What is tough love, detachment, enabling etc?

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by toughlovin, Mar 21, 2014.

  1. toughlovin

    toughlovin Well-Known Member

    I like the concept of detachment being about what is going on in your head rather than what you are physically doing or not doing. For me ultimately it was giving up the idea that I have any control over the decisions my adult child makes. To me that is a healthy step for me and a positive step for our relationship as well.....he needs to know I recognize I have no control over him and then maybe he can start trying to fight his view of my control and make the decisions that are good for him because he feels they are good for him, rather than rebelling against me!


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  2. Signorina

    Signorina Guest

    "For me ultimately it was giving up the idea that I have any control over the decisions my adult child makes"

    Amen & alleluia. And it's a hard transition . . .
  3. pasajes4

    pasajes4 Well-Known Member

    I believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give any of our children difficult child or easy child is the gift of being in control of their own lives in total. With easy child's I think it begins naturally as they transition into adulthood and we see that they are making good choices. With difficult children I think the time line can be protracted out of necessity but that at some point we will reach the point where it begins to happen. Sometimes it can be a painful transition.
  4. Childofmine

    Childofmine one day at a time

    Yesterday I was walking and listening to Al-Anon podcasts (you can download free from Itunes, FYI).

    One of them was three of four people talking about the subject of choices. They were sitting around talking about their experience with learning that they even had choices in the first place. They said growing up they didn't feel they had many choices, and then when their qualifier (read: difficult child) started his or her descent into alcoholism or addiction, they just kept on doing what the qualifier wanted, hoping that somehow if they just did this one more thing, the insanity would stop.

    Then one day they began to see that all of their best efforts were not helping, and then they really didn't know what to do. They were completely spent and emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally---bankrupt, spent, without one thing to try.

    They crawled into Al-Anon (that is what most of us to---we crawl in there one day, ready to have somebody, anybody, tell us how to make the alcoholic/addict stop because we've tried and tried and tried and tried and tried...and they are still doing what they do.

    That is a very good day, that day. But it doesn't feel like it at first. In fact, it is infuriating because all we want---just tell us and we'll go---is to find out how to make them stop.

    And we hear that we need to work on ourselves. What? Are these people nuts? I'm the "good one." I didn't and don't do anything wrong. I'm law-abiding, going to work, holding it all together. THESE OTHER PEOPLE are the ones that need to work on themselves.
    We are furious.

    But a little voice also says, why are these people smiling? Why are they so gentle? Then we say, well, their situation is different from mine. They must not have lived through the absolute hell that I have been living in.

    And we feel isolated. We feel once again that nobody, anywhere will ever understand how horrible our lives have become.

    But if we keep going---at least for the six meetings that Al-Anon gently recommends---and we open our minds, we will start to hear and see something different. We hear a way to get our own lives back.

    Not so much about the alcoholic/addict. But about us. That is still foreign to us, that talk about ourselves, because we don't need help. In fact, all would be wonderful IF. THEY. WOULD. JUST. STOP. That's all we want, and our lives would be great again. Just make them stop.

    We are still resistant, but there is a little growing place inside us that wants to hear more. And as we hear the other people in the room share about their experience, strength and hope, we start really hearing.

    We take a fresh look at the Steps. We take a fresh look at the slogans. We buy one of the books. We stay for a few minutes and talk to someone. People are kind. They give us a hug. They seem to really care.

    I used to be so dismissive of the slogans in Al-Anon. Some of them are:

    Think. (Think, of course I think, that is ALL I do, is think. I am sick of thinking. I don't want to think. I just want HIM TO STOP.)

    Let Go and Let God. (Okay, sure, I get that. I did that, and it didn't work. He didn't stop and I am still miserable. Why didn't God do something? Is there even a God? If there is, why is this happening? ....)

