“My Child Doesn’t Live At Home And I Don’t Feel Guilty!”

We know the feeling. More importantly, we know the wrestling match you’re in because you don’t feel the guilt you think you’re supposed to feel. But, this honest admission doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.

Young man suffering for depression

He prefaced the statement with, “I’m ashamed to admit this.” Then he paused, took a deep breath, lowered his head, and finally released it…. “My son doesn’t live at home right now, and I don’t feel guilty about that. In fact…” he paused again, choking back a reservoir of emotion building behind his eyes, “I love the peace that we feel without him here. I’ve waited so long for it.” I placed my arm on his shoulder empathetically. “I know,” I said, looking him in the eyes.

He threw open wide the gates and poured out his heart. “Does it mean I’m a bad parent by thinking that? I mean….I still love him with all of my heart…I want him to be home….I believe God has big plans for him…he’s my son and I love him…but he held our family hostage every single day with his fits….he drove us crazy with his defiance….he stole, he hurt his brothers, he traumatized his sisters…and it was all we could take. My wife had to go on anti-depression meds, my daughter started talking about suicide, my youngest son is afraid every night, and none of our friends want to come over to our house for small group anymore. We are so lonely! Now we have peace. And I love it. I don’t feel guilty for that. Is that wrong?” 

Yep, I’ve been there.

His tears were my tears. His heartbreak was my heartbreak. His wondering has been my wondering. I understood everything he was saying to me that day because I’ve lived through the reality of placing a child in residential care, away from our home, away from our family. And I know the words that run through your mind…

…I couldn’t keep him safe.

…I couldn’t keep my other children safe.

…I love him with all of my heart but I can’t keep fighting the constant battles.

…Now…we have peace in our home.

…Maybe I’m supposed to feel guilty about that but I don’t.

I’ve thought all of them. And there’s something I want to tell you if you have too…

It’s okay to not feel guilty. It’s not wrong to want the peace. No, you’re not a bad parent for feeling this way. And, no, it doesn’t mean you don’t love your child because they live somewhere else and you don’t feel guilty. I know there are many people who make you feel like a failure, and a bad parent, but stop listening to them. They don’t understand the battle you’re in. We do. Focus your attention here for a moment.

You don’t feel guilty because you’ve been pushed to the brink. You’ve fought this battle to the point of almost losing everything. You’ve spent years, and years, fixing, repairing, and tweaking the world around you because of her meltdowns, because of his fits of rage, because of his outbursts, or her destruction. You’ve done all you can do. The decision to move your child into residential treatment does not mean you’re a failure. And it doesn’t mean you don’t love them. It’s because of love, not in-spite of it, that you’ve taken steps to get your child the help he or she needs!

I placed my arms around my friend that day as he fell apart. He loves his kid. He believes he has hope and a future. Nothing on earth will ever change that. Nothing could cause him to love his child less. But, he’s done all he could do to keep his son safe. He’s fought for so long, and so hard, and now he’s powerless to stop his son from making the choices he makes. He’s not a bad parent. He’s a very good parent, in fact. He’s not a failure simply because he’ll do whatever he has to do to keep his son, and the rest of his family, safe.

As he walked away that afternoon, I reassured him…it’s okay to not feel guilty about your son not living at home right now. It’s okay to take this time to focus on your wife, and your other children. It’s okay to enjoy the freedom you all feel. It’s okay to repair, heal, and soak up peace. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your son. It means you love him and your entire family. And if anyone tries to convince you otherwise, stay far, far away from them.

Question: Have you been through this wrestling match before? Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Deb Connors

    We just placed our son age 11 in residential. Heartbreaking as it is to go visit and can hear our son spewing profanity at the principal Father Paul it was nice that it wasn’t directed at us for a change. It is hard to let go of control, we brought a few things for him. They retuned a new towel we had gotten him, he cried and clung to the towel. We didn’t see the harm in letting him have an extra towel…but when he turned his wrath on the person who told him he didn’t need another, I dropped it and it was time to go.
    When we got home and realized that are not living in a battle zone anymore, he had threatened with a hammer to the head, with a home made shank, knife…terrorized the dogs and birds. Meals were always a trigger that ended with heartburn, screaming, threats, things being thrown. Now they are calm, we now realize how he had caused Food Anxiety to rear its ugly head!
    After sleeping with one eye open and listening for him to get up and sneak out to the kitchen and eat everything that wasn’t locked up, it is nice to know I can just sleep.
    I could go on and on, but I am sure you have all heard it before. The point is emotions are going run the gamut from despair, guilt, feelings of failure to relief, calm, and hope. Which we feel for the first time in a very long time, but also anxious about his return home at some point.
    We are going to attend couples counseling (we have lost us in the last eight years) and family counseling. Our son will have group and individual as well as family counseling. More than counseling he will have clear expectations and counsequecences with out the emotional part as a parent we have unwittingly tagged on making it more difficult for all of us.
    Bottom line we miss our son, love him still but are going to use this time to get our battle zone cleaned up and repaired. Spend much needed time with each other, and hopefully learn skills to prevent things ever getting to the extremes it has in the future, or at least recognize it before it gets to point it had.
    If your norm is like ours was it has gone on to long!

