Dear Amy: You often mention the need to exercise “compassionate detachment,” especially with adult children. I need advice on how to make that shift.
There is a saying that being a parent is like having your heart wander around the world without you, and it is so true.
As a mom who is “only as happy as my most unhappy child,” I struggle with this all the time.
I have really improved in terms of not offering unsolicited advice and comments, but I constantly worry about choices they make and feel their pain possibly even more acutely than they do (and often long after).
This is made worse by the fact that one of my adult children has significant mental health issues.
It is to the point where I often wake up in the middle of the night worrying.
Do you have any techniques or books you would recommend that would help me to develop greater compassionate detachment?
— Worried Mom
Dear Worried: Surely you remember the old Dunkin’ Donuts ad: “It’s time to make the donuts!”
Your adult children have a negative experience, and your mom-brain goes: Ding! It’s time to make the donuts!” And you either fly into action or fall into worry-mode (or both).
Developing loving and compassionate detachment is a process that involves a certain amount of realistic self-assessment. Some people are temperamentally more inclined toward worry than others. And any time your child struggles with serious health issues, this will trigger a wave of worry.
It’s helpful to ask yourself realistically what purpose your worrying serves.
Does your fretting serve your children, ease their pain, or soothe their wounds?
Does it make you (or them) stronger or more resilient? Does it make you a better person or parent, or better able to serve your own highest purpose?
No. Worrying diverts your mind and saps your strength.
Worrying expresses a parent’s clutching desire to control the outcome, even when they know they can’t.
If you truly understand and accept your powerlessness; if you accept that other adults have the right to make choices — even bad ones — you will see that oftentimes the most powerful thing you can do is to abide with others through their challenges.
I often picture this powerful witnessing process as holding hands and walking together — neither leading nor being led.
Letting go of your need to worry is liberating — even for the person you are worrying about.
And once you truly understand that you don’t have to make the donuts, you will experience your most tender relationships in a new way.
Cogent teachers who will help you to work through these feelings and impulses are: Pema Chodron, Brene Brown, and Glennon Doyle. All have multiple books and video teachings available.
Dear Amy: Several years ago, longtime friends ghosted us.
There was no argument that precipitated that occurrence.
I asked what was wrong and was told that she and her husband “have decided to travel alone because they are fuddie-duddies.”
We had vacationed together for years and there was no change in how we did the arrangements.
They totally cut us off after this and there has been no contact since.
A recent picture on social media showed the spouse looking quite frail, as if they were on chemo.
I don’t know whether to reach out, since I do not know for sure — or whether to let things stand as they are.
What do you think?
— Ghosted Friend
Dear Friend: If you are connected with this couple on social media, then you have a channel through which to communicate.
Yes, I think you should reach out. You do not need to refer to the frail appearance of this spouse, but you could message them to say, “I just saw a picture of ‘George’ on FB and it made me think of you and to remember some of our times together. I hope you are both doing OK, and encourage you to reach out if ever you would like to be in touch.”
Dear Amy: Regarding the letter from “Proud Daughter of a Veteran,” the National Cemetery Administration (part of Veterans Affairs) has a new process to assist veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors in planning for burials with military honors.
Here is the website: https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/pre-need-eligibility/
— Ted Wong, Branch Chief-CX Communications Sustainment, Veterans Experience Office
Dear Ted: Thank you! To clarify — this site helps families to determine eligibility. It is not necessary to register in advance of a veteran’s passing.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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