Three reasons why adoptive moms don’t get enough self care, and what to do about it

As a parent coach for adoptive moms, I always recommend that families implement what I call “The Four Essential Elements for Transforming Trauma”.   These are like the four legs of a table – if any one of them is missing, the table is going to wobble and eventually fall over.

The Four Essential Elements for Transforming Trauma

  1. Safety Plan
  2. Self Care
  3. Strategies
  4. Support

Typically, families come to me looking for immediate strategies to reduce meltdowns, create a trusting connection, or overcome behavioral challenges.   However, it often becomes very clear that these worn-out mamas have neglected their self-care so much and for so long that they are suffering from extreme compassion fatigue, leading to exhaustion and parenting burn-out.

Why don’t adoptive moms get enough self care?

It’s almost a cliche that moms need to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their families.  We’ve heard the old “put on your oxygen mask first” so many times that we’ve become numb to the idea.

So why don’t adoptive moms take care of themselves?  I’ve found that there are three common excuses:   Guilt, Time, and Loss of Self.

1. Guilt

Of all the reasons that moms give for not getting enough self-care, this one is the most illogical one. It’s something that a lot of moms seem to struggle with, though.  So let’s examine this one a little more closely.

“I feel too guilty to take time for myself when my children and family have so many needs.”

Now, at first glance this mom’s reason for not taking care of herself seems very altruistic.   The mom who is so focused on her kids that she has no time for self-care might think she is doing everyone a favor by sacrificing her needs.  The reality is that she is using this as an excuse to feel better about herself because her self-esteem has been squashed by stress and overwhelm.

When we look at this excuse a little more closely, though, it makes absolutely no sense at all.

Imagine you made this excuse about your car. How often do you take it to the gas station to get gas? Probably every time it’s getting close to empty.  Or instead, do you say to yourself, “I feel so guilty taking my car to the gas station for fuel when my family has so many needs!”  Of course you don’t!  If you didn’t take your car to get gas, you would be unable to drive to the grocery store, pick up your kids from school, and take them to doctor’s appointments.    Nobody sits around complaining that they feel guilty about putting gas in the car.

If it’s so important to fill up the gas tank so our car will keep running, what’s the guilt about for fueling OURSELVES by filling up own emotional, physical, and spiritual needs?  It’s silly, and we need to stop doing this.   We have to take care of ourselves, otherwise we will not be able to meet even the most basic needs of our families.  Looking at it this way, it’s even MORE selfish NOT to get self care!

2. Time

Most adoptive moms have a lot going on.  Some have full-time jobs in addition to family responsibilities.   Many of us are single moms and don’t have a spouse helping share the load.  Kids with early childhood trauma need LOTS of time, attention, and patience every day just to get through the day.   So by the end of a full day with all of this going on, many of us throw up our hands and give up on self-care.

“I don’t have time for self-care!”

This is the excuse that I most often use myself when I’m running around on empty, but it really is just an excuse.  When we have kids with extreme needs for our time, love, and attention, that means that we also have extreme stress on our bodies, minds, and spirits.  The more stress in  your home, the more you NEED self care.

So it comes down to creativity and time management.  There IS time in everyone’s day for self-care… it just needs to be a priority.  When we say that we don’t have time for it, this truly means that we just don’t VALUE ourselves highly enough to make it a priority and carve out a few minutes each day.   When we don’t value ourselves, then that attitude comes through in everything we do, and it affects the way our kids treat us, too.

So… how do we find the time for self-care?

It takes creativity, but even the busiest moms can do this.  Sometimes it takes asking for help (here comes the guilt again).   That’s why a support system is so important.

The reality is this:  If we have no time in our day to get the sleep, exercise, relaxation, and nurturing activities that we need, eventually we are going to become depleted and sick.  And once we are sick, our bodies will force us to stop, whether we have time or not!

I remember once hearing a mom say, “I have the flu, and I just don’t have time for this!” Well… either we make time for self-care or we need to make time to be sick – a lot.    It’s up to us to decide what we value, and prioritize things accordingly.

3. Loss of Self

Unfortunately, sometimes the stress of parenting a high-need child takes so much out of us and we have been running the parenting treadmill so long that we forget what self-care even looks like. Even if you let go of the guilt and make the time – if it’s been years since you’ve taken care of yourself, you may not remember how.

“I don’t even know what to DO for self care!”

I recommend making a list of all the things you USED to enjoy doing… before you had kids.  Did you play a sport or musical instrument?   Did you go out to movies or concerts?  Did you have a hobby that you haven’t done in years?  Did you enjoy calling friends or going out for a cup of coffee with them?   Are you someone who enjoys bubble baths or a massage?

If you only have 5 or 10 minutes in your day for self-care, what would that look like?  Do you like to sit quietly in prayer or meditation?  Listen to a favorite song or watch an inspiring YouTube video?   Read one chapter of a book or an article in a magazine?   Pet your dog or take a quick walk around the block?

Be creative with your self-care.  It doesn’t have to involve an expensive vacation or a long, complicated day of pampering.   It can be short, long, or in-between. The important thing is to make it a priority.  If you miss a day or two, that’s ok – no guilt. Just try again tomorrow.  As in all things worth doing, the goal is progress, not perfection.

Self-care is also about having self COMPASSION – giving yourself credit for your hard work, being patient with yourself, saying kind things to yourself instead of beating yourself up for mistakes, and giving yourself the same love, connection, and patience that you give your children.

If you commit to taking care of yourself, your attitude will change and your kids will notice it.  It makes a HUGE difference in your ability to implement all the great parenting strategies you have learned, without feeling resentment, anger, and overwhelm.    Take some time TODAY to think about how to prioritize self care in your life on a daily basis.

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