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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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