What Happens When I’m All My Child Has Left?

October 26, 2023

Expert Advice | Barbara Decker

Key Takeaways

  • As a parent, it can be difficult to cope when your child is struggling with addiction and you feel like you’re the only one they can turn to.
  • You may feel isolated and judged, and struggle to talk to friends and family about what’s happening.
  • Methods like hiding the situation, making excuses for your child, or blaming others are not working and may even be enabling their behavior.
  • By learning to “Love Another Way,” you can create a consistent message with your family members and support your child without enabling their addiction.
  • It’s important to seek out education and support to understand how addiction changes your child’s thinking and how to best support them. It’s also important to recognize when you may be giving too much and setting healthy boundaries for yourself and your family.

As a mother, you want your child to know that you’ll always be there for them when they need it the most. But what happens when you’re all they have left? Because of their addiction, they can no longer turn to others in the family — their siblings, another parent, grandparents, aunt and uncles — who don’t understand what they’re going through or may have even cut off contact altogether.

You, their mother, remain steadfast in your support. This causes tension and friction with your partner and within your family. Yet, how can you walk away now, when they’re struggling the most? You can’t abandon your child, especially now as they struggle with addiction, but you know things can’t continue the way they’re going.

How do I know when it’s time to make a change without completely walking away from my child?

Cutting off contact and walking away isn’t an option for you, but things are getting worse and worse. Here’s what you’re experiencing:

  • Your child is using drugs or alcohol and may be addicted, and you know this because:
  • Your child no longer looks and/or behaves like the child you raised.
  • Your child has crisis after crisis in his/her life and is unable to navigate through them.
  • You hide a lot of what is happening from friends and family.
  • You feel responsible and like a failure as a parent.
  • You don’t want to talk to friends and family about what’s happening. Not only are you afraid of them knowing, you also fear judgment or criticism of the actions you’re taking for your child experiencing addition.
  • You’re sad, lonely, and feel isolated because no one you love truly understands that you believe you’re the only one your child has left to lean on. You wish they would see it from your perspective, that you can’t abandon them in their greatest time of need.

Do you find yourself trying these methods to justify your actions and explain to those around you why you can’t just walk away, even when your child continues to treat you badly?

Method 1: You hide what’s happening from those around you. You don’t talk to anyone about the latest crisis your child has experienced and how you helped them, yet again. You do things like getting rid of bank statements so your partner doesn’t know you gave them money, yet again. You don’t want anyone to know for fear of them getting upset.

Method 2: You make excuse after excuse for your child’s actions. You explain their addiction away as childhood trauma they experienced, the mental illness they were diagnosed with, the way they were treated as a child by another family member. You find a way to justify their actions in every way possible without actually “blaming” the addiction itself.

Method 3: You explain to your partner and other kids that they are hurting your child. Their unwillingness to help and support their loved one by cutting off contact or being mean with their words and actions are doing damage to your child as they struggle with addiction. You constantly point out their actions, causing even more tension among everyone.

Clearly these methods aren’t working. It’s time to try something new, something that doesn’t include abandoning your child.

When you learn to Love Another Way, your family relationships will begin to improve. The small steps you take when you’re fully prepared will mean your family members will take small steps of their own, leading to a point where there’s mutual respect. This will also allow you and them to create a more consistent message, something that your child will need to choose recovery over addiction. This consistency is much more important than the exact choice you make in any given situation when interacting with your child struggling with addiction.

Learn to love your child in a way that does not enable this addiction but rather supports him or her in the way they need supporting. Learn to Love Another Way instead of opting for the intuitive way we usually love and support our children. 

Why is it important to Love Another Way?

Understand that people with addiction will take and take and take — that’s the nature of the disease. You need to be the one to make a change in the way you love your child and say “no” to the disease, otherwise you are fueling a growing fire and enabling behavior and actions that don’t encourage the choice of recovery.