    No is a complete sentence. (Wow, that is really remedial. You can't just say no to somebody, that would hurt their feelings. You need to explain yourself so they will understand. And besides, they are sick. If they just hear No all the time, they might kill themselves. I can't do that.)

    And so on.

    But once I started to open my mind up, and that is a big step, being willing to learn something new, something different, because folks, my best thinking got me where I was, which was completely miserable, things had a chance to start to take hold, if I would keep coming back and listening and being open to doing just one thing different every day. Just one thing.

    And then my attitude started to change. I heard that my attitude was my own responsibility and that my attitude could determine my day, regardless of what the alcoholic/addict is doing or not.

    What? Are you nuts? My son is in jail. My son is a drug addict. My son is a complete failure. My son is a wreck. I am only as happy as my least unhappy child. I have to do something. I have to help him. I can't let him keep on like this.

    But slowly, very very slowly, I started taking responsibility for my own life. And then, I started to feel better. And then, I liked that feeling so much that I wanted more of it. I wanted to feel better. It felt so good, after so long of feeling like I was really dead, even though I was still walking around.

    I started to work hard. I started to do what was being suggested to me, instead of thinking that I knew best and If I just kept on trying, I could make something good happen for my son. I got a Sponsor, after watching and listening to many people over many months. I started meeting with her, and I started doing the things she asked me to do.

    And very slowly, with lots of steps backward and then stumbling forward, I started to really change.

    And what really changed, most of all, was my focus. My focus was still on my beloved son, but I could see, just a glimmer at first, but then growing bigger, that there was a LOT of work to do on ME. Me, the great one. Me, the long-suffering, "good" one. Me, the one who just kept on holding it all together.

    I needed to see my own inabilities, my own weaknesses and my own character defects. I needed to see them clearly and I needed to work on them. And as I began to do that, I got better.

    And my attitude toward my precious difficult child son started to change. I began to see him with compassion, instead of intense anger, frustration, despair and hopelessness. I began to see that my struggle and his struggle were ours alone. I began to see that I am on a spiritual journey which is my own life, and he is on a spiritual journey which is his own life.

    I can't know what that journey is. I can't get on his path and stand in front of him and insist that he follow MY ideas and MY suggestions and MY advice. Because it's HIS journey. His and God's, to make together.

    Folks, this is my journey toward detachment. Toward stopping enabling. Toward a better way of life. For me and for him.

    Today, I believe with all my heart and mind and soul that my son has to make his own way. Is that a cold, harsh, draw a line in the sand thing? Well, in the past, sometimes it has been. I have stumbled and crawled and found my way, making many many mistakes, full of self-doubt, full of fear, full of despair, to this point.

    I don't know how it will turn out. My son was here, at my house on Saturday, for about four hours. It was a very enjoyable time. I haven't talked with him since then. I am okay with that. I hope and pray he is okay.

    I only know these things, which are truths for me:

    1. I love my son so very deeply and so very much.
    2. I would give anything in the world for him to be better. Even give up my own need to manage and control and fix his life.
    3. I am a full-time job. Working on myself, becoming a better person, takes up all of my energy and resources.
    4. I will not cut my son out of my life. I want to have a relationship with him. I am trying to find my way and figure out what that means every day. He is homeless and he seems to be trying to find his way. That's not mine to judge or figure out. That is his, at his age of 24.5 years old.
    5. Will I help him again? Yes. I gave him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich Saturday. I gave him things to drink. He took a shower here. I washed his clothes for him. I helped him with his car for an hour. Also, he helped me. He helped dig a bush out of the yard. We hugged each other. We enjoyed some conversation. There was more balance with us, for the first time in a long long time. We gave each other something. Not just me giving to him.
    6. Why did this happen? Is it because of my detachment? I have no idea.

    Detachment is for me. It's not about him. It's about me having the courage and strength and will to live my own live and to let other people live their lives.

