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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Fostering Again…Oh, the Differences!

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After a four and a half year period of not being licensed for foster care, we are back at it. We started out intending to do respite care only in order to give breaks to other foster parents, however, we ended up accepting a placement of siblings after two weekends with them. It is such a different experience this time around! One may think the differences have to do with being with a different agency, in a different state, and accepting a placement much different in many ways from our other placements, but that would not be the case.

The differences are…

…all to do with us! Eight and a half years ago, when Jasmine and Dalton first came to our house, we were newbies who had no real idea what we were getting into. The differences all have to do with our responses.

  • Our response to behaviors – We did not have near the training on trauma and how it impacts behavior that we do now when we first started as foster parents. We typically responded the way most parents respond to negative behaviors and found it backfiring. We have more skills and practical strategies now for helping the kids face challenges due to their trauma. We are more laid back now and choose what behaviors to target more carefully.
  • Our response to warning signs – In terms of behaviors, we have seen far fewer negative behaviors than we did when we first started fostering, and from all I can tell, it’s not because of differences in the children. We are much quicker to spot an oncoming issue and diffuse or redirect before a behavior starts. For the past week, we’ve been on our first family vacation since these kiddos moved in. I have been reminded so much of our first trips with the other kiddos and how hard they were, but this trip has been significantly better than those trips simply because we see that kids are reaching their physical and emotional limits, and we simply call it a day and go back to where we’re staying, even if it’s only lunch time!
  • Our response to symptoms -We are quicker to notice something that may need to be evaluated—physically, behaviorally, or emotionally—and to search out services. I am a lot quicker now to talk to medical professionals when something comes up to weed out potential medical causes to behaviors or symptoms. With time as foster parents, one just knows a little quicker not only that something isn’t right, but we learn where to go to get help and answers.
  • Our response to professionals in the children’s lives – Two situations came up a couple weeks ago where, as a newer foster parent, I may have been angry or upset that something was done that I felt was not the best for the child, but I probably would have thought I could do no more pretty quickly. We’ve always advocated for the children in our care, but I feel with time and experience has come the knowledge of the right words to say and actions to take to push a little harder with better outcomes. As a bonus, as the kids have seen us advocate and follow through on our word, it’s helped them to build more trust in us.

Overall, fostering this time around is much different. Are we doing a perfect job? NO! Are we doing the best we can? There are days I think we could do better. Have we gotten worn out and screwed up and had to go back and fix our mistakes? You bet! But, overall, I feel more prepared and equipped, and that has such a great impact on how successful I feel, and I feel less stressed than I did when we started fostering nine years ago.


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What I Hate Most (Today) About Foster Care: 5 Things to Do About It

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At this point in our society, foster care is at times necessary to keep kids safe, and when implemented and utilized correctly, foster care can yield success. But, it is always, at least to some extent, messy, traumatic, and problematic. Anyone involved with foster care hates aspects of it. Professionals and foster parents want to quit often and many do, and the children and birth families want out desperately.

Uncertainty

So many parts of foster care are worthy of disdain, but what I hate most, at least today anyways, is the uncertainty of it. As an adult, I can scarcely wrap my head around the maybe’s, the what if’s, and so on, but what bothers me most is the inability I have as a foster parent to answer those questions, what if’s, maybe’s, and such of the children I am responsible for, those whom I am seeking to give “felt safety” to—a sense of security. I can’t make them any promises for the future.

We live in daily uncertainty. These questions break my heart:

  • Can we have a party at Chuck-E-Cheese for my birthday?
  • Can I be a pirate for Halloween?
  • I do not want to move again! What if I get moved this week? What if they come tomorrow and tell me to pack my bags?
  • What if my parents’ rights are terminated, and I never get to see them again?
  • What if I never see my siblings again?
  • What if my next home (insert something undesirable to the child here)?
  • I miss my house. I miss waking up in my own bed! What if I never get to sleep there again?

There is so much unknown about their futures, and this can drag on for months and years. There is such a feeling of powerlessness and lack of control for us and them.


What Can I Do About Uncertainty?

With my adopted children I can now promise that as long as I’m alive, I am their mom forever, I will keep them in contact with their birth families, I will continue to go to bat for them fighting for their best interests and helping them overcome difficulties from their past. I cannot tell foster kids even what their near future holds. I cannot promise them everyone in their lives will react in certain ways, but there are some things I can do.

  1. Safe Adults – Safe Relationships
    I can seek to help them build trust in safe adults in their lives, so I will not make promises I cannot keep. I will not ensure them that [X] will or will not happen when I cannot guarantee that it will or will not. I will let them know I will do everything in my very limited power to ensure something does or does not happen. I will promise to go to bat for them and fight with everything I can for their best interests. I can make sure the decision makers know how the kids feel and what their wishes are.
  2. Felt Safety and Security
    I can do the best I can to make them feel safe and secure while they’re here and give them hope for their futures, but even for a teen who is just a few years away from escaping, the present is most often too daunting and overwhelming to see past. I can show them examples of adults who were in their shoes who made it.
  3. Assisting With Fears
    I can walk them through their fears, helping them understand the ones which are irrational, and helping them think through what the worst realities could be and what they can do about them. This will help take away the overwhelming power of these fears.
  4. Feel Better With The Little Things
    I can do everything in my power to make them feel just a little better. I can print out pictures for a birth mom and buy her a birthday card when they’re sad they’re missing her birthday. I can arrange sibling visits. I can make sure they have good experiences in my home and document it for them to remember in the future, wherever that future may take them.
  5. Validate Feelings
    I can validate their feelings and provide a listening ear.

Now It’s Your Turn!

What do you hate most about foster care, and what are you doing about it?


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