When should you detach? When just about everything else you’ve tried has failed and your attempts to control are causing suffering.
What if you can’t? You don’t. It may not be right in your situation.
Allow me to explain in detail…
Detachment is letting go of control over an outcome (with love).
Detachment isn’t the first thing to try if you’re a new stepmom. You can think of it as a last-resort, a life-vest not to be used lightly. Detaching or disengaging (same thing) implies that you are already attached or engaged, and are letting go. If you were never attached or engaged to begin with, it’s not possible to detach.
When would you consider using this as a tool in your stepfamily?
If your attachment or engagement is causing you and/or others harm or suffering, that is when you should consider detaching. This harm or suffering can show up as constant fighting or arguing, unhappiness, constant anger, resentment etc. When things become unmanageable and your intents to ‘help’ are not helping, disengaging/detaching may likely be the way to go.
When should you detach? You should consider detachment when all of the 3 following conditions are met:
- You are trying to control or change something outside of yourself (usually a behaviour in your stepchildren, their biomom, or even your partner)
- AND your partner is not supporting you
- AND trying to control it is causing suffering, and becoming unmanageable.
Important aside: I use the word consider because there is never a right or wrong answer. It’s not about what you should or shouldn’t do. Consider detachment and see if it’s right for you. I’m a strong believer that you should never take advice because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Always check in with yourself first and see if taking that advice or strategy feels right for you. If it doesn’t, don’t do it unless you’re comfortable. With that said, if you know it’s what is right and you don’t know how to do it, or are afraid of doing it, don’t let that fear stop you. Get support to do what you know is the right thing.
Getting frustrated or annoyed is usually not a call to disengage. Frustration is a normal part of parenting, and doesn’t mean you should stop engaging in a certain behaviour. But if the 3 conditions I mentioned above conditions are met, and it goes beyond frustration to disrupt your life and cause suffering – consider detaching in that moment.
It’s not about giving up. It’s about stopping the harm that your intent to control is causing. That harm can be towards yourself, your partner, your relationship and your stepkids.
Detaching is not permanent. It can be transient (for a limited period of time) and it can be called for in some situations but not in others. You can detach from one behavior but not another. You can detach from one child, but not another. You can re-engage and attach at any time if the situation calls for it.
But what if you have other kids being affected by the behavior and you can’t detach?
Get honest with yourself and ask if you really can’t detach or is that that you won’t detach?
If it's something that involves young children, it's your responsibility to take care of them and protect them. You can't just let go of the outcome completely when that outcome can put your children in harms-way.
But is the behavior actually putting them in harms-way?
We need to ask ourselves - how important is this?
We tend to make mountains out of anthills when it comes to our children. For example, if we're frustrated about the cleanliness of our stepkids’ room and our attempt to control that is causing suffering... that's probably something we can let go of and detach from (unless it's attracting rats and causing public health concerns for the rest of the family).
This is easier to see in ‘extreme’ examples. For example, your teenage stepson is constantly coming home drunk and you're concerned for your other kids safety. In that case, something must be done to protect them and you can’t disengage. We can detach from an outcome while placing clear boundaries on how it will affect the other kids. In the example of the drunk teenager, we may not be able to control his behavior or drinking, but we can and should control how our own young children are exposed it. For example, if he comes home drunk, maybe you set a boundary that he’s not welcome into your home where your young children are asleep. These rules need to be set and enforced with your partner in these extreme situations.
What about those "gray" areas of bedtime, cleanliness, or manners?
Those need to be dealt with based on what feels right for you and your family. If you’ve tried to implement rules with no support from your husband and it’s causing you and others suffering, it may be time to let go. If you have a set of rules that you want your children to follow, but biomom doesn’t follow those same rules with her kids, you may need to disengage. It can be hard when your young children follow the example of their older siblings, but if you can’t control it and it’s causing suffering, you need to let it go.
The HOW of disengagement can be the hardest part. If you’re finding it hard to navigate the waters of engagement and disengagement on your own, there are many experts and coaches (including me) who can help you determine when and how to disengage with love. When the situation calls for it, disengagement/detachment can be the perfect solution. Ultimately, when used the right way, it can lead you to feel more empowered and at peace in your situation.
Does that all make sense? I’d love to hear your opinion.
Still have questions about detachment? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or feel free to email me and I’ll be sure to respond (your question may just turn into the topic of my next blog post).
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Anna de Acosta
Stepmom, biomom, and wife... living life with the blended family of my dreams and being a lighthouse for love and inner peace.