Thursday, September 18, 2014

Detachment Parenting

Up until this point in my vocation as a mom, I have been practicing what I like to call “detachment parenting”.  Detachment parenting is pretty much what you would expect it to be – the opposite of attachment parenting to a baby.  The opposite of being a helicopter mom to a child.  On a good day, it’s trying to encourage my kids to be independent and take care of things on their own and not look to Mom or Dad for help in every area of life.  On a bad day, my laziness and selfishness can be easily masked beneath this style of parenting.

I was able to grow up in a house with lots of siblings who were expected to be responsible and be self-motivated.  I don’t know if that came hand-in-hand with being part of a big family, or having a family business, or if my parents just forgot about us and we were left to fend for ourselves… just kidding, Mom and Dad, you were the greatest!  I can honestly never once remember my parents having to check on my schoolwork, make my breakfast or lunch, or remind me what days and times I had ice-skating or violin lessons.  I was organized and determined and didn’t need any help from anybody.  I had a checking account at age 12, made my own money babysitting and working in the ice cream store, did well in school, went off to college and grad school, got married and started having kids of my own.  And I was going to raise those kids just as I had been raised – independent and responsible.

Heeheehee, my current self is laughing at my past self.

But, for awhile it worked!  For a loooong while, in fact!  I taught those babies to sleep in their own space and self-soothe, toddlers were expected to clean up after themselves, school-aged kids needed to get their own clothes and backpacks ready.  I never checked homework unless a teacher required a signature.  The kids got good grades and I didn’t have to worry.  They had chores to do and sports to practice and masses to serve, and they were able to get it all done with relative ease.

Until this year.

I’m not sure if it was the transition to the new school, a new baby in the mix, the fact that my oldest is in middle school, or the integration of technology between the classroom and home, but whoa nelly we’ve been doing a lot more hands-on parenting this year.  Which is tough since our 5 month old and wild toddler still very much need those hands.

Last night I was working with my 6th grade son for an hour and a half while he was doing homework.  I was looking up assignments on the teacher’s webpages and setting him up on our home computer so he could research for an essay to be written on his google drive.  I went shopping for a Spanish to English dictionary and more pens that he suddenly needed at the last minute.  I spent an hour having a parent meeting with my husband after that child went to sleep, determining new rules for accountability and consequences for bad grades and incomplete assignments.  We have a child that needs us to be on top of him at the moment.  We have a child that needs help in getting organized and learning study skills.  We have a child that needs to learn that there is no play time until all the schoolwork gets done.  We have a child that needs discipline and structure until they can learn to work on their own. 

I never thought I would have a child like this.  Isn’t that so prideful and naïve of me? God threw me a curveball this year, and has caused my laid back detachment parenting style to go out the window for the time being.  He’s an amazingly talented and good boy who is just struggling with all the changes in his life.  I hope this is simply a turning point where he needs help to get on track and we can eventually go back to being more hands-off, but for now we are going to help him any way we can.  After all, whether we practice attachment parenting or detachment parenting, the key word is parenting, and we’ll gladly change our pre-set philosophies to suit our child’s needs.  It’s going to be a challenging year and we all have a lot of growing up to do, but he's so worth it.  


  1. I totally get this. Both my oldest and middle sons have learning disabilities and they need regular guidance and direction. My oldest is in 5th grade and at a tutorial two days a week now and my goal is to equip him enough with the right strategies so that he can be more independent by next year. Parenting and educating children that need lots of direction and attention is draining! I wonder if that is one reason why God has given us less kids. You are doing great Colleen!

  2. 6th grade was an eye opener for me, too, with my oldest. One of the frustrating things I experienced was that they shift to more "study" stuff in 6th grade without really bridging and explaining how to do that to the kids in 5th grade. And it's all left to the parents to get the kids straightened out. We jumped on it as soon as we could with our oldest. And now, she is dealing with the changes that come in 8th grade. But these are more fluid as I am able to explain to her that the answer is not found in one sentence of her reading...there are five paragraphs and she needs to draw the answers from each and come up with her own answer. This is bridging to the more critical thinking that comes in high school.