    This is what i have learned, so far.
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  5. Scent of Cedar *

    Scent of Cedar * Well-Known Member

    You know? I believe this to be true. I think that our determined effort and the successful conclusions that followed in other areas of our lives gave us faith that we could do this, too. Failure just meant to research and try a different approach. Failure meant to learn more about the thing, whatever the thing was. I think you are right, Child. We are not people who give up when something goes wrong.

    I don't see any of us giving up here on the site, either. I see us learning, thinking, deciding, requiring change of ourselves in this newest effort to change destructive patterns evolved during the times we were attacking the problem from other angles.

    Oh, so many other angles.

    Great definition.

    Yes. To that, I would add detachment is learning to detach, to step away from, the overwhelming emotional response to a child's cry for help. When servicing the child's addiction or excusing their behavior problems becomes habitual, love turns from something clean and strengthening to some twisted thing, dark and resentful on both sides. We do not get to choose to have it the way we want it. We cannot just wish our children healthy or pretend this isn't happening.

    I agree. Our children's illnesses lead us to develop corresponding illnesses of our own. Loving a troubled child long gone into adulthood but stuck in adolescent behaviors and coping styles becomes its own kind of addiction. We begin overstepping boundaries; we come to believe our children are inept. We teach our children they are inept, that they cannot do it without us, that life is something to fear.

    We begin looking at them differently.

    There is a kind sickness, a kind of smug superiority in it. Validation maybe, for the why I couldn't fix this when he or she was younger, validation for why this happened, maybe.

    All of it is sick.

    For me, the result of detaching, the recognition of enabling and what it meant for my child, has been increasing respect for my child. I am no longer accepting the judgments I make about what she does. I am concentrating on staying upright, myself, and on accepting the lifestyle choices both my children are making without judging them for that.

    Like COM, I am concentrating my efforts on my own life, my own foolishness and shortcomings. Part of this whole business with saving my kids over and over again changed me into some kind of martyr mother. Lots of pain. No reward. I began to see myself as this long-suffering wise person, always giving advice (along with the money that was all they really wanted), always being the comforting, safe place (along with the being the dispenser of the money, which was all they really wanted.)

    Very harmful to my children, for me to have done that. Very harmful for me, too. No one is that perfect. I wonder sometimes whether that reward system, that perfected martyr mother role, is what kept me tied into enabling.

    I wish I had tried detachment sooner, for all our sakes.

  6. toughlovin

    toughlovin Well-Known Member

    COM you described my experience with my parents alanon group and my corresponding journey very well! I really think those things helped me get to the point I am now....which is a very different place than 3 and a half years ago when my son was first in jail and I was a complete wreck.


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  7. Albatross

    Albatross Well-Known Member

    This hit home for me. Until I was walking this path, I always thought "good" mothers produce "good" children. I have had so much of my self-identity tied up in being a "good" mother. In looking back, I can see that much of the time, the less difficult child wanted my oh-so-stellar parenting, the more I begged him to take it, or manipulated my way into doing it behind the scenes, or barring that, cramming it down his throat!
  8. Signorina

    Signorina Guest

    Reading this was like looking in a mirror
  9. ForeverSpring

    ForeverSpring Well-Known Member

    I did everything right (haha). Or so I thought. My kids were the center of my life. I only worked part-time and only when their dad was home, so no daycare. My house was THE house all the kids wanted to be at. I was the one who drove all the kids to baseball, football and other practices. I went to school regularly. I put myself in the background...one could say my existence was only to make sure my kids were ok.I had long talks with all of my children. I had very good control of my temper while raising a few difficult kids. I stayed calm. That's what good parents do, right? They all were encouraged to reach for the stars and we'd be their biggest cheerleaders (husband and me).

    What a humbling experience this path has taken me down! At the same time, I've become a cynic. When I see a "perfect" looking family, with hub and wife holding hands and the scrubbed and well dressed kids all smiling in the sunshine, my inner voice now asks me, "What are their problems, I wonder?"

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