This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Detachment Parenting an Adult Child with Special Needs

Attachment Parenting

There are 2 types of "Attachment Parenting." One is mostly about "crunchy moms," breastfeeding, wearing your infant (sling), cosleeping... which is all great, but not the point of this blog.  

The other type of attachment parenting is more about children with "attachment challenges," kids whose attachment has been damaged by trauma. This type of Attachment Parenting aka Therapeutic Parenting or Connected Parenting is the focus of this blog. 

Detachment Parenting
There's a new trend in parenting called Detachment Parenting. When I first heard of it, it sounded like heaven to my burned out, PTSD suffering, guilt-ridden self. I'd been trying to parent my attachment challenged children the way society told me I should, the same way I parented my neuro-typical, totally attached bio-kids - nurturing, child-focused, self-sacrificing... and it was killing me! {Giving Until There's Nothing Left - But My Child NEEDS Me!}

In a lot of ways, I was already doing detachment parenting. 

Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order  I had started to prioritize my life differently in an effort to function again - to get a thicker skin about ignoring other's expectations and "shoulds", and stop being reactive or even proactive about my child. I needed to parent my attachment-challenged child calmly and with perspective about the needs of my family and myself. 
Stop Walking on Eggshells  One thing that really helped me with becoming a Detached Parent with all of my teens (even my neurotypical biokids), was one of my favorite books, Stop Walking on Eggshells. I still reread it often. It helped me with setting boundaries for my children and for myself too. 
Finding The Joy  I once heard a house parent in a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed girls tell a teen that she was a "bottomless pit of need." At the time, I thought he was a horrible person. Now I get it. If we drain our emotional reserves trying to fill a child who can't be filled, then we're empty. You can't fill from an empty cup. Our kids need a different type of parenting and society's "shoulds" can suck it! 

I see Detachment Parenting as a small step beyond all of that. A step I desperately needed. A way to validate not feeling guilty about not prioritizing my child's needs over everything else - even though I knew my child would most likely fail without my constant intervention (and remember that my child would most likely fall whether I was there or not). {You Have Not Failed}

Detachment Parenting: A New Trend in Parenting by JustMommies staff
 On first glance, you would think that a “detached parent” was an uncaring or uninvolved parent. Detachment parenting seems almost as if it was created specifically to rebut the attachment parenting model that has grown to be so popular. However, according to Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D., author of Detachment Parenting: 33 Ways to Keep Your Cool When Kids Melt Down, detachment parenting is nothing of the sort.
Luedtke explains in her book, “Rest assured, detachment parenting is not the opposite of attachment parenting. It doesn’t require you to deny your feelings, keep kids at arms’ length or let them cry it out when they’re distressed.” She says, “Detachment parenting does not prescribe choices about how you feed, cuddle or care for your kids." 
What is detachment parenting?  
Detachment parenting has less to do with the lifestyle decisions you make for your family, such as feeding, diapering, or sleeping choices, and more to do with how you as a parent respond to your child’s emotions, as well as your own.
The main premise of detachment parenting is that you become more “detached” from the emotional scenarios that, as a parent, you encounter, and not allow your kids’ or your own high emotions affect how you parent. 
It’s very easy to react to parenting scenarios with your emotions, rather than taking the time to calm down or think things through before you respond to your child.
“Break out of fight-or-flight mode.” Instead of reacting to situations emotionally, Luedtke shows parents ways to tune into their bodies’ “natural relaxation response”. Once a parent is calm, she is naturally better able to respond to her child’s needs.
"Staying Calm." Some of the methods of detachment parenting are common sense. When you or your kids get angry, you need to take steps to stay calm. You can use simple things to help you get your mind in a calmer place, such as counting to 100, taking a time out of your own, or deep breathing. (Calming/ Relaxation Techniques}
"Structure and Caring Support." Other ways to keep your family running more smoothly include having structure and rules. Routines and rules help children know what to expect. They keep things more predictable, and there is less likelihood of tension or friction when kids have structure. {Structure, Support, Routines, and Boundaries}
"Prioritizing Self-Care." Detached parents tend to want their children to be independent and are not completely absorbed in their children’s lives. Of course, they love their kids and spend time with their kids, but they also make time for themselves. They try to make time for “me time” so that they are happier, more relaxed, and better able to deal with the situations that come up with their kids. {Self-Care! Caring for the Caregiver}
What detachment parenting isn’t
Although some detached parents use methods considered to be the opposite of “attachment parenting,” many do not. Being a detached parent doesn’t mean you ignore your child when he cries or that cosleeping is off limits for you. It just means that you have chosen to use a more structured and less-reactive type of parenting style.

