When we were at the beginning of our adoption journey, one of the sessions we attended was listening to people who had already adopted. It was designed so that we could hear what adoption was really like and have the opportunity to ask questions. Listening to the adopters was interesting on many levels, but one things that stuck with me was one adopter who said, quite forcefully, ‘Self Care is the most important thing you could do for your child!’. Of course, we all nodded knowingly, but until we adopted our children I had no idea what she was really meaning!
A year and a half later, I feel like shouting the same phrase from the rooftops. Whenever I meet someone who is about to adopt or has just adopted, it’s the same phrase I use with them! Self care is THE one most important thing you can do for your child. Why? Well, if the master of the ship isn’t at their best, then the ship isn’t going to sail straight. It really is that simple!
You need to be as well, as strong and as happy as you can possibly be, so that you can handle the secondary trauma, the stress and the possible anger that may come your way. Otherwise, pretty soon you will find that your levels of patience, empathy and understanding are so depleted that you struggle to see the wood for the trees. Each small incident becomes huge and overwhelming. Perspective disappears and your whole focus is just on the problems in the family. It’s not healthy for you and it’s certainly not healthy or helpful for the rest of the family. How do I know? Well, I’ve been there!
So my tips for self care for newly adoptive parents are:
- Make time to talk. Talk to your other half, your parents, your friends, anyone who will listen – but make time to talk about things other than the children. Of course, do talk about the kids as well, but every day make sure you have at least one conversation which is about anything else!
- Walk away! It is definitely OK to walk away sometimes. You know those moments when you feel as though you can’t take any more – the noise, the fuss, the overwhelmingness of the whole situation? Well, just walk away. Not far, and not for long, but go to the bathroom, close the door and breath. You’ll be surprised by how much difference 10 minutes of breathing will make to your resilience.
- Do something nice just for you once a day. It can be anything, no matter how big or small. Buy yourself flowers when you are at the shops, spend 5 minutes in the garden just being you, buy a good book and read it for 5 minutes before bed. Anything you want, just make sure you do something for you each day.
- Eat well! This is so so important. Without good food your body will not function as well as it should. Don’t make the mistake I did of feeling so tired that I only wanted to cook one meal a day so would eat what the children would eat. Sometimes adopted children have a very limited palate to begin with and it takes time to build. So make sure you eat what you want, even if it means making 2 meals. It’s definitely worth it.
- Do things to make you feel good. For some people, that may be making sure they are wearing make up before they leave the house, for others it’s as simple as making sure they put on clean clothes every day, and for others it’s having a long bubble bath. Anything at all as long as it makes you feel good about being you.
I made the mistake of not realising how very important self care is. It took me a good 6 months before I noticed that all of my conversations were about the children and I wasn’t taking care of me. It felt too much effort – looking after them, dealing with secondary trauma and just trying to figure out how to make a family – but I was wrong. With a little effort at the beginning, it’s now second nature. I don’t worry about telling the children that I can’t do x, y or z right away as I’m finishing my tea. Or telling them that I’m having a bath and not to be disturbed for 10 minutes (I do this when the other half is in the house of course!).
So really, my message here is – look after you first – you need to be the best you possible so you can help your children to become the best them possible!