Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Self Care - Part V

One of the most important realizations that I've come to as I've pondered the issue of self-care, is the fact that foster, kinship and adoptive parents need to realize an important fact:

Our children's problems are not our fault.

This is very easy to say, but it is much harder to believe, since inevitably parents are blamed for the problems their children exhibit.  When a family is out in public, and a 10-year-old throws a temper tantrum in the middle of a warehouse store, the public doesn't think, "Oh, the poor family of a special-needs child."  Instead, they think, "Geeze, what a lousy parent!  If that was my kid acting that way, I'd belt him into next Tuesday."

Likewise, teachers, medical professionals, friends and even family don't understand why our children behave so badly.  If a child has problems, people reason, it has to be the parents' fault.

Maybe this idea might be true in the case of badly-behaved children who were properly nurtured and cared for since birth.  Unfortunately, most foster and many adoptive parents don't have that luxury.  Many of us have adopted from the domestic foster care system, and most of the children in that system are there because they were abused or neglected for years before they came into our homes.

So they act out, some in very profound, troubling ways.

And society at large wants to blame us for those problems.

But to properly care for ourselves (and by extension our children) we have to recognize two important things: 1) we didn't cause the problems our children have, and 2) we can't necessarily fix them.  This is especially true in cases where our children have been prenatally exposed to drugs or alcohol, or they are burdened with a biological destiny of mental illness.

We didn't cause it, and we can't fix it.

As painful as it sounds, many of us have to realize that there are some problems in our children that simply cannot be repaired, no matter how much love, attention, or services we shower upon them.  Some of our children are too broken, too damaged, and too disabled to function as normal children can.  Worse, many of these kids are going to grow up to repeat the cycle of their birth families.

For most families, that reality creates a lot of guilt.  Parents question themselves and wonder, "Could we have done better?"  They wonder if perhaps they should have sold the family home or gone deep into debt to cover therapy or services that weren't covered by insurance.

But as I've discussed before, bankrupting one's future in the hopes one might save a child isn't the wisest choice.  At some point, that child will leave the family home, either when he reaches the age of majority, or when he runs away or becomes too violent to stay.

So we have to realize that there is only so much we can do. We have to recognize that there is a limit, and all we can do has to be good enough.  Sure, there will always be critics out there, accusing parents of being selfish, or having not done everything they could do, but at the end of the day, a family has to live within its financial, physical and emotional means.

And sometimes, good enough just has to be good enough, even if it's not perfect.

If we recognize that there are some children who cannot be fixed (and who will never be "normal") and we simply do our best to give them the best childhood we can then we should be satisfied.  That doesn't mean allowing a violent child to abuse the family, or a manipulative one to escape consequences.  It means that we make the best of what we have, and do the best we can given that we began from a crappy starting place.

If you can forgive yourself for not being able to save your children, you'll sleep a lot better at night.


  1. This is definitely the hardest thing for me and I believe most parents of kids of trauma too. I'm a rescuer by nature. I grew up in a household where my mom believed everyone was more important than she was. It took me years to stop rescuing strangers, but I finally did it. Then I had kids. It's hard to make myself value my own needs and protect myself, but I try to keep telling myself, "If Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy."



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