How We Handled It

I wanted/ needed to be a Detached Parent, but the pressure to prioritize my children's needs was immense. Every time I tried to step back, there was someone there guilting me, shaming me, to do more. (I will admit that often that person was myself - like most women, I'd been taught practically from birth that it was my job to be the nurturer). What kind of horrible parent doesn't do everything possible for their child?

Finding the Joy  When I decided to choose joy, I was finally able to step back and became more of a detached parent. I gave myself permission to change my priorities. To put me first, then my marriage, then the family as a whole, and then my child. 

Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order 
The rest of my children were suffering from my inability to do it all. There weren't enough hours in the day for everyone. I had to stop prioritizing based on the "squeaky wheel" principle. It was benefiting no one. Not even the squeaky wheel. 

Parenting with Love and Logic 

This book gives lots of practical advice that is great for helping me stay calm, and stop rescuing and controlling my kids.  It also gave me ideas of consequences and realistic expectations, and I used it to help me devise logical consequences for the FAIR Club (Parenting Teens with Love and Logic is good too!).  

HOWEVER!  You have to keep in mind that these books are written for kids who are attached and capable of feeling guilt (and therefore want to please their parents and care if Mom and Dad are upset with them) and are cognitively able to understand consequences.  {Using the FAIR Club with Kids of Trauma}

Detachment Parenting with Teens/ Young Adults

At What Point Do You Let Go?
It took me quite a while to understand and accept the fact that my son was going to need Structure and Support the rest of his life and a little longer for me to feel it was OK to fight for him to get that structure. For many years, I had so much angst about how to handle my son turning 18. There is a LOT of pressure to "lighten up" and give our kids the "freedom" to make mistakes, because "he's going to have to deal with the real world soon."  {18 Is Not The Finish Line

While he was a teen, we provided that structure, and let him know that while he lived under our roof, this was the type of parenting he would receive. When he moved out (which was inevitable since he didn't think he needed this level of structure) we were all relieved, even as we worried what would happen to him. 

Maintaining the level of structure he needed is exhausting, even when you're as detached as possible. Once again, I had to focus on Self-Care to heal from the Caregiver/ Compassion Fatigue and Continuous Traumatic Stress (CTS).

Detachment Parenting Children in Adult Bodies

The Unattached Child

You Have Not Failed
With my son (13.5 when he came to us, now 25), it was easier to detach once I accepted that I hadn't failed. I didn't/ couldn't have a loving relationship with my son  - it's not possible to have a relationship with someone incapable of having a relationship (especially when you meet that child as a raging, mentally ill teen). {Relationships, Relationships (Cont.)} Of course, I didn't just decide this and give up, but I worked hard to stop stressing out about it. {You Have Not Failed}

Outside Structure

There are really only 2 ways to get the type of structure that he needed, and our son wasn't eligible for the military. I admit it was validating when our son was quickly incarcerated after leaving our home. He finally got the structure that I'd been saying all along that he desperately needed. He will most likely be in and out of prison for the rest of his life. (He was arrested almost immediately after graduating high school, and has only managed to stay out of jail/prison for a few months at a time since then - He is 25 and currently has a warrant out for his arrest). 

The Attached or Insecurely Attached Child

Now, I'm struggling with my son's sister (11 when she came to us). She IS attached (anxiously attached, but attached). I'm really interested in Detachment Parenting because this is what I've been struggling with for the last few years with her. Emotionally she's only about 11 years old, but in the eyes of the world (and the law), she's 22. 

