“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.” Parker Palmer
You have chosen to adopt. You have changed the trajectory of your life, forever. And now it’s hard, really hard. You are doing life, and you are running out of energy and compassion. You may be experiencing some of the symptoms listed in part 1 of this blog. Allow this to be a wake-up call that you need some self-care. It is not being selfish. It is loving your child and family enough to give them your best, and they deserve your best. This is step one – being aware that you are experiencing vicarious trauma.
Pay attention to triggers, stressors, and your own emotional responses. Even when exposed to highly stressful situations, parents can prevent unregulated emotional responses through effective coping strategies. Recall often that you are not the source of your child’s problems. Your role is not to “fix” your child. Stop comparing yourself to other families. Get comfortable with being different, and most importantly change your expectations. Reframe your definition of successful parenting and celebrate small successes. Find ways to have fun and laugh with your child.
Betsy Keefer Smalley suggests a “Stop, Drop, & Roll” intervention. Stop talking. Do not yell, lecture, or belittle your child. Drop into a relaxed and intentional breathing pattern. (You know, as opposed to hyperventilating as you scream at the top of your lungs!) Roll back into a relationship of connection with your child as quickly as possible. Focus on having a teachable moment, request a do-over, and move on. Teach and correct in ways that do not break connection.
The truth is that while we did not cause our children’s trauma, we do harm them. We are not perfect, and we do mess up. Jayne Schooler reminds us to, “Be a repairer of the breech.” Admit our mistakes quickly and repair the broken relationship. To a child who has had every adult let him or her down, it will be a deposit in his “trust bank” to have a caring adult admit his own mistakes. Often, we teach our children more through how we handle mistakes than through being perfect and doing everything right. Those are real-life lessons.
Be open to face painful issues of your own past. Our own “stuff” can be triggered as we deal with our kids’ “stuff.” Find a safe and confidential person to talk through issues. Tell your own stories. Healing happens through talking because trauma breeds silence. Do not hesitate to get counseling for yourself as you work through issues. Karyn Purvis says, “If you are preoccupied with old wounds or subconsciously coping with past traumas, you have less energy to give the full emotional support and nurturing that your at-risk child desperately needs.”
Do not allow your own needs to be unmet while you are managing your child’s needs. Where can you find support? Be intentional about surrounding yourself with a circle of support: caring people who understand the needs of the adoptive family and who can be pillars for your family. Carve out time each week for a hobby and quiet time to breathe and relax. Respect your own physical needs: adequate sleep, healthful foods, exercise … Do something “just because” it gives you joy!
Lastly, let go of the shame and guilt of thinking you are doing it all wrong! Do not blame adoption, the child, or yourself. You are managing life with a child who has suffered trauma, and it is not easy. You are finding old ways don’t work, and you are trying new ways. You are an advocate for your child, and you are not giving up. Learn to reframe what is happening to you and your family. You will see that you are becoming a far healthier person because of what you and your family are going through. In the end, you will be able to find meaning in loss and trauma. You are flexible. You are strong. You are growing!
Resources used –
Wounded Children, Healing Homes by Jayne E. Schooler, Betsy Keefer Smalley, & Timothy J. Callahan
The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis, David R. Cross, & Wendy Lyons Sunshine
Camie Schuiteman, Family Resources Specialist for MLJ Adoptions, International
Affiliate Trainer for Back2Back Trauma Competent Care