Thursday, August 4, 2011

Self Care - Part VI

Periodically, I go through my logs to see what search engine keywords have been used to find my blog.  Sometimes it's interesting.  Sometimes it's discouraging.  Sometimes, I find things that are great blog fodder.

Yesterday, someone found my series on self-care by searching on the following:

what to do when you are burned out on your special needs adopted child

Wow. I bet there are a lot of foster and adoptive parents who can relate to that search.

So what do you do when you are burned out on your kid?  It doesn't really matter if the child is a special-needs child or not, or whether they are a birth, foster or adopted kid.  Granted, some children are tougher to parent than others, but I think all parents need a break sometimes.

So what do you do when you are burned out?

The easy answer, of course, is to put the kid in respite.  Getting a difficult child out of your hair for a little while can help a lot if your mental health is really suffering because of your child's behaviors.  Every parent needs a break now and then, and I've noticed that a lot of parents don't want to take breaks because they feel their children need them.  That works great, right up until the moment that burnout sets in, and the parent feels like they are about ready to implode.

So the better approach is to take care of yourself sufficiently from the very beginning, so that you don't find yourself in the position of being completely burned out on your kid.

The truth is this is very easy to say and very hard to do.  So many foster and adoptive parents feel a lot of guilt.  We feel guilty that we can't solve our children's problems, we feel ashamed that sometimes we don't like them very much on account of their behaviors, and we feel like failures because even when we follow the best parenting advice, our children still rage.  That guilt makes us feel badly when we finally admit we need a break.

It's really hard to meet a difficult child's needs while still meeting your own.  It's hard to carve out moments of peace, and time to do things you enjoy, when you are trying to juggle the needs of maintaining a house, caring for other children, demands at work, therapy appointments, your relationship with your spouse, and everything else.  It often seems that by the time everything else is done, there's no time left for you.

So the truth is, if you are going to make it, you have to carve out some time for yourself.  If you have a spouse, make time that you spend together.  If you have hobbies, schedule them.  Even if it means that you have to schedule your free time on your calendar, do it.

Because you are important, and you can't give what you don't have.  If you aren't taking care of yourself, then eventually you will become so depleted that you won't be able to take care of your special-needs children, your spouse, your house or your job.  Eventually, you'll find yourself so burned out that you have nothing left for anybody.

If you are already to that point, what do you do?

Put the kid in respite, if at all possible.  Even if it's difficult, even if it costs money, even if you can't afford it, even if you think there will be paybacks later.  If you are to the point of being that desperate, you must immediately put yourself first.  Get some distance between you and your difficult child and take a break.

While your kid is away, do things that refresh and renew your soul.  It doesn't have to be anything fancy.  It could be something as simple as watching several marathon nights of your favorite TV show.  Give yourself some time to do things that aren't centered around your child's needs.  Focus on yours.

If you can, get help.  For some families, counseling is valuable.  For others, simply tapping into a support network of other struggling families is useful.  Find someone, anyone, who can help share the load.

Finally, change your priorities.  Although your children are important, you must come first.  If you come to decision points where you have to choose between your well-being or your child's, choose yourself first, even if you feel guilty doing it.

The truth is, at the end of the day, you are the only you available.  If you aren't in good enough shape to take care of your challenged child, who will?

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