was playing in the course of our son's life.

No parent wants to acknowledge that the child is powerless over his or her addiction. It is too painful and scary and hopeless.

But for some of us, that IS the child's situation. Our pretending the child will be fine if we just help him stand up one more time serves no real purpose ~ except to help us feel we did SOMETHING.

The detachment site is listed at the bottom of my posts. It helped me through the worst, beginning phases of seeing our family's situation for what it is.

I wish you well.

I am sorry for the pain you are in. Over time, you will recover the joy that seems gone forever right now.



Active Member
Wow, so many excellent thoughts....you guys are great. Thank you.

I definitely think the hardest thing is for me to be happy when my son is not. To not continually try and "fix" what I perceive to be his unhappiness. To not live in the past, the guilt, the loss, and to try and move forward. I really have given up everything to try and help this child, my career, my independence, my self - and now to try and claim that back, feels like somehow I have failed him. How can I move on, when he is still floundering and lost? But yet, I know that it is possibly the one last thing I have not tried......and quite possibly the one thing that would be the most effective in motivating him.

All of this is so hard though, because as one of you said, I am still caught in my own pain, grief, and depression - and so to try and bolster up my self to move on, sometimes feels as monumental as trying to motivate my child to move forward. It feels like we are both caught in a rock slide - both of us boulders pushed up against each other securing each other into the mountain wall - and when one of us moves, the other will have to drop - whether one of us, or both, ends up in small pieces, or rather roll into a new land, is the question that keeps me up at night.

Ack........I just never thought it would turn out this way. I really believed that if I put my heart and soul into my son's life to help him - therapies, the right school, the constant parental input - that he would be OK. I really could not imagine how he could not be........because it just seemed so clear cut, so straight forward........
Accepting that I did all I could is not something I come by easily. Surely I must have failed, because he is still not well? And so my instinct is to do more, more, and more..... and not doing that, but rather attempting to over ride this guttural maternal drive - feels like nothing short of an exorcism. /forums/images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/tired.gif


New Member
<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: WeepingWillow</div><div class="ubbcode-body"> I really have given up everything to try and help this child, my career, my independence, my self - and now to try and claim that back, feels like somehow I have failed him.

Now ask yourself if all those things you have given up helped him in anyway. I can almost guarantee they didn't. The only thing it did was make you more unhappy then he was already making you. These are his choices. You aren't choosing to make choices in your life that make you unhappy, so learn to live and be happy. You'll be amazed how much it will rub off on him once he sees that you aren't living your life around him. It will take a while to catch on, but believe me it will.

Read my post titled 2 years ago today.


Active Member

When you think your child is drinking or using other drugs or both, your life can become a nightmare. When you see your child's life go down the drain, you are likely to suffer many painful feelings. And often, it seems that the more you do, the worse things get. Is there any hope?

POTADA is a 12-step fellowship of parents and other family members whose children of any age are alcohol and other drug abusers. Stories of loving people who use or are addicted to heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, oxycontin, marijuana, alcohol, or whatever drug are shared in confidence at POTADA meetings. No story is foreign to POTADA; all are understood. In POTADA, we offer hope and effective ways of improving the devastating situation of drug abuse. Given a chance, the POTADA program invariably and significantly improves the family's well being.

Frequently parents of an alcohol or drug user may need more assistance and counseling than the drug user if an effective recovery program is not practiced. Since the user feels "good" when using, the parents initially suffer the most. Keep in mind that alcohol and other drug addictions are diseases, which have tremendous negative impact upon the immediate family. Those most affected by the drug user are the parents, siblings, and other loved ones.

For example, parents may find themselves being blamed for everything that is wrong in a drug users family. Commonly, they feel guilty, afraid, angry, and confused. Yet, the parents are no more responsible for abuse or addiction than they would be for the existence of diabetes or tuberculosis in their children. No parent ever made his son or daughter an addict; therefore, no parent can be held responsible for his or her recovery.

It is sad and common how well a drug abuser controls a family, especially parents. The child takes drugs again and again. The family screams, cries, yells, begs, pleads, prays, threatens, or is silent. Loving parents also cover up, protect, and shield their loved one from his or her consequences of drug abuse. They falsely assume that somehow they can change or "fix" the child. In time, they learn that they can only change themselves—and, such self-improvement will help their abusing loved one. With good intentions parents may allow the illness to go unnoticed or even facilitate it. Because of inadequate understanding, they may acquiesce or enable the development of the disease. Although parents of drug users did not cause the problem and cannot control or change their children, parents are not helpless. As parents, you have the power to make things better. Besides feeling better yourself, you can learn how to increase the likelihood of your children's recovery. POTADA offers such help.