Stepping Back from Therapeutic Parenting

The world says she's an adult, but she is not. Emotionally/ Developmentally she is much younger. How do I detach from a "young" child? {Giving Until There's Nothing Left - But My Child NEEDS Me!} 

I found it was also much easier to step back with my son than my vulnerable daughter - because she's female? because she tends to have "victim" written all over her? because she can get pregnant?... all of the above? I'm not sure.

9 years of Attachment Therapy me providing most of her emotional regulation (and being her frontal lobe!), accommodating the world for her, being her case manager and Rep Payee...  And now I'm having to redefine what our relationship should look like.

Therapeutically Parenting the Adult Child 

I tried to continue to be a therapeutic parent after my daughter turned 18 and it worked somewhat while she was in high school (she graduated a couple of months after turning 19). 

After graduation, she still desperately needed the structure and support of therapeutic parenting, but society was telling her she was an adult and therefore had a right to have all the adult privileges (driving, living in her own place, being able to come and go without telling anyone, getting a pet, handling her own money, going to college, drinking, sex...) even though she could handle none of the responsibilities (paying bills, dealing with insurance, budgeting, housing, health, hygiene...).

Running to Biofamily

She ran to biofamily because they promised to let her have all those adult privileges. She found that they would let her do whatever she wanted but they also did whatever they wanted too. They definitely didn't provide the support she was used to and were busy struggling with their own issues. 

Both times she's run to biofamily, she ended up returning home within a few months. She would realize that she needed that structure and caring support she got from us (she has typically stayed home for about 2 years before she forgets and/or thinks that "this time will be different" and runs again). 
{Running to Biofamily}

I've struggled for years with where to draw the line. 

Fighting Society's Expectations

Because of her disabilities, my daughter has almost no understanding money, basic hygiene, protecting herself from those who would take advantage of her... she believes that I am controlling her and have only put this structure in place because I'm "mean." 

Unfortunately, most people around her don't understand her limitations, they only see the good-natured, slightly immature, young adult that we worked so hard to help her present. She would literally rather die than let others see her "issues" and struggles. She comes home to fall apart. 

These people try to "build her self-esteem" by telling her she can do anything she puts her mind to. They reinforce her desire to be "normal," by telling her that I'm the one preventing her from being/ doing all the things she wants to do. I understand their motivation, but they have no idea how detrimental it is to her to be told she can do things she doesn't, and will never, have the skills and abilities to handle. 

{Chores, Responsibilities, and Other Things My Kids Can't Handle}

Accepting Her Limitations

All the desire in the world will not overcome my daughter's:
  • Low IQ, Brain Injury, and learning disabilities (she doesn't even have basic math skills or the ability to read contracts or handle complex paperwork), 
  • FASD (you can't "fix" or outgrow permanent brain damage), 
  • Bipolar Disorder (she will always need health insurance to cover her expensive medications - which means she needs to stay on SSI which provides Medicaid, since the type of jobs she can get don't offer health insurance and even if they did, she can't afford co-pays), 
  • Anxiety Disorder (she needs someone to help her emotionally regulate and talk her down when she's suicidal and/or having a panic attack), 
  • ADHD (she has no executive functioning abilities - she needs someone else to handle organizing and planning...)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (she will always struggle with relationships)
  • ... 

Legal Guardianship
We've looked at Legal Guardianship, and while she is eligible, it is too expensive. It also doesn't provide as much control as you would think. 

Housing and the Future

Because she is both mentally ill AND borderline intellectually disabled, my daughter does not qualify for group homes or other residential facilities. At the same time, she is not high enough functioning to live independently.

We're in the process of remodeling, and our original plan was that when it's done, she would have a little apartment with its own kitchenette and bathroom. She would be living "independently," but under our roof.

Currently, she has moved in with her boyfriend (against my advice!). She's happy being what she thinks of as normal. I'm not pleased, but she still has a lot of the supports she needs (I handle her finances, her boyfriend handles a lot of the daily living stuff like paying rent and other bills, he and I both provide her with the emotional regulation she needs...). It's not ideal but for now, it's working. 

