A Self-Reflection, or How to Be Someone YOU Want to Spend Time With
Tonight, a dear longtime friend sent me a really intriguing question: to paraphrase, it went something like this: "how do you do what you do as a parent of intense kids...and further, how do you remain a person you're proud to be in the midst of that?" (Friend, I hope I captured that with some integrity.)
And after getting the kids to bed tonight, I typed her an answer; which, after pressing send, I realized had ended up much, MUCH longer than I thought it would. And after that, I thought...hmm...ready-made blog material? I think YES.
So, lucky for you (cough, cough), a slightly revised version follows here:
For me, this journey has been a (5+ year!) process of discovering what I like to call my capacity as a person. To explain: before kids, I worked full-time (which I loved!), and Nick & I were pretty involved with family, friends, and in our local church. Soon after adding kids to this equation, I started to burn out at both work and at home--and I really didn't like the person I had become at either one of those places. It was like I was always trying to do 20% more than I actually could, if that makes any sense.
Fortunately, my workplace enabled me to cut down my hours from full-time--eventually down to half-time over the course of a couple years--and at that point (50%), I could tell I had reached a better balance overall (yay! enough capacity!), but I also really didn't LIKE working that little, so I've been able to slowly add some of my time back. It has been tricky.
One other component of this capacity thing is simply that not only are my kids are healing over time (slowly but surely!), but they are also getting older--which, I have said before and will say again to all new/overwhelmed/exhausted/hopeful parents out there: the adage "it doesn't get any easier" is one big fat LIE perpetuated by parents who, while probably well-intentioned, are not doing you any favors by saying. Just sayin'. Because it does too get easier! SO much easier! What in the world isn't easier about kids toileting themselves, feeding themselves, dressing themselves, carseat-buckling themselves, shoeing themselves etc, etc? [Okay, rant ending in 3-2-1...]
(Shoeing? Shodding? Heeling? Horse and/or cobbler friends, help me out here....)
A third (are we at third?) piece of this puzzle is that our family has sought out counseling specific to our adoptive & trauma/attachment situation, and our therapist has been ah-mazing. Sorry, blog world--that's all you get to hear about that part. But I'm totally up for talking with you privately about our experiences...if we like...actually know each other and stuff.
In addition to these, another element that I can identify has been my intentional use of social media: about two years ago I began thinking of it (Facebook in particular) as a way for me to expand my support network, instead of solely as entertainment...or...whatever it is supposed to be. Since we live in rural MN, we (parents) both felt pretty alone at times, and on top of the fact that there weren't a lot of others in our same place in life living near us, we simply didn't have the time (or the childcare!) to go out and meet these people 'in real life'. Nick actually got me started on the "use social media for something that will actually give you energy instead of slowly sucking it away" kick, because he started searching for blogs and information from other adoptive parents...and I started reading some, and that's how I started expanding who and what I was following on Facebook (pages mostly, of both bloggers I had started to respect and of organizations I had started to learn about). This was also found out about a parenting conference solely focused on attachment & trauma (which you can read more about here), and when we went there (spring 2014) for the first time, I was able to MEET some of the people who I had been 'reading' for almost a year! I've also joined some two groups on FB that I consider to be part of my self-care, my motivation, my place for talking about who I want to be as a parent (and as a person), and my place for admitting when I've totally screwed it up.
And that brings me to my last identifiable piece: self-care. I work in the human services field, where I hear this word probably at least weekly, if not more. AND, as I've become more a part of the therapeutic parenting world, hey--guess what?--it's a pretty common word those circles too. I think what happened is that I finally just started taking it seriously. Self-care for me (and...I guess...um, family-self-care??) looks like a lot of things...putting good food in my body, mindfulness meditation, gardening, reading, taking time for myself (and not feeling guilty about it), etc. And...and this has been the biggest and hardest piece--I've learned to say no a LOT. I do this to protect that capacity I talked about earlier, and also to protect my boys' healing process. As a result, we have had to say no to some pretty painful things as a family--some that I had never imagined un-doing before in my life. But each time we did this, the stress level in our entire family changed (in a good way).
So...I'm not sure if any of that is helpful at all to you, Reader, as you make your way through your own journey, but those are the slightly more tangible things I can point to in mine. It's clearly not over yet (is it ever??). There are still some days when I want to give up (thankfully not many); and there are MANY parenting moments I am not proud of, but I can also point to many moments that I AM proud of, too. And those are the most important ones.
Oh yeah--and I actually want to be around myself most of the time now. So...win-WIN-win, I think?