With love, you can act on mistaken beliefs, cope ineffectively, and actually make matters worse. The mistakes of well-meaning family members can make recovery more difficult for their child. You can learn how to avoid playing into sick patterns of abuse and thereby contribute to the progress of the illness. POTADA helps you to abstain from enabling as well as implement more effective behavior.

If a family member is willing to learn the facts about drug abuse and put them into practice, the chances of recovery are greatly increased. In fact, the best way to help any drug abuser recover is to remove ignorance and negative behavior, acquire healthy attitudes, and have the courage to practice effective principles when dealing with your child. To achieve these goals, a community born out of love is needed.

In POTADA, we learn to deal with guilt, shame, fear, anger, confusion, depression, or whatever feeling that harms children and ourselves. We learn to love more effectively, to allow our loved ones to be responsible for their behavior, and to achieve serenity regardless of what they do. Paradoxically, in helping ourselves, we help our children.

When drug users get high, they anesthetize their pain. It is a problem-solving device to relieve anxiety, anger, shame, and other confusing and painful feelings. Although they temporarily relieve their pain, the family's pain increases. Instead of learning from the consequences of addiction, they use more. Remorse and guilt compel some users to beg for mercy and promise that it will never happen again. Others simply deny and lie about their use. Whatever their response, they avoid the consequences of and responsibility for their drug use.

Addicts use drugs to escape pain and learn how to use the family to avoid consequences. Remember: Addiction is a family disease; the family suffers when one of its members uses drugs. If the family bears the brunt of the drug use and absorbs its consequences, recovery is thwarted.

To intervene is to confront a person with the facts of his illness and of the effects caused by drug use. This calls for courage, compassion, and competence without anger and manipulation. POTADA members share what worked for them as well as how to intervene effectively. POTADA can help you learn to communicate with your abuser as well as offer helpful resources.

You are not helpless! You can acquire the power to achieve recovery. You can begin by doing the following:

    • Learn all the facts about alcohol, drug use, and co-dependency and put them to work in your own life. Don't start with the drug abuser. Start with yourself.
    • Go to POTADA meetings. The members will share their experiences, strengths, and hopes to help you help your child. POTADA will help you learn to avoid enabling, to set boundaries, give appropriate consequences, maintain control and serenity as well as how to access the latest legal, therapeutic, and spiritual resources. You can achieve the love of self and others, serenity, freedom, courage, competence, and compassion that engender recovery


Some great posts about detaching here! Also, remember that it is a burden to your child to make him or her responsible for your happiness--sometimes that helped me feel less guilty. Also, I think there is a security for them in having a stable, well-adjusted, functioning parent there somewhere.



Active Member
I could not agree more that the absolute next step is for me to claim my life back. I know without a doubt that this is mandatory......I am just struggling to do. I did not how much of myself I had let become absorbed in my kid, until now! YIKES! I used to be a very successful business manager - and now I am doing good to make it through the day without a panic attack. I have a lot of work to do now on myself - which as we all have said - I know will ultimately help my kid.

It is also hard because he is only going to be 17 next month. He has dropped out of school, so I have told him he has to get his GED when he turns 17, (which is the earliest legal age to do it), or get a job. Needless to say, we still have another year or 2 of living in each other's presence and me coping with his cr*p. I think it is harder to detach when I am also trying to set limits, issues consequences, and maybe try to also through in a little encouragement as well. It is a mind contortion to say the least.......made harder by me having parents that did not know the first thing about healthy parenting, so it does not come naturally to me at all.

Oh well....I will do it! I am just glad that I have had the epiphany of what to do next. I have felt stuck and lost for so long.
Now see, WW, without trying to tell you how to manage your life, I'm just gonna tell you how I would do things.

He is 16, gonna be 17? In a month? There is not a reason in the freaking world why he is not working full time. Not one. If there is a child of working age in MY house, and that child is not in school, that child is WORKING and paying rent. End of story. Going for his GED? He can drop down to part time while he is in school. No car? Here's your bike, you can pedal your behind back and forth. You don't like it? Get your :censored2: back in school.

And THAT is detaching. No questions, no negotiations. Here are MY rules, it is MY house. That's it, that's all.


Spork Queen
This is not easy. As I said before, everyone has their own comfort level on how to deal with this. There is the old saying of the school of hard knocks. It's hard watching them go through this, but ultimately you might have a life back and they might actually get their act together. For some it might be having a child. For others it might be the lack of contact with family members. And...some never get it. :thumbsdown:

My brother was a difficult child. He didn't 'get it' until he was in his forties. Now, it's like nothing ever happened in our family. He's finally over it. I'm happy for him, but it was a long time coming.

Don't question your failure as a parent. You do what you know, and no one ever gave us a manual to guide us along. I think a lot of these kids won't recognize this until they have their own children.