This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Self-Care - Caring for the Caregiver

There will always be times when we feel defeated. Like we just can't take one more step. We want to run away.  We want to drop kick this kid.  I have heard so many people say, "I am DONE!  I can't take anymore!"  

I have soooo felt this way myself. 

But My Child Needs Me! Giving Until There's Nothing Left
By the time most women reach out, I think we have hit rock bottom. 

 Like most moms, especially moms of special-needs children, I gave and gave and gave until there was nothing left. No reserves. Nothing. I was completely empty. That's hard to come back from.

A woman on one of my support groups was talking about feeling overwhelmed to the point that she found herself having no patience for her child and yelling at him all the time.  She was no longer able to be a therapeutic parent like she used to be.  In my response to her, I realized that things really have changed for me over the years, and I don't think it's just because Bear is out of the house and Kitty is stable.  I really am in a better place emotionally.

I totally get it.  When my kids first got here, I was empathetic, calm and patient with them- maybe TOO patient.  I stuffed things down, let it roll off my back, and GAVE and GAVE and GAVE... until there was nothing left.  I was so burned out and overwhelmed that we were all miserable.  

Continuous Traumatic Stress
Our house often feels like a war zone. The stress feels like it never ends and even becomes our new normal. It affects our bodies, our minds, our relationships.

Here are some things I did to get ME back:

First of all, remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!

Second, I remember one time someone compared therapeutic parenting to doing CPR.  You only do CPR on someone who is DEAD!  You did not kill them (hopefully).  You are doing your best to help them, but if you are not successful then you must remember that you did NOT kill them!  Most of our children are hurt/ "damaged" long before we meet them (sometimes while in the womb).  All we can do is our best, and sometimes that will not be enough. {You Have Not Failed!}

I know it sounds stupid, but I needed "permission," encouragement, and constant reminders to take care of myself.

Parenting a child with attachment issues is incredibly draining and we need extra support to deal with that. But it felt so wrong to prioritize my self over the needs of everyone else.

Society tells us that as women, we should be nurturing and prioritize our family. We should always put ourself and our needs last.

People who work with our child tell us we should prioritize that child. That we should do more for the child. 

They are all WRONG! 

The only thing you HAVE TO do is prioritize yourself over the needs of your family! 

All those well-meaning people who say you SHOULD (or should not) be doing something have no idea what living 24/7 with a child with an attachment disorder is like. 

Even those who have experience working with special needs children don't know YOUR child and how your child is with YOU - plus they work at most an 8-hour shift with your child, then they get to go home!  Also, none of them take into account your other children or your marriage, let alone your needs as the caregiver of your family.  Their priority is the one child, not your family as a whole.

I also needed "permission to prioritize myself and the rest of the family over the needs of one child. Yes, my job as a parent is to help this child, but not at the expense of my marriage and the other children. Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order!

Putting Yourself First
Remember what they say when you're on an airplane that is in trouble -- put the oxygen mask on YOURSELF first.  If you are not taking care of yourself, then you can't help anyone else.  

You have to find what works for you.

This is definitely easier if you have support, but you have to prioritize your needs, even if it's just something little, like keeping the best piece of whatever you're serving for dinner for yourself. 
If you give and give and give without getting much, if anything, back, then there is nothing left for anyone!

I knew I could not help anyone on empty. I had to find ways to refill my cup before I could even think about the rest of my family. It sounded impossible. 

Self-care? Who has time for that?

The answer: Without it, you're out of time (and emotional reserves). It's the only thing you have time for until your tank is no longer empty.

Go out of your way to do things just for you. Things that remind you of who you are outside of being a parent. I don't mean go to the gym once a week. This is not a New Year's Resolution kind of thing. I mean put the kids to bed early every night (we called it "room time") and have some adult time. Plop the kids in front of a video with a PB&J on a paper plate and do something that fills you up. {Getting Respite, Planning a Retreat }


 -The Five Love Languages - I highly recommend figuring out your love language and teaching your family how to give you what you need to feel loved, but don't depend on your family (especially your spouse and those with attachment issues!) to meet all your needs! I tried not to expect that affirmation from my husband and children. I knew they were too overwhelmed and drained to fill my love tank. 

My Love Language is Words of Affirmation, so I go online and help people so they will give me what I need - Thank yous and compliments. I found ways to get people to praise my work. I blogged. I mentored. I hung out with people who "got it" and were encouraging me.  If felt self-serving at first, but it was the only way I survived when I was so drained that my "love tank" felt like the Pit of Despair!  {Five Love Languages}

I know you're going to ignore this, but GET SOME SLEEP!  DRINK LOTS OF WATER!  Eat Right!  Exercise!  All 4 are important, but they are in order of priority.  Please do everything you can to take care of yourself.  No one else can.