    • Colleen Ncrew

      So hard. I know your heart and I know that it can and does work to take care of You. It is like a hard reset on a computer…when it just goes round and round it is caught in its own loops. Hard resets work. Time is a healer…time away and time in. I read an article about attachment that said th single biggest factor wasn’t spending time but the “return”. So each time you go and visit and return to him you are building the relationship. In my prayers. #livingproofthereishope

      • Deb Connors

        Colleen, I agree with each visit and phone call we are reinforcing that we are not abandoning him. He has started to push my partner away after she was diagnosed with early onset dementia, kids with RAD would rather they choose to abandon than be abandoned. He has to learn that she won’t be choosing to leave him.

    • We are so sorry you are going through this. We have been through all of the emotions you described. The circumstances may change from time to time but it’s always difficult. Hang in there.

  • Grace Jones

    My question is how to keep from getting to this point. We have had a girl in our home for about 3 weeks. She is 7. Though she is not physically abusive, she is emotionally and mentally abusive. I am very unsure how to help her as she is making home a very unhappy place to be by constantly fighting, blaming and bullying. I don’t like how 2 of my other foster kiddos are handling it, as they are ganging up on her to get her in trouble. They don’t want to be around her because of how mean she has been to them.

    • Allisonm

      “Bullies” tend to be acting out of fear. When my kids get this way, I try not to think in terms of manipulation and abuse, but rather in terms of fear and a desperate struggle to get their own needs met. When I look past the damaging behavior and do my best to meet their needs to feel safe and cared for, they start calming down and get (eventually) to a place where they can learn better ways to get their needs met. And I feel less crazed in the meantime.

      Mike and Kristen had a guest post recently that discussed ways to communicate with children who have experienced trauma that is excellent and very practical. You may find some help there.

      • Grace Jones

        Do you remember the name of the show??? I listen to them often!!
        And I am unsure what need to meet. There are so many frombher situation and she is a stone wall when you try to talk to her.

        • Allisonm

          Here is the guest post: http://confessionsofanadoptiveparent.com/how-to-better-communicate-with-wounded-children/

          My guess is that your foster daughter doesn’t feel safe. The fact that she is objectively safe with you doesn’t necessarily make her feel subjectively safe. A scared child looks a lot like an angry or mean child. When you see anger or meanness, consider thinking of that behavior as her asking whether she is safe with you and answer that question. When she tries to push everyone away, consider thinking of that as her asking whether you, too, are going to break her heart and hurt or abandon her and answer that question. As you get to know her better, you will become more attuned to the questions/needs she is acting out and you will become more easily able to answer her with calm reassurance and, eventually, follow with teaching her healthy ways to get her needs met.

          Staying regulated ourselves in the face of relentless challenging behavior that doesn’t make sense is hard. Understanding what the behavior is communicating makes it easier to stay regulated and easier to respond in a helpful way. Your other foster children may find it easier to stay regulated if they understand that this new child is scared and hurt and is having a hard time because of that. People who have spent a lot of time in survival mode often struggle with empathy, so working with your other fosters on compassion and empathy will benefit them, too.

          • Grace Jones

            Thank you for your thoughts, AllisonM.

  • Becky Tew

    I have made the heart wrenching decision to send my 10’year old daughter to,a residential therapeutic program. She leaves in Friday and I am devastated. My two other children, ages 6 and 7 have severe PTSD from being hurt, screamed at, listening to hours of raging, complete war zone unpredictability. Handfuls of therapists and medications….nothing has helped. It just gets worse and my 7 year old asks me daily to,help her get to heaven so she can be safe. My heart is broken for all of us. Praying one day I get my sweet baby girl back.

    • Becky Tew

      Once I get past the initial placement, then comes cost. This program takes no insurance and costs $5000 a month. I can’t even imagine that kind of money, but I know she’ll be safe and in a loving environment.

    • Hey Becky, our hearts are breaking for you. The first time we had to send our son (who was then 8) back in 2011, we were devastated too. Hang in there. Our thoughts and prayers are with you too!

