I had heard the advice around self-care,” you need to take care of yourself first or you wouldn’t be any good to the kids”. I had also heard the analogy of putting your air mask on first in the airplane to be able to then save your family. But to be honest it just didn’t resonate with me. I am not sure if when I was younger I just felt untouchable or if the pain of so many children called to me louder than my own body or heart.
I have raised 7 children. All with some special needs. I have fostered over 60 children in a 20 year period and have also sat with clients as they shared their stories of abuse and terror. How did I think I was untouchable? My idea of self-care was a vacation with my husband once a year in which I slept much of the first 3 days. It was the only way I knew how to be out of reach. Let me tell you, once a year is not enough. Now in my 50’s I have the scars to prove it.
I am not only touchable but in truth destructible. And years of putting everyone else needs first has cost me both physical health and emotional well-being. A child’s trauma does affect me. I learned that I can’t actually sit holding my child as they disclose the horrors done to them with no cost. Seeing their pain and their fears often erupting from them in anger and rage. I can’t be hit and kicked and live in a place of amygdala hi-jack without a cost. I can’t always be the rock in the storm to all my children to my husband or the children that came into my life through my practice or fostering. But boy did I try. I heard but I never listened!
One day my life changed. I had no more reserves. What a shock. I couldn’t rally out of this one. I couldn’t be the light.
“I had to learn boundaries and I had to learn a balance between my needs and those of my children”
In the darkness I was forced to take care of myself. I had to learn boundaries and I had to learn a balance between my needs and those of my children. The cost of this journey was a marriage and pieces of myself. About 3 years ago I just stopped. I quit my practice. My marriage ended. And I struggled to find who I was because in truth when I focused so much on everyone else I lost me. I asked my children every day, “how are you” and I listened deeply with my heart to their responses. I listened past their words. I made it my mission to increase their pleasure and decrease their distress. I worked and focused on their happiness and wanted them to feel loved. I cared about their sadness and pain. I ignored my pain. I ignored what made me happy and what made me smile. I felt their lives had been so hard and that I would be ok. I would take care of me later, when they were older, when they were safer, when they were stable, when they were teenagers, when they were adults etc. And years went by. My body changed. It grew bigger, and sorer, and slower, and I felt less happy and less glad.
What I found out on my journey back to me was that no one except me expected this sacrifice. This sacrifice was really about me. So I started my own healing journey. I thought about what made me happy and I tried to do it. I rekindled friendships that brought laughter back into my life. I listened to my intuition and I followed it. I did way less of the things I thought I should do and more of the things that I wanted to do. And do you know what I figured out. I am a way better mother. I am a way better friend. I am a way better therapist.
“I am a way better mother. I am a way better friend. I am a way better therapist.”
In my life as a mother I focused on my children’s physical well-being, their emotional well-being and their spiritual well-being. Now I do that for myself as well. I have changed how I eat. I practice meditation daily. I have started yoga. I go on retreats to make sure I have a relationship with myself and a spiritual connection to the world and my community. I have meaning in my life outside of my work and children.
In giving advice now, I would tell you to remember who you are and what matters to you as a person. Pay attention to the small warning signs of burnout or exhaustion. If you are parenting a child with a trauma history, take care of you. The goal is to stay regulated in the face of chaos. So I do things that promote that and create that in my life. What does that look like for you? Is it working out, gardening, baking, and coffee with a friend, game night with your partner, mindfulness, walks in nature, playing with your dog and as you can see the list can be endless. Make a promise to yourself to put your needs at the top of the list and commit to it. Each day you commit to your child. Each day you should commit to yourself. I have learned the beauty of personal boundaries and the joy of life. It comes from my family, it comes from my connections to people, to the adoption community, to my larger community and most important to myself.
Author: Laura Banks, Parent Trainer