Also understand that your other family members want and need you to be present in their lives. They watch your child’s addiction take your time, love, and attention away from nurturing your relationships with them. They remember what it was like before things got bad, and they miss the “old you” and the time you used to spend together.

Today: Take this step.

Seek out the education you need to know how your child’s thinking has changed due to their addiction and how to support them the best way you know how. Research shows that those struggling with addiction (in lucid moments) rate their parent’s success in helping them as 2.4 out of 5, and the children themselves say this low rating is because parents are giving too much — not because parents aren’t giving enough.

Are you giving too much, too little, or just the right amount?

Use my “Get Out of the Middle” Worksheet to decide if your family or your child struggling with addiction is asking too much of you.

Get Out of the Middle Worksheet

Move on to Step 2: Watch my workshop to learn more.

I had a very hard time myself doing what felt like was “abandoning” my child in his time of need. Once I started to understand how I could Love Another Way, my perspective shifted. It became crystal clear to me that by continuing to support his addiction, I was actually abandoning him to the control of the disease.

Watch This Workshop for how to NOT Abandon Your Child

I hope you find a pocket of joy in your day today.
Reach out anytime, because I care.


Certified Family Recovery Specialist (CFRS)

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  1. Every conversation becomes stressed because it lacks sobriety. I dread each phone call and have found myself distancing because I don’t want the argument. 🥲

    1. If distancing is right for you, then that is the thing to do. There are strategies we can learn so that we do not need to live in dread and participate in arguments. -B

    1. Ana – Yes, it is true. We aren’t born knowing how to navigate this and it isn’t taught in school either. -B

  2. Thanks for the encouragement..but I need help I have a human that has this problem call Addiction..

    1. Hi Margaret – Welcome. And we offer programs that help those with humans with that problem called Addiction. Please watch our workshop. Or reach out to [email protected] if you would like more info. -B

  3. I need to learn more of how I can help my daughter with her addictions. Please help me to learn to help her and myself too

    1. Hi Alice – I’ll ask my support team to reach out to you with options. We have a wonderful program that does just that. -B

  4. I so needed this. My son completed the montana youth challenge program for 6 months. I thought thst time would get his priorities together but came home and is somewhat back to bad habits. I will not give money anymore. He has a roof over his head and food here but that’s it

    1. Hi Lynne, The change process is so hard and complicated. I’m sorry that your son is back to his bad habits. Sometimes building new ones takes so much longer than we would like and is hard on us because we need to respond differently to really encourage that. -B

  5. I understand what you are saying. However, when you adult son has threatened to harm your spouse and has been verbally abusive through texting, messenger and on Facebook. My son appears in Facebook as public. He has no filters. The last 20 years have been up and down, hot and cold. He has had had numerous incarcerations, he has had numerous relationships where each person left due to his behaviour. He daddles in Santanic stuff and posts this on FB and Instagram. He posts porn stuff on FB and Instagram. We have had to block him in FB and Instagram. We have blocked him in text and messenger. The things he says are so harsh. The last message he sent was via a unknown number threatening to kill my husband. It was real bad. We did contact the police. Who said we did the right thing. The police contacted the police in his location, to give him a harassment warning. We did not lay charges. As a mom I have supported him, by seeing him in prison, getting him into treatment (10 yrs ago). Helped with household items, bedding, kitchen, food, at least 4 times and through 3 relationship. I am now 67, with a pacemaker and retired. We haven't seen it, but have been told that he is saying horrible things on FB about me.
    I love my son and miss the man he use to be. This all started at age 20. He will be 41 this year. I am too afraid to phone or talk to him. The police suggested that we should not. I worry for his well being. He has lost all his friends. There is no one I know that will even try to connect with him. He does work. I do not know how he holds a job down. He drinks excessively. I do not know if he is doing drugs. He smokes heavily. He is going to destroy his liver. I worry for self harm. He has a little girl, age 6 who is with her mother. He has been doing Santanic stuff with her, the owigi board, smokes around her, drills her, bad talk her mom and us …she is going to be so damaged by all this. He needs help, but I don't know how. His behaviour has put a strain on my relationship with my husband.

