therapeutic parents need breaks, but balance is key (adoption & foster care)

therapeutic parents need breaks - balance is key
Being a therapeutic parent is hard. It’s wearing. It’s tiring. It’s work. All. The. Time.  It’s benefits in the end are rewarding beyond compare, but when you’re in the day to day it can be draining.

Although my husband and I have come out of the most difficult parts of therapeutic parenting with our daughter, we still have to parent in a different way than a person would with a typical child. We also have an Autistic child, and that takes constant therapeutic parenting and I struggle with health issues, so I’m tired, and you probably are too.

Speaking of being tired, my husband, Justin, and I have been staying up way too late this summer. It’s usually midnight or later by the time we get in bed, and we don’t function well when we turn in this late. Often the culprit of our late nights is something needing accomplished around the house, but sometimes it’s simply staying up, just because.

Yesterday I was exhausted, pretty normal for me, but it was excessive. I’d been awake most of the previous night with shooting knee pains. Justin made a comment about me being tired and added, “We’re staying up too late every night.” My reply? “You know why I stay up so late? I like the peace and quiet. I’m trying to soak in the time when nothing’s going on.” He said, “I know, so am I.”

We LOVE our kids! They’re our life. (No I don’t know what we’ll do when they grow up! But heck, since my son has nonverbal Autism he may be living with us forever, so I don’t have to worry.) But there is so much going on, there’s a lot of stress in our life and Autism only plays a small part, and when everything’s done at the end of the day, we enjoy sitting down together and reading or watching HGTV or Last Comic Standing on the iPad. Yes, we are boring! Boring is good, boring is relaxing.

When I dove into the foster care and adoption world I saw parents who spent so much time away from their hurting kids. Parents who spent a couple hours exercising every morning, took their kids to school, and filled up their afternoons and evenings with events. I knew dads who, when asked to watch the kids, only sat in front of the t.v. watching sports, and on weekends when the family could be together, they went golfing or spent time with the guys.

I was furious. Yes, I judged, and maybe part of me still does. When a child is battling with their past, fighting to survive on the inside, they need family. They need attention, they need one-on-one time, and they need considerable amounts of it, so much that it can’t be measured. I hurt for these kids. Children who wouldn’t conform to a families routines (jogging, biking, sports, t.v. time, golf time) were sent off to group homes where they were supposed to be “fixed”.

I’m not trying to get into a discussion about whether sending a child to a group home is appropriate, my focus is what parents are pouring themselves into, selfish desires, or their hurting children.

I’ve always been reticent to tell parents they need to have “me” time, time for themselves, doing something that fills them up instead of taking away. I’m hesitant to say this because people can take it overboard and do as many parents I’ve witnessed, they can dive into themselves to avoid what’s really going on with their hurting child.

special children need special parenting

They can spend so much time filling themselves that they avoid the needs of their children, not the physical needs, but the emotional connectedness that a traumatized child yearns so desperately for.

As a therapeutic parent, you do need to fill your “bucket,” because what you do every day, every moment is wearing. But balance is key, and it’s not so easy to find.

I try to find my solace, usually reading a book outside. It’s something I can even enjoy at times when the kids are around. I also love writing, so working on Lovin’ Adoptin’ works in aiding in my “refresh” time, I really don’t consider it work. Justin and I have also focused on having more date nights, it’s hard to do when your life is busy. There used to be so many nights when we would cancel on our babysitter (who we ended up paying for the night just because we felt bad), because of our daughter’s behaviors or I was too exhausted from the day. Those days are fading, especially because Payton’s behavior has improved tremendously, and we have a date night about twice a month.

I’ve been there, where I’m so exhausted, not just from health issues, or from working with an Autistic child, but from pouring out love and getting nothing in return. Therapeutic parenting is all-inclusive, it invades every moment of your life, and to be able to fill your child, you need to help yourself.

What can you do for yourself that you enjoy? Is there something that would make you feel better? Is it having coffee with a friend who you can talk to openly? Is it working out at the gym or riding your bike? Is it taking an occasional weekend away? Is it simply reading in a favorite spot?

Do you find it hard to treat yourself? Do you find that there isn’t enough time? What do you do that doesn’t take away too much time, but fills you up? Maybe some other parents reading here would benefit from your ideas.


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4 responses to “therapeutic parents need breaks, but balance is key (adoption & foster care)

  1. Wow… I can relate to your post in so many levels! Even the “going to bed way too late” and your particular reason for it. We are also therapeutic foster parents.
    I normally decline respite… Actually, I have never used it, and I didn’t send him to a full day camp. In fact, I don’t believe that sending him away is what he needs. Even though it is exhausting, I think to myself, “But that is what I committed myself to doing. I am the one who needs to learn how to handle the exhaustion.”
    What I have done, I have let go of needing my house to be very clean all the time. If I “feel” too worn out, maybe because some emotional and behavioral time with our son, I simply allow myself to be laid back. I won’t wash the dishes right away or I won’t panic because there is dust on the furniture.
    I figure that what all my children need is me, calm and collected. That’s first.
    I have also limited commitments outside my home. Not in a resentful way. I tried helping out in my church recently, but it quickly became clear that right now, my priority are my kids. We now have a special needs son, and that is my first work. If I have energy to spend, then it will be spent on them.
    I allow myself to enjoy foods I like (forget diets!)
    I allow myself to drink coffee in bed
    My husband and I also team tag. If I feel I am less patient on a specific day, then he takes over.
    Anyway, great to find someone who has so many similarities 🙂 Thanks!

    • I’m so glad this resonated with you. We’ve only used close family members and babysitters that we knew well. It’s tiring, but this is what our children need.
      Thanks so much for your input on what you’ve done to help yourself “relax”. I too don’t keep the cleanest house, I don’t have the energy for it and my children come first. Plus, I don’t feel that’s what life is about. No, we don’t live in a pig sty, but it also doesn’t have to impress others.
      I had a friend once who was doing foster care, her foster son cried often just like ours did. She asked me what I did. I said, hold him. She replied that she had things to do around the house – cooking and cleaning (her house was spotless). I shared that we’d put Jeremiah in a front pack and carried him around, but that she might have to let go of some of her expectations.
      Children are worth it!
      You are exactly right, “All my children need is me, calm and collected. That’s first.”
      I could go on and on, but I’ll leave with, I agree!

  2. We provide respite to allow foster parents some time to themselves so lots of ‘our kiddies’ have some challenging behaviours. We make sure we take one weekend a month off. One weekend where we do nothing but rest and be together. The housework can wait, everything can wait, we know how important that time is. Sometimes we’ll go interstate to visit family, but mostly, we just read or crash out on the couch with some favourite DVD’s.
    We also make sure when we’re having our buttons pushed that we take turns to have one on one time with the munchkin so the other can have some timeout. Kiddie gets special time with each of us, and we get a chance to breath and regroup.

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