Rabbi Rami Shapiro: “How Can I Be Detached About My Children?”

Rabbi Rami Shapiro: “How Can I Be Detached About My Children?”

Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler

I am a spiritual seeker and mother of three. I keep running into and resisting the notion of detachment. Am I supposed to detach from my children and stop loving them?
Rabbi Rami: Detachment is about liberating ourselves from clinging—not loving. Loving your children means (among other things) helping them to cultivate a sense of uniqueness, autonomy, and integrity without losing their sense of interdependence and responsibility. This requires that you detach yourself not from them but from your idea of who they should become, and that you open your heart ever wider to who they really are.

I’ve been reading tons of self-help books lately, trying to get my life on track. They all seem to be saying the same thing: surrender, surrender, surrender. Is it always time to surrender?
I believe it is, but you have to be careful regarding what it is you are surrendering. Don’t surrender your health, dignity, responsibility, liberty, or rights, or your capacity for critical thinking, creativity, and love. Do surrender those things that rob you of these. Surrender everything that is not in service to what you think is right, true, and beautiful. And then act fiercely on behalf of what is left.

I find myself frozen by fear, guilt, worry, and sadness. Is there a tonic for this?
Yes: make room for fear, guilt, worry, and sadness in your life, and then do what is right regardless of how you feel. If you wait to act until you feel like acting, you may wait forever. You may not be able to control your feelings, but you can control your behavior. Act constructively regardless of how you feel. Learn from your feelings; don’t be bullied by them. For more on this read Playing Ball on Running Water by David Reynolds.

My 80-year-old father is driving me crazy with his constant nagging about my precarious finances. How do I get him to change?
You don’t. Your dad is a Depression baby, and financial security is central to his sense of safety and well-being. It isn’t that he cares only about money; it’s that caring about money is how he cares about everything else. He links safety and happiness to financial security. Helping him see that you are safe and happy even with your finances as they are may calm him a bit. Knowing that this is how he loves you may do the same for you as well.

I recently heard about spiritual direction. What does a spiritual director do, and where can I find a good one?
Spiritual direction at its best is the practice of looking at your life without the distorting lenses of “isms” or ideologies, seeing what is true in and of itself, and learning to engage life justly and with compassion. Despite the title, a spiritual director doesn’t direct your life but helps you discern the direction toward which a well-examined life is calling you. To find a spiritual director visit Spiritual Directors International at

What should I do when my Christian co-workers keep harping on me to accept Christ as my lord and savior or risk eternity in hell?
Thank them for their concern, and promise to look into their God. When I do this, I always find the same thing: their God is too small. I don’t want a God who has a club, and I certainly don’t want one who uses that club as a club. When asked later if I looked into their God, I tell them what I found. That usually puts an end to their harping.

I like my church and my pastor, but I often feel angry by the end of her sermons. Is there some way to participate and not get angry?
As a congregational rabbi I made it a rule never to have the last word. My sermons were immediately followed by “talk back” sessions where congregants could share alternative views to those I had presented. My task wasn’t to argue or defend, only to listen to them as they had listened to me. I did this specifically to avoid the anger issue you’re raising. You might suggest to your pastor that she try something similar.

I do mindfulness meditation twice daily, consider myself deeply spiritual, and participate in many spiritual communities. I am also pro-life.I find that my conservatism is derided in spiritual circles. Are spiritual people always liberals?
Like you, the more I practice meditation the more pro-life I become. But my pro-life stance is universal: I am pro-life for the unborn and the already born, pro-life for humans and animals and nature as a whole. The more I practice the more sensitive my moral antennae become and the more compassionate I am toward people called to make difficult moral choices. The more spiritual I become the more I want for others what I want for myself: the freedom to make the most compassionate and just choice I can make without others limiting my options to the choices that they would make. Is this liberalism?

I have been in and out of 12-step programs for years, and I have tried everything possible to give up my addictions, but nothing is working. I still feel like I’m in control, and I’m not yet ready to admit that I’m powerless over my addiction. But I don’t want to hit rock bottom and lose everything. Any suggestions?
Nobody wants to hit rock bottom. Rock bottom only happens when reality defeats your illusions about reality; only when your sense of being “in control” faces the reality that you have no control. It is always by grace that addictions leave us, and grace cannot be controlled. So if you’re going in and out of programs and you are currently out, get back in. Go to meetings. Get a sponsor. Work the steps. Everything else is just a distraction.

Writer and speaker Rabbi Rami Shapiro is the author of numerous books, including Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent.

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