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Will She Still Believe I Love Her If I Set This Boundary?

Heart in a Cage

2dag4’s daughter wants her parents to bail her out of jail. They have good reason to think that doing so will only make her struggles worse. But will they lose their connection to her if they set this boundary? Laurie MacDougall praises the CRAFT-informed approach they’re taking, and offers guidance for other ways to support their daughter’s recovery.

I’m looking for some help and reassurance. How do I stay connected with my daughter when I’m compelled to deliver bad news? My daughter was picked up by the police last week and is being held on $500 bail for outstanding warrants. She’s had opportunities to go to court on these charges, and with each opportunity she would fail to show up.

She’s scared, I’m scared, she’s worried, I’m worried. My husband and I agree that to bail her out would mean intervening in natural consequences. I want to keep a good connection with her and encourage her to be strong and stop running. I don’t think she’ll buy that being locked up is for the best. She’s asking if we will bail her out. I can’t see doing that because she won’t go to court on her own. History has shown us that.

What do I say to her that will let her know we love her but won’t bail her out? I have told her we can’t bail her out because it would mean she’d be back on the streets, no place to go and nothing would have changed. She’d still be running from the law. I’m lacking the words to use that won’t sound like, “This is for your own good.”

Am I correct in thinking that not bailing her out is a boundary? This is blurry for me because while I do believe it’s the right thing to do, it is incredibly hard not to help your child in this way. It feels like part of this decision is about control, and I know that isn’t a good thing. My husband’s saying, “She needs to pay the piper.” I’m trying to avoid expectations but can’t help but hope that this might be the thing that moves her into recovery.


Hi 2dag4,

It is so clear from your post that you have been working hard on your CRAFT skills. You are trying to implement a learned skill right out of Module 6 by allowing for natural consequences. Through you, we as readers are witnessing the incredible emotional difficulty of managing our desire to make sure that our Loved Ones (LOs) know we still love them while watching them struggle and suffer through something incredibly difficult. And because of our history with them, we know they are going to kick and scream the whole way through. Oh, the battle between our heart and our mind is torture.

Your Loved One’s not the one you have to convince

You write, What do I say to her that will let her know we love her but won’t bail her out? I have told her we can’t bail her out because it would mean she’d be back on the streets, no place to go and nothing would have changed. She’d still be running from the law. I’m lacking the words to use that won’t sound like, “This is for your own good.”

Okay, so let’s think a little about this. This is Mom’s love coming through. We are the ones who want to do things in ways that soften it for everyone. We don’t want them to hate us. Of course we don’t. We love them with every ounce of our being.

Here is where having expectations might be a good thing. It’s to be expected that your daughter is not going to be convinced and she is going to do everything she can to convince you that you shouldn’t allow for natural consequences. There may be accusations that you “don’t love her” or that “a good mother would bail her daughter out.” Being prepared for this might help you hold to your boundary. You’re right: you’re not going to be able to convince her of anything. So there is no reason to try. You only have to convince yourself.

When you show confidence in your decision, you’re showing confidence in her

Yes, you are setting a boundary! And kudos to you. Boundary setting and determining if the boundaries we set are healthy is agonizing when we are dealing with substance use disorder (SUD). Both that agony and the response from our LO can lead to a lack of confidence in what we are doing. When we show a lack of confidence, it can send the message that we are not sure that we are doing the right thing. And when that happens, it becomes more difficult to stay strong in what we are attempting to do.

If we convey a sense of confidence in our boundary (notice I say “convey” and not “have”), we actually can send the message to our Loved One that we believe in them, that we know they have the ability to make it through a tough situation. If we continue to weaken our boundaries, we send the message that our LO is not capable and need us to get through difficult times.

You write, “She’s scared, I’m scared, she’s worried, I’m worried.” Wouldn’t it be more helpful to change the message to something like, “She’s scared, so I am going to let her know I am here and will stay beside her while she goes through this” and “She’s worried, so I am going to send her messages that I believe she can do this”? Letting her know that you have confidence in her to work things through (even though you may waiver on this) is a positive message that supports and encourages. The message might sound something like:

“It makes sense to me that you might be frustrated and angry because Dad and I aren’t bailing you out. What we can offer is to support you in other ways. If you decide to enter a program or need help taking care of your legal difficulties, we can support you in that. Let us know what you decide. I am sure that between you and your lawyer, you’ll find something that will work for you.”

Care for yourself. She’ll need you later, too.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll no longer worry or have fears. You will, you’re only human. But turning to Module 7 and working on managing those difficult feelings can help. This is an opportunity for both your daughter and you to find better coping skills to deal with difficult emotions. Your daughter is actually not the only one working on recovery!

You said it yourself: she has the opportunity to work through her legal problems. She is also safer in jail than on the streets. Saving your money for some form of treatment, or for when she needs other recovery-related support, is a strong, healthy boundary to set.

I hope that what I have written here helps. We all share in the angst and emotional chaos that can be brought on when setting limits. Staying true to yourself and conveying a sense of confidence in what you are doing and your daughter’s abilities might be baby steps toward a better future.

Please keep us updated. Remember that you are not alone. There is a whole community here of Allies supporting you.

Laurie MacDougall


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In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)