A few weeks ago I asked you for your self-care questions. You contacted me about your particular challenges, particularly around some common themes of time, childcare, guilt, and healthy self-care. Here I share some of the solutions that my family use to carve out self-care time and get a break from the craziness of adoptive family life. Not everything will work for everyone, and I welcome ongoing conversation on the subject both in the comments and on social media. But it’s my hope that some of what I share will be useful in making it happen for you.
Finding time for self-care
Phoebe asked: ‘How do you find time between full-time work and parenting two traumatised young people who can’t be left alone together to visit the gym, have a massage, etc?’
From my conversations with other adoptive parents, I can confidently state that this is the most common challenge we face as a group. Our children’s additional demands, our tendency to prioritise them over ourselves, the difficulties around appropriate childcare, and the everyday ‘normal’ stuff like work and running a home all need to be juggled and often leave next to no time for looking after ourselves.
To answer the specifics of your question, Phoebe, I would look at what is available through your post-adoption support and your LA’s ‘local offer’ for children and young people with additional needs. In our area there are regular respite opportunities through both of these, some of which are paid for by post-adoption support. In particular for older children there is a ‘buddy scheme’ where someone can take them to the cinema, shopping, or whatever else it is they want to do. It costs about £5 an hour, and I see no reason why you couldn’t have one ‘buddy’ for each child at the same time. Your LA’s website should have details of the local offer, and your PAS should be able to tell you what else is available to you.Our children's additional demands, our tendency to prioritise them over ourselves, the difficulties around appropriate childcare, and 'normal' stuff like work and running a home often leave next to no time for looking after ourselves. Click To Tweet
Introversion and support
Niki said: ‘My way of coping, when I feel overwhelmed, is to withdraw myself and reduce contact with people but then I recognise by doing this I’m missing out on getting support from the few who do kind of ‘get it’ and yet… I feel so vulnerable at these times, and so worried that I will find the contact a drain on my already limited emotional resources, that I stay withdrawn to the extent I find reconnection almost impossible. My own dysfunctional attachment dance, I guess. The thing that usually helps me is to reach out online in therapeutic parenting groups, etc. What could I do instead, please?’
If I’ve read between the lines correctly, you feel as though you recharge by spending time by yourself (as I do) but the effect of this is that you’re not reaching out for support or making face-to-face connections. I’m very similar. A few things I’ve found helpful are going to my local Adoption UK group each month, where everyone is an adopter and most people understand the adoption-specific challenges we face. I’ve discovered that there are often informal adopters’ gatherings too, and they tend to be a word-of-mouth thing, which can make them quite hard to track down initially. Try contacting people like The Cornerstone Partnership and The POTATO group for starters and seeing if they have meet-ups in your area. They’re really friendly and lots of us are in the same boat, so please don’t worry about stepping out of your comfort zone a bit.
Rachel commented: ‘My biggest challenge is caring for myself when I’ve done some rubbish parenting (usually because I’m exhausted) and just want to punish myself. Second biggest is not turning to destructive comfort activities – sugar, mindless computer games etc.’
Although there’s not a specific question here, I’m going to assume you’d like to learn (a) how not to beat yourself up about not being perfect and (b) some heathier self-care strategies. I suggest getting hold of some of The Blurt Foundation‘s resources, such as a BuddyBox, which tackles both of these issues (read more about the BuddyBox in my review, here). Get yourself on their mailing list – they send great weekly emails that are basically a pep-talk for anyone who is struggling with depression or anxiety or needs an extra friendly voice to counteract the negative one in their head. I’d also recommend writing a list of self-care things you’d like to try (you could use my list of 10 ideas as a jumping-off point or follow the plan in my free Week of Self-Care booklet, which you can get here). I hope that helps – do feel free to message me if you want to talk about it some more.
A said: ‘Having time to myself when you have a child with attachment issues and who can’t be left with anyone or if they are the fallout is so huge it’s just not worth it.’
I hear you. We also have post-self-care fallout and it can feel as though it undoes all the benefits of the time out. My suggestion is that as far as possible, schedule it for a regular time each week (see the next question) so that they can get used to it (of course, this may take a lot of repeating before things settle down).
The POTATO group said ‘We find as a group we are poor at self-care. Largely because we are often ‘firefighting’ the next traumatised young person situation. The people who do better at this book regular facials/spas in their diary. Or they embark on some new learning. Archery, badminton, oil painting, Greek, jive dancing. This seems to help. Booking something in the diary seems a key point to actually doing self-care.’