    He needs a man maybe to talk to him, but I don't know how that can happen.

    I pray for him everyday.

    Missing the neat young man I once knew.

    Sophie…his mom.

    1. Hi Sophie – When this disease is in charge, it takes over and all that matters is that it get what it wants/needs immediately. It changes the brain in very real ways. Your neat young man is still there buried beneath the disease. I hope one day he chooses to accept treatment and get well and you have the pleasure of his company again. -B

      1. Kathy – The workshop link is at the top of my website. I have also asked support to reach out to you to assist you in registering for the workshop if you need that. -B

  6. Thank you. My sons will be 40 in a couple of months & is addicted to alcohol. His identical twin brother was an innocent victim of homicide when he was 18 1/2. My son went never get help. I went to therapy join parents of murdered children and other organizations to help me. He was living life & doing good until 30 when he started playing darts at the bar and alcohol shots were introduced. After that he lost his jobs and his friends. Sometimes he says he needs someone’s help other times nothing he spends most of his days in his room. He’s my only son that I have left. Don’t know what to do anymore so I will see this other way of loving him, I am taking care of my 93-year-old dad who is now living with me as well so his alcoholism makes it even more difficult

    1. Hi Julie – sounds very challenging. My parents both passed (one with dementia) during the time Eric was deep in his disease and I also felt continually pulled in different directions. Would love to support you inside our private VIP program if that’s a right choice for you. -B

  7. Barbara, today my husband went to court and put a restraining order against my son. He has been living with us for about two years and his addiction has been a nightmare. I have been so sad I’m trying to talk to him about what he has been doing with his life. He has been acting out terribly. He actually tries to destroy our house every day. There was something else. I don’t know where he is now. I try to understand my husband, but I just can’t understand how he can abandon him like this I Think my son is asleep being in the streets and using a lot of drugs. I’m waiting for the phone call that tells me he is gone. I am so depressed and sad all the time. Plus, I have Parkinson’s disease and can’t get around very much. Thank you for having this advice I will continue to listen to your. Workshops and learning what I can from you. I am desperate. To me he is still my baby boy. Thank you for your help.

    1. HI Denise – I’m sorry for what you are going through. In my view and from the behavior you describe, your husband is setting appropriate boundaries to keep you both safe. And it is not that he has abandoned your son. It is that your son has chosen not to live by house rules. I encourage you and your husband to consider finding a therapist who is addiction informed and also knowledgeable about what is called the Parental Alliance. You can have therapy virtually and not have to get around well.

      This disease is so hard on marriages, and a person like this may help the 2 of you navigate it. I also encourage you to consider joining our VIP program so we can support you directly. If you are interested in that, please email [email protected] and ask for the details on the VIP program. -Barbara

  8. Everyone’s situation is unique …and not . I read most emails as I a grandma am also a full time mom to a 4 year old I dont have time to spend or the money to spend on your course but I will continue to read every email and your blog. Thank you

    1. Well said, Lynn. We talk sometimes about we are all in the same storm and our boats look a bit different – but same storm. Your grandchild is lucky to have you:) -Barbara

  9. I wish I could afford to join your group, but unfortunately I’m not. I really enjoy reading you blogs, they are very helpful for me. Thank you for the free support you do give by posting the topics you do post

    1. Thank you, Velma. Please watch your email for an email from Mary on our support team. -Barbara

    1. We deliver all our content in our membership platform, which includes videos and written material. This is much more effective in delivering up-to-date strategies and guidance.