Marriage and SSI Benefits
Unfortunately, she and the boyfriend have decided to get married. You're probably thinking, "What's the difference?" The difference is that marriage combines their incomes, which means that she'll no longer qualify for SSI, which is needs-based. 

She cannot hold a job and is not really able to handle full-time work for very long, so most of her jobs have been part-time because as soon as she gets to full-time, she ends up leaving or being let go. Without SSI, she loses her steady income and Medicaid. She needs Medicaid to pay for her frequent doctor visits, therapy, and medication.

Unfortunately, she still wants to believe she's "normal." In her reality, she's able to work a full-time job (or two) and get benefits. Everything will work out... because she wants it to. It's so frustrating for me because it's impossible to have a discussion with logical reasons why this is not a good idea and won't work. Her reality is so distorted it's like arguing with a two-year-old (frustrating for both you and the child!).  

Excerpts from Codependency and the Art of Detaching From Dysfunctional Family MembersBy  Codependency and the Art of Detaching From Dysfunctional Family Members. A codependent relationship can benefit from detaching with love.
Detaching is the opposite of enabling because it allows people to experience the consequences of their choices and it provides you with needed emotional and physical space so that you can care for yourself and feel at peace.
Why do codependents need to detach?Codependents {in our case, therapeutic parents with a now adult child} often find themselves in dysfunctional relationships where they spend an inordinate amount of time worrying and trying to control or fix other people. This is done with a loving heart, but it can become all-consuming. The problem is, sometimes your loved one doesn’t want the help you’re offering; they want to do things their own way. This creates a maddening push and pull where no one’s happy and you’re both trying to control and force. This can feel like an upside down roller coaster ride that never ends!
Because of their caring nature, codependents can become obsessed with other people’s problems. They have good intentions and a real desire to help, but this fixation on problems they can’t actually solve (like your Mom’s alcoholism or your adult son’s unemployment) isn’t helpful to anyone. It’s a distraction from taking care of yourself and solving your own problems. It also prevents your loved one from taking full responsibility for their life and learning to solve their own problems.

You can’t solve other people’s problems
According to codependency expert Melody Beattie, “Detachment is based on the premises that each person is responsible for himself, that we can’t solve problems that aren’t ours to solve, and that worrying doesn’t help.” (Codependent No More, 1992, page 60)
Detaching is a way off of the “relationship rollercoaster”. Detaching allows you to take care of yourself, honor your own feelings and needs, and let go of the guilt and shame that result from taking responsibility for other people’s bad choices.

What is detaching?
Al-Anon (a 12-Step group for people affected by someone else’s alcoholism) describes detachment with this acronym:
Detaching means you stop trying to force the outcome that you want.

Detach with love
We use the term “detach with love” to remind us that detaching is a loving action. Detaching doesn’t mean pushing people away or not caring about them. Detaching isn’t angry or withholding love. It’s letting go of controlling and worrying and putting responsibility back on the individual.
Detaching also isn’t cutting ties or ending a relationship (although, at times, that can be the healthiest choice). Detaching helps you to stay in relationship and not lose your sense of self.
Detaching is similar to setting boundaries. Detaching puts healthy emotional or physical space between you and your loved one in order to give you both the freedom to make your own choices and have your own feelings. I think of detaching as untangling your life from someone else’s – so that your feelings, beliefs, and actions aren’t driven as a response to what someone else is doing.
A popular Al-Anon reading advises: “I must detach myself from his [the alcoholic’s] shortcoming, neither making up for them nor criticizing them. Let me learn to play my own role, and leave his to him. If he fails in it, the failure is not mine, no matter what others may think or say about it” (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, 1987, page 29).

Detaching is a process
Detaching is something you do over and over again in relationships. Like setting boundaries, it’s not something you do once and then forget about!