Yes. This is one of my top strategies. Scheduling the time in advance demonstrates that you take it as seriously as other demands on your time, and this is really important in making it happen. Whether it’s a class, or a regular appointment for a massage, or a regular trip to a coffee shop, the swimming pool, or some other form of self-care, having it as a regular fixture really is helpful and I recommend it completely.Scheduling self-care in advance demonstrates that you take it as seriously as other demands on your time, and this is really important in making it happen. Click To Tweet
Seaside Sparkles asked: ‘My self-care activities are generally at-home things: bubbly bath, reading, sewing, baking etc. But how can I do these without interruptions? As soon as I get anything out it’s always ‘can I help’, ‘can you teach me… ‘ As the children get older there’s also less relaxing time in the evenings before my bedtime so this valuable me time is ebbing away. Thanks.’
I have a couple of suggestions. First, I’m an unashamed fan of screen time as a way of helping parents get some downtime. You can read more about my views on this subject in my post In praise of screen time. Giving our children some new app or film to watch tends to keep them occupied for an hour or so – long enough to get some reading in, listen to a podcast, bake a cake, whatever it is you want to do. The other is to make use of your support network. Get someone else to occupy them without you leaving the house. Maybe someone else could come and bake with them, or share their needlework skills. You probably have friends with similar interests who wouldn’t mind giving up a couple of hours so you can have a break, and if you’re only upstairs/in the garden shed/somewhere else nearby it isn’t too daunting for anyone else. If you really want to push the boat out you could hire a tutor in whatever it is they want to learn. Either way, they gain a new skill and you get some me-time. Win!
Feeling guilty about self-care
Beth said: I find myself feeling guilty every time I have some time out for myself. After so many years of looking forward to being a parent, I feel like a bit of a failure for then wanting time without her. This means self-care time normally leaves me feeling worse rather than better.
As Constantine says in The Help, ‘You is Smart. You is Kind. You is important.’ In other words, you are doing a great job, and you matter. Your needs are not secondary to everyone else’s. You can’t meet her needs as well as you would like to if your own system is depleted because you haven’t recharged. Self-care doesn’t only benefit you, it benefits your daughter because she has a happier, calmer, more engaged mum as a result. You don’t feel guilty about brushing your teeth or making doctor’s appointments when you need them, so don’t feel guilty about taking time out to look after your mental well-being either.Self-care doesn't only benefit you, it benefits your daughter because she has a happier, calmer, more engaged mum as a result. #selfcareisntselfish Click To Tweet
Using your support network
Claire asked: We have two boys aged 21 months and 5 years. Having breaks is such an important part of self-care and we have people who are very willing to have our kids (grandparents and friends) while we take a break but we’re reluctant to take them up on their offers. This is because we imagine all the different scenarios which could occur and the ways in which our 5-year-old is likely to display extreme behaviour. We know that they’re not as equipped to deal with it as we are in terms of knowing how to react and how to comfort him in situations where things could quickly escalate without the right response from the supervising adult. Our post-adoption support worker advises that we need to just hand the boys over and whatever happens happens, but we feel bad about putting others and the boys in that situation. Any advice about how we can approach it differently so that we’re able to have breaks would really help!
Our children are both frequently violent and I know the depth of the concern you have about putting your children, friends and family in that situation. Here’s how we’ve dealt with it: we’ve written notes about how to handle specific situations, especially transitions. It’s a bit like the letter we write to new teachers, spelling out likely triggers and early warning signs of impending dysregulation and meltdowns.
And then you just have to take a deep breath and try it. If your children are like ours (and many others), they will present their most immaculate behaviour for your friends and family, and store up any anger for when they’re back with you. This is both a good and a bad thing! But please do try it – you don’t want the offers of help to dry up because you haven’t taken them up, and people do genuinely want to help you. Your needs are important too, and everyone will survive. If it does turn out to be catastrophic after trying it a few times, then you can step back and look at what needs to happen differently. But I’d give it a go. And please let me know how you and they get on!
Self-care answers in summary
- Check what help is available both via post-adoption support and your LA’s ‘local offer’ for children and young people with additional needs.
- Step outside your comfort zone a bit to find groups of adopters you can talk to face-to-face.
- Try The Blurt Foundation for pep-talks if you need them.
- Write a list of self-care ideas you’d like to try, using mine as a starting point if that’s helpful.
- Schedule self-care for a regular time each week.
- Make full use of your support network if you are fortunate enough to have one.
- Don’t feel guilty about self-care – it’s vital, and it benefits those around you as well as yourself.
If you’ve found this helpful, please share it with someone else who might like it too. Thanks! And if you have any questions, remember you can always leave me a comment below or drop me a message.
Don’t forget, if you need some self-care encouragement in a community of more than 100 other adoptive parents, you can join The Adoptive Parents’ Self-Care Club today!