      • Becky Tew

        Thanks. i think the waiting for departure is the worst part….at least I hope,so. Woke up,this morning with a violent migraine and covered with hives! I hope,this is the right thing!

  • Julie Knowlton

    My 11yo daughter just came home Saturday after spending 6 weeks at a residential intervention center. When I dropped her off Dec. 2, I had gotten to a place where I lost hope and couldn’t see a future with her. When I left her, a staff member had to restrain her just so I could get out if the building. I cried so hard when I got out, but it was from relief. A huge weight was lifted knowing I wouldn’t have to be the one to restrain her for a while; that I could reconnect with my boys and they didn’t have to be afraid; that we could go about our day without carrying keys to unlock every room; that we could celebrate Christmas in peace. The break was a huge blessing to all of us. We had time to heal and she had time to break some bad habits. She came home a happier little girl and is doing very well. Granted, it’s only been 5 days, but I have hope again; I can see a future with her. Those of you going through it, I get the agony you feel. I applaud your courage and reiterate what was said above: that you don’t have to feel guilty for taking care of yourself and your family. Please take the time you need to rest, recover, and recalibrate. It us so worth it! YOU are with it!

  • Becky Tew

    Tomorrow she leaves at 4:00. I sitting here watching her laugh at the tv for the last time in the near future. I am sobbing. This is too hard for words. No idea how I’m going to make it through the day tomorrow, much less the airport drop off (my friend is flying with her). My heart is shattering into a billion pieces.

    • Allisonm

      Becky, I hope your daughter and friend had a safe trip to treatment today and that you are beginning to get the rest and healing you will need to be able to move forward to a happier future for all of you.

      • Becky Tew

        Thank you. She is now in Tennessee and will fly in the morning to Montana. I am so numb and my eyes so swollen that I think I am kind of in a state of shock. And I am sad to admit how nice it was to put my other two to bed with no screaming, moaning, groaning over my oldest brushing her teeth, going to bed, etc. I’m sure it will hit me one of these days, but tonight the peace was eerie.

        • Allisonm

          My son kept us in constant crisis for years, but has become far better regulated in the past year. Peace feels abnormal after so long spent in relentless difficulty. It took awhile for me to lose the thousand-yard stare and to relax and not be on guard all the time. For us, eight months in partial hospitalization was the turning point. Our son was in school in the morning and treatment all afternoon until after dinner. He was home with us evenings, nights, and weekends. Those afternoon hours knowing he was safe and cared for were such a blessing for me. All of us learned a lot about each other and ourselves. Those were some hard months and included several police assists at school, home, and treatment, but we made it through and things ultimately got a lot better. Then during this past year, we cut out everything that was still putting our son over the edge, including most of school, and just spent months establishing a new normal in which he could get and stay regulated almost all the time. We just practiced stability. Eventually, we were able to add in more school per day and more responsibilities at home, but we had to set aside what he “ought” to be able to handle and start with what he and we could be successful with. Our son had so much experience with being dysregulated that we wanted to avoid any more practice of that condition. He has grown enormously both emotionally and academically.

          I want to encourage you to rest, regroup, and establish a new, better-regulated normal for your family and yourself while your daughter is away doing the hard work of recovery. Have some fun! Remember how to relax! You might choose to get some supportive therapy for yourself and/or the rest of your family to help all of you make the most out of this time and help dispel any unhelpful emotions or beliefs that may be burdening you or your other children. When your daughter does return, it will be to a different, happier family, stronger and more able to help her hold onto what she has gained in treatment. It really is okay to divest yourselves of as many stressors as possible so that you can get used to calm, enjoyable life before slowly adding things back as you can do so without losing your peace.

          You are a good mother to be willing to go to such difficult lengths to get your daughter the help she needs to thrive.

          • mschmidt

            Your statement of “Peace feels abnormal after so long” hit me right between the eyes!! Coming up on year 4 of “peace” becoming my normal now that our daughter no longer lives at home. I’m twice the woman I was! I was unaware of the weight of the cross I was carrying.

  • Laurie Kent

    We are just beginning the journey where our 15 year old isn’t living with us but we are definelty feeling guilty. We know he needs help and that his constant bad choices put him in this situation. I must admit it’s been nice and quiet not living in a war zone. I am hoping we can start enjoying this time to heal from the years of abuse and think positively about our son getting the help he needs. Any suggestions?

    • Hey Laurie, we know exactly how that is. Been there a few times over the past 8 years. My advice is to definitely take time to invest in your other children and find healing for yourselves. Enjoy the newfound freedom of not having to feel like you’re planning a climb to Everest each time you want to leave your house. :-). And find a small group of people you can vent to, dump on, and release some of these guilty feelings you have. They’re all normal to go through. Hang in there.