I belong to a support group of moms with traumatized children, most of them adopted, but not all. We have an online support group, and about 100 of us get together in Florida every year for a few days for a retreat/conference. There’s classes, there’s self-care activities available like massages, manis and pedis, there’s a lot of people to connect with and get to know. And of course it’s in sunny Florida, for most of us, in the winter time, that’s the most sun we’ve seen in months! The first time I went on this retreat, I went very last minute, having no idea what I was getting into but knowing I needed help and these moms had experience and knowledge I didn’t have. I went to pick brains, to absorb all the knowledge I could. I had no intention of making friends, building relationships, that was the last thing on my mind. I’d gotten so used to not having friends who “understood” that our family was different, that things didn’t work the same in our family, that we couldn’t do the things other families could do, that I guess I just assumed I’d be off to one side like I am at most social functions, unable to connect or even relate to most of the moms.
I did learn a lot that year, but what I gained the most was relationships. People who understood what we were going through. People who could laugh with you with the dark humor you had to acquire on this journey over some of the things your child has said and done. People whose kids are actually WORSE than yours in some cases! There was a connection, an understanding, a kind of friendship in the foxhole instant comraderie. We understood. We were understood. Long explanations were not necessary. We didn’t need to educate each other on what “RAD” meant or how we really did need to keep an eye on our child 24/7 for the safety of other children. Other people who knew what it was like to have your house smell like pee 24/7 because your child felt it necessary to pee places other than the bathroom. And nobody – NOBODY – said, dismissively – “Oh, all children do that.” I didn’t understand before how freeing it could be to have someone understand. To really understand, to KNOW what you are going through. I didn’t know how blissful it could be to not have to monitor every word out of your mouth, making sure you didn’t let something slip about what your kid did and terrify the neighbors.
I also learned that not only do we all understand…. we all make the same mistakes. We spend so much time giving of ourselves to these kids, (that includes dads too), so much time wrapping ourselves around our families to protect the bubble as best we can… that we forget to feed our own needs. We forget that we have needs, not just wants, but actual needs that must be met before we can continue. We need to take care of our health, eat healthy,exercise. That’s a requirement. Health is so important for us to continue on this journey – and so many parents are literally sick from the stress this life causes. Mental health is just as important. Almost all parents (and siblings) will develop some degree of PTSD when living this life. We need to deal with that, we need help sometimes, we need rest, we need time away from the stress, a mental reboot. We need time to focus on our marriage or significant other, we need to feed that relationship if it is to survive. We need to have friends, humans are social creatures. We need to allow ourselves the luxury, or the seemed luxury, of having friends and having time away from the family. We need this for our own mental health and sanity. We need to fill our spiritual coffers, whether that be with religion or communing with nature… we need it. And we need to allow ourselves some financial little luxuries, to “reward” ourselves now and again, whether it be lattes at Starbucks or a girls’ night out. We need those little rewards as well.
It’s not selfish, or narcissistic to feed ourselves food. Neither is it selfish to feed our emotional, mental and spiritual health. It’s the only way we’re going to survive this journey with half a brain left. And no one can do it alone – we need each other. Find your tribe. Take care of yourself and let them fill you up when you can’t. It’s the best thing you can do for your kids.