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The Detachment Wall: How to Let Go of Your Adult Children

By Christine Field October 05, 2022 Family

Some of us moms have a problem with our attachment to our children, to the point where the bond can become unhealthy.

Can we love our children but not let their choices or behavior make us crazy? Is some detachment actually a good idea?

Is Detachment a Wall?

The idea of detaching from a person can seem terrifying. But is there a way to practice healthy detachment?

Another way of thinking about it is this – when we live detached, we are not placing a wall between us and others. Instead, we are examining our own expectations and dependencies.

With those in perspective, we are freer to love another person because the focus is shifted to them and is not solely on us.

With our adult children, though we love them unconditionally, we try to satisfy unmet needs in us:

  • Our need to be needed.
  • Our desire to nurture someone.
  • Our desire to see that our work and love produces an effect – a child who loves us back.

What we often do is keep a picture in our minds of our child and how they will fulfill these needs and desires for us. What happens when that child rejects us? In my case, and for many other moms, we completely freak out!

What Went Wrong

When we are ‘good mothers,’ we begin to define ourselves by our mothering. While this can be positive and can encourage us to fulfill our role responsibly, by totally adopting that definition we can forget all the other aspects of ‘me.’

When we are our role, when that role is challenging, or when that role is over, what is left of ‘us’?

In dealing with estranged children, we still tend to look within ourselves. We ask ourselves what we did wrong. We obsess over every interaction and question whether we could have responded differently.

Read HOW TO DIVORCE YOUR ADULT CHILDREN AND RESTORE YOUR SANITY.

This Monday-morning quarterbacking neglects some basic facts about humans:

You Can’t Control Other People

We surely have influence over our children, but we do not mold them like clay. When they don’t turn out the way we planned, we neglect this fundamental truth.

You Can’t Rely on Your Children for Your Happiness

We may have looked ahead to our golden years and seen ourselves surrounded by loving grandchildren. This neglects another fundamental truth: People change. If we rely on other people for our happiness, we may be disappointed.

My source of joy and happiness is an inside job, not dependent on the actions of others.

Your Emptiness Is Yours to Fill Up

Your adult children don’t exist solely to fill the void of your unmet needs. Do you need the love and admiration of children and grandchildren to be happy? Perhaps meeting your own needs by loving yourself sufficiently will bring more peace and satisfaction.

Complete People Can Love Completely

I remember well the first time my young daughter gushed about a new boyfriend, saying, “He completes me!” We had many long talks deep into the night discussing how love can be real and true only when two people who are complete within themselves come together.

True love rejects the notion that the other exists solely to please you. True love is therefore not threatened when the other displeases you, because the love is not dependent on the other fulfilling your needs.

Having the other person conform to our desires so we will love them is manipulation, not love. Focusing on “what’s in it for me” is a death knell for true love.

Yet, as mothers, we sometimes forget that in our relating to our adult children. When we can view them with some detachment, when our reactions to them are no longer based on expectations or being dependent on them, we are then able to love them fully and freely.

Do not look at your adult child as completing you, giving you a fulfilled life, or meeting your needs. When you set those aside, you begin to understand love.

What to Do Now?

If you are a hurting mama, laid low in the dust by the estrangement of an adult child, what should you do now?

  • Examine your feelings and thoughts. What does it feel like when attachment hurts? What thoughts are you thinking at the time? Can you begin to think differently?
  • Be with others and love them, but don’t look to them as your source of happiness.
  • Learn to be alone, not lonely. Loving ourselves enough that we can be our best companions is healthy.
  • Quit blaming yourself for the state of the relationship. You didn’t and couldn’t control the outcome. Why beat yourself up?

Here are a few more ideas to help you heal and let go.

  • Journal – Writing or sketching your feelings and thoughts puts you in the moment and helps to get you out of your thoughts. Buy yourself a pretty journal and write in it whenever you feel overwhelmed, sad, or lonely.
  • Find other mothers in the same boat – Join Facebook groups and share your stories with other women who are going through the same thing. Lift each other up and remember not to fall into the trap of wallowing and continuous negativity. 
  • Seek counseling or therapy – Look into talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. 
  • Read empowering books such as:

Self-Love Workbook for Women: Release Self-Doubt, Build Self-Compassion, and Embrace Who You Are by Megan Logan on Amazon.

