Welcome to the seventh in my series of the Components of Self-Care. If you missed the previous parts in the series, the links are below. You can read them in any order.
Yes, I’m stretching the alliteration again, using ‘superfluities’ (unnecessary extras) to mean treats. Rewards, if you like. The fun stuff.
If, when I collect them from school, I tell my children that I have got a treat for them waiting at home, their first thought is almost always that it will be something edible. I may in theory be a grown-up, but the word ‘treat’ also has the same effect on me.
There is an adoption professional of my acquaintance who delivered some training I was on last summer. In the part of the training on self-care we were all asked to identify a treat and draw it on our name badges. Mine (notwithstanding my limited artistic abilities) looked like this:
Several group members drew gardening-related things on their badges. I respect that. I’m not sure it falls into the ‘treat’ category for me, but I can see how that works as a relaxing activity. The course leader, however, said that her idea of a treat was a luxury shower gel. I’m sorry, but no.
I get that a bath is a treat for some, mainly because it equals warmth, solitude and book-reading time. I can totally get on board with that even though I prefer showers myself. But a shower gel? I am still shaking my head in disbelief at that one.
What constitutes a treat?
So having established that shower gel does not qualify, what is a treat? And what types of treats work best as forms of self-care?
Though I like to talk about chocolate and obviously like to eat it (duh), it’s not the greatest example of a treat because it’s not overwhelmingly healthy and therefore undermines the idea of taking care of yourself (see this post on sustenance). I guess if you’re the sort of person who is good at stopping eating chocolate after a couple of squares then fine. I admire your self-control. I am rubbish at that, so I’d go for safer options. Things I’d put in the treat category include massages, haircuts, spa days, trips to the cinema, books, CDs/music downloads, things that make you happy and won’t have a negative impact on your health, your amount of sleep, etc.
Hardcore parenting needs proper hardcore treats. Ideally whole weekends of treatfulness at a time, like taking up residence in a spa, but I do live in the real world, so maybe spending a few quid for someone else to do a chore you hate (ironing, cleaning the car, etc) while you sit in Starbucks and read would work for you (it does for me, every time).
The point is that self-care shouldn’t be the light at the end of the tunnel that we’re going to reward ourselves with once we get through the current struggle. It should be something we build into our daily/weekly/monthly routines as part of the process of dealing with the challenges of adoptive parenting. I know this doesn’t come easily to many people. We are told repeatedly during our training as prospective adopters that the children come first and it is all about them. This is right and proper and appropriate, of course. But if their care is paramount, then their carers’ wellbeing and ability to provide the well-regulated, loving care that the children need is also vital to a healthy adoptive family life.[Update: could someone maybe mention this to post-adoption support?]
Why treats matter
Adoptive parenting is a long haul. It’s not possible to live in full-on therapeutic wonderparent mode all day, every day until your child leaves home aged 18/21/30/whatever. It is vital to build in self-care as a regular ‘way of being’ in order to avoid burnout, and treats are a helpful part of that. And by, treats, remember, we don’t mean shower gel. Or lunch (unless it’s a really nice lunch, perhaps). Writer Kristin Wong explains it succinctly:
‘Rewarding yourself with an indulgence is one thing. But using your basic comfort and sanity as a reward can be problematic, and many times, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. For example, when I’m in the middle of work, I’ll often postpone eating lunch, even if I’m very hungry. I don’t call nourishment a “reward,” but that’s what it becomes. The carrot at the end of the stick. But if I took the time to refuel myself, work would probably come a lot easier.’ (Source: Lifehacker)
Kristin’s point applies to parenting as much as to writing. If I am looking after the girls for a weekend when Pete is away (as I am at the moment), I will make sure I build in a trip to a soft play place where I can get a decent coffee and read a book, for example. Little oases of sanity-saving self-care help me to regroup and come back to the task of parenting with a clearer head.
‘Treats give us greater vitality, which boosts self-control, which helps us maintain our healthy habits. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which in turn boosts self-command. When we don’t get any treats, we feel depleted, resentful, and angry, and we feel justified in self-indulgence.’
So giving ourselves treats helps us feel in control. Feeling in control, as adoptive parents all know, is helpful to being emotionally regulated, and being emotionally regulated is a vital part of therapeutic parenting as we try to pass that state on to frequently dysregulated children. Therefore treating ourselves is a really helpful part of parenting our children well. Showing ourselves that care and respect is also a great model for our children of everyone’s intrinsic value and ‘treat-deservedness’.
Works for me. Pass the shower gel.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the importance of treats to your own self-care. Are they something you are making a deliberate part of your life, or an ad-hoc afterthought? Are there particular treats you find helpful as an adoptive parent? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek hashtag.
You’ll have noticed that this was the seventh of the seven components of self-care. You may be throwing up your hands in dismay that we have reached the end of the series (unlikely, but play along for the sake of my self-esteem, if you would). Fear not, for next week is still a self-care Sunday. I’ll be reviewing the Blurt Foundation‘s November ‘Buddy Box‘. And I’ll be self-care Sunday-ing every Sunday after that, too.
Don’t forget, if you’d like to join in the conversation on your own blog, you can grab the blog badge here.
Have a great week.