FYI, exercise does not have to be joining a gym or running 2 miles a day. It can be blasting your favorite tunes and dance like no one's watching, break out the hula hoop, take the dog for a walk... kids can join in if they want to.

Find people who "get it."  Real life, online... just find them, and share!! Remember, "YOU ARE NOT ALONE!"

ASK FOR HELP!!!  And ACCEPT it!!  
When someone has a baby or has been hospitalized, people come over and help out.  They bring food for several days or even weeks.  They clean, go shopping, mow the yard, take care of the kids...  just because we haven't been to a hospital, doesn't mean that we aren't living like survivors of some catastrophic illness or major life event.  When people say, "Can I help?"  Say YES!  You need help.  You deserve help.  Ask for it.  Accept it.  Please!

Not only avoiding toxic people as much as possible but actively surrounding myself with people who "get it." This is why I admin the group Parenting Attachment Challenged Children. It is a safe, positive place

    - Avoid Toxic People.  This can be anyone who is critical of you and/or your parenting (whether you agree with them or not, even constructive criticism can be too much).

Those people who delight in talking about their perfect children or insist that your child is just being a "typical ____ (boy, teen, 5th grader...)" - usually with the accompanying "My (child/ nephew/ neighbor's first cousin...) did that once.  It's totally normal.  You just need to (spank them, use a sticker chart, ignore it...)."  
They never listen when you try to explain how your child's intensity, duration, and motivation is totally different.  They think they understand your child better than you do, and that they (or the imaginary "someone" else) would be a much better parent.

Follow the advice you give others!!  You know what you would say to someone in your situation!  You deserve to be treated just as kindly.  When my kids say something negative about themselves, I fuss at them just as much as I would if they said the same thing about a sibling or a friend.  ("Kitty, don't say mean things to my little girl!!")

I had to constantly remind myself that I didn't deserve to be treated the way my child(ren) treated me, even though I knew that it was their illness or hormones causing them to do it. Just saying, "Stop. It is not OK to talk to me that way," even if it meant dealing with a child's meltdown afterward, was important. Words of Affirmation are my love language, so they hurt me the most.

Therapy - for ME!  I needed to talk to someone whose primary goal was helping ME deal with my life. I found a therapist who specialized in trauma. In a lot of ways, our children are abusers, and we are battered women - if our children were adults, we would be told to run away as fast as we can, but since they are children, we are expected to just take it.  There is no way to not internalize years of this abuse.  I know I had PTSD from it.  I saw an EMDR therapist who specializes in PTSD, and she has helped a LOT.

It is not shameful, and it doesn't have to be forever, but a LOT of therapeutic parents I know (including myself) take medication to help with the anxiety and depression that come from parenting kids with trauma/ attachment issues.

Forgive yourself for not being the "perfect parent" (which doesn't exist!) that could heal/fix your child.  Give yourself time to grieve the child that you wanted (one who could love you back, heal with your help, be RRHAFTBALL... 

Do silly, fun stuff with the kids. Do silly, fun stuff just to entertain yourself! Here're some ideas 99 Ways to Drive Your Child Sane and Brighten Up a Boring Day!

Even if it's for the most minute of successes.  Have you seen that Wendy's commercial about a little girl who lost her baseball game, but they celebrate because she didn't get hit by a ball?! 
  • I didn't smack my child when she screamed in my face for the millionth time (Get a mani/pedi - even if you do it yourself).  
  • My kids ate dinner, fast food in front of the TV counts!  (Go on an ice cream "date" with one of my healthy children).
  • No blood was spilled in the last hour! (Take a hot bath with a trashy novel and a glass of wine after the kids go to bed).
  • Behavior Bingo - Behavior Bingo is something I heard about from somewhere on the web. As a way to cope with her children's behaviors, this mom started pretending that whenever her child did something annoying (like pitch a fit, or paint with poo, or call her a $%#*... she would sometimes act really excited like she'd gotten to put a marker on her imaginary bingo board. She didn't tell her kids what she was doing or why. Every now and then she would yell out, "Bingo!" She usually thanked the child for the behavior (again without telling the child why), and rewarded herself in some way (got an ice cream or a margarita or whatever). She said it made her feel better and confused the heck out of the child(ren). lol
    Image result for adulting award 
  • ... 