  10. I appreciate you, Barbara. Thank you for all your efforts on the behalf of loved ones of those struggling with the scourge of Addiction. For a long time, I was a wreck emotionally, dealing with my son. Slowly, over years, and with the Love Another Way framework, I feel strong enough emotionally to “dive in”, in small amounts of new info I can process each day, of your program. It is helping me so much. My son hasn’t chosen Recovery, yet…. but I’ve not given up hope that he may well choose that some sweet day.

    1. I’m not sure I know what you mean by an interactive workshop, Andi. If you mean a free event where I’m there live and answer questions from viewers, I do not. That requires I set one specific time for the event. I discovered that people don’t like to accommodate themselves to the time I happen to pick. So the workshops are recorded and set up so you can watch at a time you choose. Inside my paid program, we do live Coaching calls, which are very interactive. If I have not answered your question, please send it to [email protected] with more detail.

    1. Hi Pamela – I have chosen not to write a book and instead provide my information in a private Membership Platform, which allows me to feature both written and recorded content. The other reason I made this choice is that this is all cutting edge thinking, and it’s evolving all the time. By the time a book was published, it would be out of date. -Barbara

    1. Hi Rita, It doesn’t break down into good avenue or not. There are many high personal and individual factors to consider. No one should make a recommendation about this without understanding your family and the situation fully. -Barbara

  11. I’m so overwhelmed. Both my son’s are addicted to drugs. Youngest was clean for almost 2years after prison. He’s relapsed now. My oldest literally forces me to deal with him. He’ has no where to live insists on coming here. I’m raising 2 of my grandsons 9&10. My son comes through windows if I leave and lock the door. Shows up at 2-3 am. I get up to drive a school bus at 4am. If I don’t answer the door he continues to bang saying I have no where else. The police and courts do nothing. The police act like I’m the one doing wrong calling them. Court when he does get arrested just let him right out. I’m single so no help there. This has become a living nightmare. I try not to let the kids see it but they know. I don’t want both my son’s here at the same time so the kids don’t understand why there dad can’t be here but their uncle is running in and out AND bringing his gf! I try to take control of my HOME but he just doesn’t let up. Sorry for the rant just overwhelmed today and no one understands.

    1. Ronda, I’m so sorry for what you are going through, and yes, we need to rant sometimes. We do have a group of moms who understand and, in my VIP program, I and others coach moms through these types of horrible situations. If this is of interest to you, watch the workshop (link at the top of my website). -Barbara

  12. Hi Barbara I listened a year or so back to one of your presentations. It was good. I would like to listen to this one. Is it free? Thank you

    1. HI Cindy – I’m glad you enjoyed the prior presentation. Yes, this one is free. Barbara

  13. I love my daughter but it’s time she gets her a t together. I’m raising her 8 yrs old son
    He wants nothing to do with her she scares him.

  14. This is exactly what I did with my son. Unfortunately he died of fentanol overdose last year. I also have a daughter who’s addicted to alcohol and am trying to love her as you suggest.

    1. Bernice – I read lots of books and each one was interesting and none of them really helped me. That’s why I decided instead of traditional retirement that I would do this work. For me, this would have filled a gap and lots of other moms confirm it does for them also.

  15. What if our child has abandoned us? He has chosen a girlfriend who supports his psychosis and all the lies that go with it.

    1. I am sorry to have to say that this is part of the disease. It is not your true son that has made this decision. It is the disease. In these cases, I encourage my students to use my Love Another Way Framework to establish a different kind of connection with their “child” and often it is works out very well.

    1. Excellent – email us afterward and let us know how it resonates with you, Lise.

  16. Hello Barbara….I really appreciate your blog….for those of us who have difficulty hearing the webcasts this is a life saver.

    1. Hi Teresa – Thanks for your note. On my membership platform, I now have all the core program videos with full transcripts and slides for hearing impaired and for those that do better by reading. I’m working on the same kind of functionality for the bonus content I provide to students. So this is good to know:)

  17. This wonderful! Thank you so much for your experience, work and education that you put into helping us to learn to Love Another Way.

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