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödron on Amazon

Keep Moving by Maggie Smith on Amazon

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz on Amazon

Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky on Amazon.

When we are not attached to any outcome in our relationships, then we can be free and happy. When the state of our internal life is more important than our external circumstances – there lies peace.

Read PARENTING ADULT CHILDREN CAN BE AGONY.

Also, MY ADULT CHILDREN CUT ME OUT OF THEIR LIFE.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you still find it hard to let go of your adult children? Or, do you still worry about them and take care of them more than you think you should? Please join the conversation below.

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Cynthia

Thank you I needed to read this

Carolyn

Thank you for opening my eyes to the need to detach from my adult son. I really needed that truth.

Tanya

Me and my daughter has been estranged for yrs. When I divorced her father after 13 years she went to live with me, but when she got to be a teenager she would not cooperate with me like she used to.

Yrs later she had a garage apartment built on lot where I lived with her and her dad.

Her stepmother is not a good person except when she will get something out of it. My daughter got pregnant and detached completely saying stepmother to be caregiver for her baby. I only see daughter and Granddaughter on special occasions (birthdays, Christmas and Thanksgiving) Her father and stepmother will have nothing to do with me. I’ve told my daughter why does it have to be this way. It’s been over 20 yrs since divorce and I’m over it. The woman was a friend and alienated my husband away from me.

My Granddaughter is now 5 yrs old

Went to therapy for yrs. Helped for a while but now she is pregnant again and stepmother will once again be caregiver.

I’m retired but daughter turns to stepmother instead of me. Hardly any conversations about what is going on in her life. It’s heart breaking.

I have some friends and few family members they say I have to let it go but they do not know how hard it is.

I went to therapy for yrs. Now I’m devastated again which is consuming me and making me physically ill.

What to do know?

I’m 65 yrs old only have one child. Never in a million yrs thought my life would turn out like this. I wanted a baby so bad I divorced my first husband because he decided he didn’t want kids.

Well I got my child but she doesn’t really care to see or talk to me anymore.

How to stop this tragic effect once again in my life. I pray God will change things for the better all the time. Still hoping and praying for a better out come.

Tamara

I’m so sorry… I know that must hurt when you wanted a child so much that you divorced your first husband and now that child spends more time with the step mom. It could be she had so much love and support from you that she took it for granted or the step mom could be very manipulative. It’s important to focus on loving yourself and let go a little more. I have a similar situation, in the sense that I wanted a child very much and had a son who is now 27. Yet, he takes me for granted, is disrespectful even though I built my world around him for 20+ years. I’ve come to understand he’s spoiled, I did too much and he takes me for granted. I recently discussed all of this with my therapist and she said he may resent that I won’t let go and let him grow up. I moved away and am trying to focus on me more. Moving helps so you’re not in the middle of the dynamic that’s hurting you… Have you read any Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion? They have helped me… sending you hugs and healing

Drama Free

Hi! I would love to join this conversation to say this, I have a newly bratty 38 yr. Only daughter. I call her out on her bs and she hates it. Oh well! Stop being lame, walking on eggshells and putting up with it all. She was great until she had an abusive female boss for 10 years followed by a bipolar boyfriend which luckily she just dumped. She changed at 34. They effed her up. If she doesn’t want to talk to me that is a relief because she is mean anyway so why in the world would you or I continue to want the abuse? She was mean to the boyfriend and her 18 yr. Old kitty. Are we special- no! Children grow and we should too! I hope my daughter is working on herself and couldn’t care less that I am not the one being abused! 🤞🌸💕 I have told her the truth about her behavior and hope she stays away until she learns how to treat me. Stop whining and get a life of your own, give your kids space and learn boundaries as parents.

Elizabeth

What to do when grown adult kids are hypocrites and use you.

The Author

Christine Field is an author, attorney, speaker, listener and life coach. She has four grown kids, mostly adopted, mostly homeschooled. She provides MomSolved© resources and reassurances to moms facing common and uncommon family life challenges. Christine helps moms rediscover their mojo for wholehearted living after parenting. Visit her website here http://www.realmomlife.com

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