I awoke from a dream, a dream in which I was climbing a mountain. The mountain and the view were breathtakingly beautiful, but the path was treacherous, unstable, and terrifying. It was slipping and falling apart. I’m not completely sure who the two people on the journey with me were. I was in the lead, and I knew if I fell, it would be likely backwards, and they would most likely be falling with me. Every step brought a new challenge and the fear to go with it. I would twist or roll or turn to make falling less likely until we started basically climbing what looked like a rock ladder ascending nearly straight upward that was comprised of unstable pieces of rock which were slipping and falling. I couldn’t see the top…I could scarcely see the next step for that matter.
I’m assuming we were trying to reach a peak, which is why people generally climb mountains, but this felt different. I also remember thinking there would be no way to pick up kids from school and also, as I stirred awake, that there was no way back down.
A Little Too Real
Another thought I had upon waking is that this dream felt way too familiar. No, I haven’t been climbing any mountains recently. They’re in drastically short supply in our new state of Florida. But as we navigate life with two adult children at home in need of long-term services and middle and high schoolers with special needs, it seems nothing comes without a battle…services like vocational rehabilitation or disability, academic progress, life skills, attachment, meeting medical needs, social skills, simple daily tasks…the list goes on. While trying to navigate a system or trouble shoot a problem, five new things happen: an adult child’s bank account has weird charges they swear they did not make, a worker calls to talk to a child who is not home (and not capable of answering the questions anyways) and then never calls back and never returns our calls when the child is home, a child gets a job and loses it the same day… Every thing seems hard. It seems nothing can just go smoothly. We agreed to this battle—all be it without much of the information needed to make a truly informed decision—and there is no way back down this mountain. [SIDE NOTE: NEVER tell a foster or adoptive parent that they “signed up for this.” This may just knock them off the mountain, or knock you off yours depending on what kind of day they’re having.]
This climb is not easy. There are some great views at times as we see victories, but often the views are blocked, and we can hardly see any further than the next foot hold. There are a few things that help me to keep climbing:
Self care is necessary and very hard to come by. The other day I took some time out (after a lot of tears and a mini break down on my part) to grab a birthday child (whose birthday I missed while out of town for Transfiguring Adoption) and drive to the beach for an hour or so. There was a red flag warning on the beach due to rough surf and rip tides, so there was no swimming, but an hour of dipping our toes in the ocean and some sunshine gave me just enough sanity to fight the battles another day. Not all days allow for this long of a mental health break, so we have to make a concerted effort to find the little things that sustain us individually for the days ahead. Sometimes it is simply making sure we are taking care of ourselves physically. When the kids were younger, they used to love playing with my hair or giving me a back rub. They also loved doing foot soaks together or other little pampering activities. This was all a great way of meeting a need for myself and showing them how to care for themselves when I couldn’t actually get a break away from them.
- FELLOW CLIMBERS
I could not continue climbing without those on the journey with me, whether they are fellow foster or adoptive parents, family members, understanding professionals, friends who get it…all people who are in the fight for my kids with me. I often don’t need things fixed necessarily as much as I need someone to say, “Man, that’s rough!” or “That sucks!” I love our Monday night Caregiver Check In that we do online each week. It is very validating and encouraging just knowing I’m not climbing alone, and I love providing that for other caregivers!
I’m not talking about physical food, though that is quite necessary in households where folks have experienced trauma. (I won’t get into the science of it, but chronic trauma messes with blood sugar and creates a need for protein every couple hours to keep blood sugar level and bodies regulated.) I’m talking here about mental sustenance. I need reminders of the why’s and how’s of therapeutic parenting, reminders of why my children respond to situations the way they do, reminders of the way their brains have been impacted by trauma. Otherwise I am prone to compassion fatigue.
Some days I feel hopeless and helpless and like this climb is going nowhere. I climb and climb and find myself back at the same trail sign I passed years ago. I have to actively remind myself to get my needs for breaks, fellow climbers, and sustenance met, or I will fall, and my family will come tumbling down with me.
Now It’s Your Turn:
- What do you find helps you to “keep climbing” as a foster or adoptive parent? Is there something you would add to this list?
- What causes you to feel helpless and hopeless?
- What can you do to combat those feelings?