When Self-Care Means Sacrifice and Not Merely Survival

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At Transfiguring Adoption, we always say we strive to be the oxygen mask for caregivers, but I openly admit that I fail to put mine on all the time. And everyone suffers! As an introvert, I can usually recover when I get a chance at some quiet, but what happens when the quiet doesn’t come for too long?


Survival Mode Doesn’t Truly Equal Survival

When we received temporary placement of two kiddos at the beginning of the summer, we went in to “survival mode,” a just-make-it-through-the-summer-until-they-find-a-placement type of daily existence. We did well and employed some of our best trauma-based care techniques, and all the kids, adopted and foster alike, were growing and doing well.

But were we?

We went out for a couple hours one night over the summer and came back to some major issues and didn’t get any more time alone or alone together. We became so exhausted that all our fave parenting techniques started flying out the window. School started, but so did IEP and support team meetings, parent teacher conferences, emergency calls for sick, misbehaving, or wet kids, and fall began another convention season, meaning any respite we took was used for work purposes. And our temporary placements were still here.

We found ourselves sinking in survival mode, not truly even surviving anymore. We determined that we needed to begin building in some supports so that we could continue to provide a home for our foster children and be physically, mentally, and emotionally present for all our kids. We decided we definitely needed to have afterschool care so that we could continue to work and get things done beyond 2:45 each day, so we put the elementary kids in afterschool care at school, and we hired someone to come into our house to help the teens with homework and other tasks around the house. Was this really in the budget? Well, no, not really, but the sacrifice meant a bit more sanity for us all and ultimately our survival as a family for the time being.

This didn’t fully solve the problem. We may have been getting more done and feeling better about that, but working isn’t really self-care. After a few more months, we were no longer therapeutic parents. I’m not even sure I’d say we were decent foster/adoptive parents. A week or so before our placements left, one looked at me and said, “You guys have changed,” and she was right. We were so burnt out, so exhausted, that we had much lower thresholds for what we could handle patiently and therapeutically. We couldn’t even tap out for each other anymore.

Looking back, I would have started building more supports in over the summer. I would have sacrificed any penny possible to be sure we got time to ourselves to be us and refuel and refresh because the reality is, when we fail to put on our oxygen masks, we stop being what our kids need. Neither they nor we are truly surviving. We sink when we stay in survival mode for too long.


Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. What supports have you built in to ensure you can continue to be what your kids need you to be?
  2. How do you know when you need a break?

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Foster Care and Adoption: Do You Hear Me?

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Have you ever had a child who is constantly seeking attention? Who persistently makes noise or talks or does things that they know annoy you? Anything to have your attention every waking moment of every day? If you have, you know how draining, frustrating, and annoying it can be. Now picture this: A very tall, very loud, large teenager consistently asking repeatedly, “Do you hear me, Miss/Mr. [insert your name here]?” or “Do you see me, Miss/Mr. [insert your name here]?” while displaying consistent, in your face (and ears), attention-seeking behaviors. After a while, you may just feel like saying, “Of course! How can I not see or hear you?!” I never responded that way, but I sure wanted to!


I See You

In the midst of me getting frustrated and annoyed with this behavior, this teen inadvertently gave me an “ah-ha moment.” A couple times, this youth grinned and said, “I see you, Miss Margie,” when I quietly did something silly, like a funny little dance to a song on the car radio or something. Something happened inside me…a warm, fuzzy feeling. I couldn’t help but smile. I felt seen.

Kids Need to Be Seen and Heard

In different cultures and times, adults have said, “Kids should be seen and not heard.” But we now know from research with kids from neglectful or abusive backgrounds and children who have been in institutions, bad things happen to children who have not been seen and heard. They give up using their voice and start using behaviors or, worse, they just give up on life entirely.

This young person cried out all the time with words and behaviors…needing acknowledgement, needing to know that people are seeing and hearing those cries. So, I decided I needed to figure out creative ways to move past my exhaustion and frustration and let the child know I was seeing and hearing, preferably at times that would not reinforce inappropriate or annoying behaviors.

3 Fears Children Are Addressing 

  1. You will forget me.

    Children in foster care or who were adopted have frequently been neglected and in situations where the adult in charge literally forgot about the child or their needs. Annoying behaviors are simply a way for a child to continually make sure that you notice them and avoid the fear that the child will be lost in the noise of other daily tasks.

  2. You won’t believe me.

    Some children frequently use exaggerated words or terminology that seemingly make a situation more intense than what it actually was in real life. The terminology used would often be used in crisis situations. Many children in care did not have their concerns heard and believed until a crisis occurred that eventually resulted in them being removed them from their birth home. The child fears that the only way to be believed and have adults act is to create a similar crisis situation again.

  3. I don’t matter (enough) to you.

    Everyone has a need to feel important to someone else. They need someone who will move heaven and earth to protect them. Kids in foster care or who have been adopted often feel abandoned and rejected. They believe they do not matter, at least not enough for an adult to make changes or rearrange their schedule or sacrifice for them, even if they screw up.


Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. What have you done to make a child feel seen or heard?
  2. How do you manage your frustrations with persistent attention-seeking behavior?

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Parenting in the Eye of the Storm – Adoption Book Review

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From the Cover of Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years by Katie Naftzger:

“Describing the essential skills you need to help your adopted teen confidently face the challenges of growing up, adult adoptee and family therapist Katie Naftzger shares her personal and professional wisdom. Parenting in the Eye of the Storm contains invaluable insights for adoptive parents with simple strategies you can use to prepare your adopted teen for the journey ahead and strengthen the family bond in process.”

Grade:

5 hoots out of 5

Transfiguring Adoption awarded this book 5 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]

What Our Family Thought:

The most powerful and important voice for adoptive parents to hear is that of the adoptee. In this book, readers will find the wisdom of not only an adoptee who experienced being adopted internationally, but one who now has years of experience as a therapist working with adoptees and their families to draw upon as well.

Parenting in the Eye of the Storm begins with a chapter that delves into the many layers of loss that adoptees experience describing 8 different losses, some of which are generally not thought about. Ms. Naftzger goes on to explain four parenting tasks she considers essential to parenting an adopted teen. The last three chapters discuss race, privilege and cultural norms, mental health, and self-care. While discussions of race center upon the experience of Asian adoptees, much of what Ms. Naftzger says can be applied beyond to other interracial adoptions.

Throughout the book, adoptive parents will find practical examples, stories of the author’s experiences and those of her clients, questions for introspection, and tips including what to say and what not to say. This book is meant to be read front to back and not used as a reference. Adoptive parents will likely all find some new perspective(s) as a result of reading Parenting in the Eye of the Storm.


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It’s Your Turn:

  1. Had you previously considered all eight areas of loss experienced by adoptees discussed in Chapter One?
  2. Which of the 4 parenting tasks do you find most challenging?
  3. Which parenting task do you feel most equipped for?
  4. What do you do for self-care?

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