Examples of Detaching
Emotional or psychological detachment:
  • Focus on what you can control. Differentiate what’s in your control and what isn’t.
  • Respond don’t react. Take time to figure out what you want to say and say it when you’re calm rather than being quick to react in the moment.
  • Respond in a new way. For example, instead of taking it personally or yelling, shrug off a rude comment or make a joke of it. This changes the dynamics of the interaction.
  • Allow people to make their own (good or bad) decisions.
  • Don’t give advice or tell people what they should do.
  • Don’t obsess about other people’s problems.
  • Set emotional boundaries by letting others know how to treat you.
  • Give your expectations a reality check. Unrealistic expectations are often the source of frustration and resentment.
  • Do something for yourself. Notice what you need right now and try to give it to yourself. {Self-Care!! Caring for the Caregiver}
  • Stay on your side of the street” (based on a 12-Step slogan). A reminder to deal with your own problems and not interfere with other people’s choices.
Physical detachment:
  • Take some space from an unproductive argument.
  • Choose not to visit your dysfunctional child (or arrive late and leave early).
  • Leave (potentially) dangerous situations.

It gets easier
As I mentioned earlier, detaching is something that you will need to practice. It goes counter to a codependent’s {parent's} nature, but it’s possible when you work at it. You’re stronger and more capable than you may think. Detaching is a way out of the chaos, worry, and emotional pain you’re experiencing. Detaching isn’t something that you must do “all or nothing”. Begin where you are, practice and learn, and in time you’ll see that detaching is not only possible, but freeing.

What Our Lives Look Like Now

There's a possibility that Kitty will move in with her boyfriend at some point. While we doubt seriously that will end well, we haven't decided if we will interfere. The respite would be greatly appreciated and might be worth the fallout when it falls apart. 

When an Adult Child Moves Out

SSI (Social Security Income for people with Disabilities)

I have worked hard to get and keep my daughter on SSI. It requires almost constant case management. I am her Rep Payee, which means I handle all of her finances including managing her living expenses (rent, food, utilities, miscellaneous). How this looks has varied over the years.

While she has managed to independently find and keep a part-time, minimum wage job, I'm the one that handles her finances there too.

The Little Red Hen

Recently, I have decided to back off - To be a Detached Parent.

It's frustrating as hell, because I know I'm making more work for myself in the future (when she's pregnant, when I have to deal with yet another marathon session of helping her through an emotional breakdown, when I have to completely strip and remodel her room again, when she possibly burns down the house or we get overrun by bugs and rodents...).

I don't feel I have much choice.

My biggest fear is that she will get pregnant and I will be raising her child (a child for whom there is a strong likelihood that he/she will have most of the same issues/ and diagnoses that she does). I have tried to convince her to get an IUD (most birth control isn't effective with her medications), but have had no luck.

I still handle her case management. 

  • I make and take her to doctor/psychiatrist appointments.
  • I handle her SSI and Medicaid and other issues with insurance when they arise.
  • I'm her Rep Payee for SSI - which means I handle the bank side of things, accounting, documenting, calculating and reporting her wages, reporting changes, transferring money to her account for rent, bills, and groceries...
  • I usually help her manage her medications, but currently, she thinks she doesn't need them and has dropped almost all of them.
  • When she lives at home, I buy her groceries, clothes, hygiene and hair products... Now that she doesn't live at home - when she runs short, which is about once a month, I usually give her ~$10-50), 
  • if we eat out and she's home, she's generally invited to eat with us. Now that she's out of the house, she goes out with us to family dinners once or twice a month, when she asks.
  • I take her to get her hair cut. 
  • I take her and pay for her dentist bills (it's not covered by SSI).
  • When she lives at home, I fuss at her when she leaves the kitchen and or bathroom disgusting... then just clean it myself.
  • I no longer request she does chores...

At midnight on paydays, I access her account and remove the portion of her paycheck that she needs to cover her bills (and yes, when she lives at home, I charge her rent so that she doesn't lose her SSI benefits). Leaving the rest, knowing that she's blowing it all on crap, despite saying that she wants to save it.

I usually listen when she vents about her boyfriend, friends, and co-workers, and give her my advice when asked, but just as often, I cut her off and let her know I'm busy.

I try not to let my resentment color our relationship. It's getting easier over time.

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