  • How to Have Good Dreams 
  • Deep breathing - slow, deep, even breaths from the diaphragm, rather than short, shallow breaths from the chest. Can try counting - especially if trying to go to sleep
- Get comfortable and relax muscles.- Inhale deeply and hold it.- Exhale and repeat.- Try adding stretching.
  • 4-7-8 Breath. I use this quick and simple breathing every night. It works!
  • EFT Emotional Freedom Techniques (aka Tapping).  This can be a full tapping routine or just something simple like a side hand chop.
  • Mantra (can be used with tapping) - Choose a positive, calming word or phrase. Repeat it over and over to yourself silently to prevent distracting thoughts from entering and calm yourself.
  • Exercises that cross the mid-brain (like Brain Gym).  Sometimes I use a tapping-type technique - like patting my left knee and then the right, over and over. I've also crossed my arms over my chest and alternately tapped the backs of my upper arms in a subtle way that others probably won't even notice.
  • EMDR is a therapy that works in similar ways (crossing the mid-brain).  
  • Exercise - Going for a walk or run, yoga, jumping on a trampoline to clear the mind and reduce stress.
  • Distraction/ Redirection - Find a different activity or something to focus on that distracts from an event that is causing stress.  Lots of ideas in this post about the Attachment Challenge.
- Read a book or magazine.- Listen to relaxing music or watch a video.- Do a crossword puzzle, or play an electronic game.- Make cookies.- Play with playdoh- Try lying down and taking a nap.- Go somewhere in your imagination.- Cocooning (create a cozy, womb-like area with books and soft toys). 

Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order
Not only do we tend to put ourselves last, but we also tend to listen to the "experts" and focus on the needs of one child (or two). First priority needs to be yourself, then your significant other (after all, hopefully, he/she will be around long after the children are out of the nest) {How We Keep Our Marriage Strong}, and then the family as a whole. The needs of the "squeakiest wheel" need to be last

Prioritize Your Relationship with Your Significant Other
Respite, date night, at least 5 minutes a day of time together where you DON'T talk about your kids.  I also found it helped to have 10 minutes a day to talk about the kids, and schedules and how your day went... {Marriage - Keeping It Together!}

Prioritize Your Relationship with Your Other Kids
Spend extra time with your other kids.  Go on "dates" with them.  Find times to chat.  Treat them to a little extra mommy time.  The squeaky wheel gets the oil and that means often the other kids can get shoved to the side.  Plus it helps you by getting some time with your child(ren) that is capable of having a relationship with you.

Believe me, I regret how little priority my other kids got and we're seeing some of the negative effects now that they are grown. Especially when I realized that my son, Bear, (the squeakiest wheel) was not able to heal {You Have Not Failedbut even with my daughter, Kitty, who was able to heal and might not have if I hadn't poured as much energy and time into her. Sacrificing the family as a whole was a mistake that I deeply regret. 

Finding the Joy 
This is one of the hardest things I've ever done and one of the most important. I wasn't ready for it until my "love tank" was a little more full. I highly recommend this post to you when you're ready! {Finding the Joy}

You Have Not Failed
I did have to accept the fact that one of my children was not able to heal. While I was recovering from the PTSD caused by him living with us, I would often start feeling guilty about my failure to "fix" him. I have reread this post a thousand times to help me combat this feeling. It works for me.

  There's more, but the most important thing is please be good to my friend!  She deserves it!


Grieving widow said...

Thank you for this post. I sooo wish I could do some of these things. However, on March 27, my husband was killed in a semi rollover accident. Now it is just me. I feel so alone and scared. And my adopted RAD daughter is, not surprisingly, being absolutely horrible. I am thankful for your sharing such valuable information to those of us who are still daily struggling in the trenches with RAD. You're right, IT SUCKS!

Anonymous said...

I love your 11th point about following the advice you get others. And to those who doubt your love and attempts to give Kitty words of affirmation and boost her self-esteem, look at the example Mary puts in there about telling her not to say mean things to herself. Mary is a very caring person, and all her points in this post are good ones. The 11th one stood out for me though. Keep up the good work.

marythemom said...

I'm sorry to hear this Grieving Widow. Are you finding any support?

Anonymous said...

Thank you soooooo much for writing this. Thank you is not even enough! I am printing off your article so I can read it again and again and show my therapist. I am currently so burnt out my brain is completely fogged over and I have NO words to help anyone understand what I am feeling. (it has gotten so bad lately) God Bless you for helping me with your words!

LB said...

I have been wanting to read this book Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others @ I first learned of this book through The Trauma Therapists Podcast @ The pod cast is very rich in ideas and references.