Try to fix the problem: Many of us have never met a problem we didn’t want to solve. Problem solvingskills are essential to successful parenting in any family, including foster, adoptive and kinship families.
Adjust, internally: This is a high level skill and one that many of us struggle with. It goes beyond the exter-nal work of fixing the problem to some internal work and often means changing the way we think.
These varied approaches to coping with change and stress became real for me as we welcomed four school-age siblings, each a year apart into our home. Prior to joining our family, these children had experienced abuse and neglect during the years in their birth family home and then four years in more than seven foster care placements. They had multiple exposures to trauma during these years. When they arrived in our family, they each presented a different coping mechanism.
Franny, the youngest, was the soother. She sucked her thumb, twirled her hair, rocked and found other ways to soothe herself.
Geoff, next in line, was the rebel. He protested every chance he had – acting out at home and at school, even throwing a school desk out the window on one occasion.
Sylvia, the oldest girl, was the nurturer and fixer. She wanted everything to be better and everyone to be happy. She mediated arguments, did extra chores, braided her sister’s hair, got all A’s.
Marcus, the oldest, adjusted. He didn’t want to make waves. He settled in and fit into each new foster home and school and including our family like he was born there. He was a chameleon.
For their part, many of the adults around the children throughout the years were in the “do-nothing” cate- gory. Act like everything is normal and it will be so. But slowly, in our home, we decided to try the “ask for help” approach and as a result of this modeling, the children began to learn to ask for help too.
Learning to ask for help is an important part of what I will call the “Self-Care ToolKit.” I tend to think of each tool in this toolkit as a “stress buster” – and the toolkit needs a variety of types of tools – including those designed to prevent stress and emotional burnout, as well as those required to help with the healing from difficult emotions that accompany caring for our children and teens.
Our family has taken many road-trips and camping trips through out the years. One thing I have learned is that when you take a trip, you better take along a really good toolkit. You know, when we set out to drive from the East Coast to the West, through hills and valleys, big cities and small towns, highways and dirt roads, we needed to learn that we would experience flat tires, we would get lost, the air conditioner would quit, and so on. We needed a good toolkit. So here are some of the tools that I have learned to put in my own personal “self-care” toolkit and maybe it will help you to think about what goes into yours.
Into my toolkit goes touch and affection, a whole box of different communication styles, a lot of anger man- agement techniques and stress relievers, a set of advocacy weights to pump, a boatload of jokes, and laughter, a bottle to collect my tears, and friends to share the journey with – its my AAA plan – and all of these tools going into a “toolbox” provides the safety net I need to dare to set out, one more time, on a new leg of the journey.
When developing your own “self care toolkit,” don’t forget to think of multiple outlets that use your mind, body, and emotions. Sometimes it helps to be with other people in a social or supportive situation, other times a little time alone can be just what the doctor ordered. Know yourself and what situations require which kinds of supports. I have also noticed that sometimes the tools that work well for women are not the same as those that work for most men, or for people raised in different decades. Also, race, culture, ethnic and religious traditions may play a part in guiding what kinds of “stress busters” are most effective for each of us. So don’t let anyone else dictate what should or shouldn’t go in your personal toolkit. As long as your “tools” are not self-destructive or harmful to others, they can work for you even if they don’t make it on your friends – or pastor’s, or therapist’s, or caseworker’s lists of suggested tools.
A “self-care toolkit” should include some of the kinds of activities we can engage in as often as daily (walking the dog, reading, prayer, exercise), some that are less frequent but still regular like weekly or monthly (date night with our spouse or partner, book club, bowling night, getting nails done, etc), others that are reserved for special occasions (vacation, retreat, conference) and finally those few things we might have handy to employ “whenever” there is a need for a brief break (listening to favorite music, deep breathing, cup of tea, call a supportive friend, punch a punching bag). Don’t forget to nurture your own adult relationships and find opportunities for laughter and play.