    Anyway, the changes keep coming. And I remember that we didn't get homework when I was growing up until 4th grade, but my kids start getting homework in Kindergarten! so of course parents have to be involved...sometimes to an unreasonable extent in my opinion.

    (This has been on my mind lately! My most recent post is re: my 3rd grader's struggles so far this year...sigh)

    Good luck and keep working -- he will get it soon and you can most likely go back to your detachment style in a few months. :)

  3. I love this. I love the flexibility to best serve your family and your children's needs. What a stellar example you are!

  4. I thought I would chime in on this because it sounds SO familiar! My oldest son is super independent and managed his entire high school career with nary a reminder from me about anything. He's off at college now for his first year and I have no doubt that he'll handle it just fine. My 2nd son throws me for a loop pretty much every day, however! He requires a LOT more hands on parenting (I'm of the "detachment" variety also). He just really needs it. To be fair, he has Tourette's (very mildly) and most Tourette's kids are delayed in the development of executive functioning, which is a fancy term for being able to organize and break down large assignments into workable steps, time management, etc. So it's a work in progress. I always approach everything with a detachment mindset, and leave it to him to ask for help, or step in with some direction when I see it going way off course. He's in 10th grade now and there is SO much improvement from the beginning of 9th grade. But it definitely takes baby steps. He's getting there. So just a little encouragement from another Mom who has been there!

  5. There is so much wisdom in this post! Loved it.

  6. I love this, Colleen. We practice a lot of attachment parenting around here, but it actually looks a lot like what you're describing. Allowing for age-appropriate independence, and stepping in when needed. The problem I've encountered with all parenting philosophies is that unless they bend and flex to fit the child and the parent, they're simply philosophies. The key to them all is the relationship, right? After all, that's what God wants from us (relationship) so that must be what He wants us to develop with our own children.

    Your big guy is going to do great once you get him squared away. He's lucky to have you.

  7. Thank you for this post.

  8. Reading along here and agreeing and nodding. Me me me me. Check. Yup, this is my story too. But words of wisdom--things get out of whack for awhile in 6-8 grades. I'm not sure when, but things do get back on track in time as the maturity kicks in.

  9. Thank you for sharing this, Colleen. I appreciate the wisdom.

  10. Very thought provoking post. I have always been more of an attachment parent in the early years (extended breastfeeding, family bed, homeschooling...), but for me and most families that I know that generally evolves into the opposite of a helicopter parent with older kids. Case in point, my 11 year old son is currently at the community theatre running lights for a mainstage adult theatre production at 10pm on a Friday night. I love Michaela's comment, it's not really about what we call our philosophy, but about our relationships. You have great relationships with you kids, they're going to turn out awesome!

  11. Look at you, mom, being all wise and inspiring. Thank you! Being that we're kind of in one of those "how the heck do we do this/what changed cuz this ain't all working any more" phases, I was encouraged to read that we're not alone. I am the helicopter mom. I am the crazy person mom. I'll admit it. I blame the planner in me, which I can.not seem to kick. I have also had to learn to give my big kids independence and responsibility to follow through with plans I lay in front of them. Since they are still not at an age where they clearly understand that I am teaching these things to them for a life of success, they aren't really into it. Sometimes I'm letting them learn that those choices have tougher consequences. Other times, I'm stuck being the bad guy and riding herd (that's what we call it around here) to keep pushing them in the right direction. Of course, each kid and temperament is different, so this seems to be forever changing. Sometimes I wish there was a better parenting manual or some way to get past it without reading 85 books on the subject and then figuring out what's best. I guess that's why we have a motherly intuition and why God gave us spouses to talk this stuff over with and parent together.
    Again, your motherly wisdom is always appreciated. Thanks for this post!


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