Parent Burn-Out: Parenting Children with Challenges By Dore E. Frances PhDAdoption Journey Talk: The Missing Piece
Parent Burn-Out is a legitimate and very real concern for those who have children with any kind of challenging issues.
Frequently, parents of children with special challenges will complain that they feel disappointed, trapped, over-committed, and increasingly unable to cope.
They seem to have lost any satisfaction in the job of parenting their special-needs child. They can’t find ways to relax and renew their energy for what is acknowledged by all to be a very difficult job. Parents are understandably exhausted when they find themselves with children so needy or so difficult to handle that they require constant monitoring. Especially at risk are those parents who have poor or nonexistent support systems. They can’t seem to imagine any options for easing the constant pressure of their obligations and run the real risk of becoming more and more isolated.
For those who are parenting the poorly attached or unattached child, the lack of emotional reciprocity makes things doubly difficult. For those who are parenting the neurologically challenged, there is the added worry that their child may never be able to live independently. It may seem an oversimplification, but one of the most constructive things you can do in these situations is to re-evaluate any expectations you might have about your child. Unfulfilled expectations will only compound your feelings of being trapped and dissatisfied. It is frustrating to know that you are not being successful in changing those around you so they will behave differently.
One of life’s most precious gifts which evaporates the instant you become a parent is solitude. Even when children are trouble-free and absolutely delightful to be around, a parent is never “off duty”. When children are especially needy and difficult to get along with, the absolute lack of solitude and privacy can seem like a relentless invasion. All that emotional pulling and pushing can leave you exhausted and resentful.
Those of who suffer from the Super Parent Syndrome are at particular risk from this problem. It’s a lot easier to be a Super Person when there are no little people depending on you.
It may be very difficult, however, once again, you need to re-evaluate your expectations of yourself against the reality of your current life. Dependents are just that…..dependent, and they eat away at your attention, energy, focus, motivation, and lifestyle. That’s not necessarily a bad thing….it just IS. There is nothing written in stone that says we are only good parents when we subsume our own needs for those of our children’s.
My favorite statistic is that 85% of the benefit we have on our kids is passive. That means you can be a good parent even while you sleep!
It’s impossible that a person’s lifestyle won’t be changed by a dependent and there’s no payoff in experiencing guilt because of the way you feel about that. You can legitimately experience grief and loss, regret, longing for a different kind of life, etc., however, you’ve got to get rid of any guilt because it’s singularly counter-productive. Once you have a more realistic understanding of both the expectations of your children’s behaviors and that of your own, you can then start the real effort of making your life, both emotionally and physically, more comfortable and pleasant. The key to the process is finding time for yourself and away from your children. Send the kids off to bed early so that all of you can have some private, decompression time in the evenings.
There’s nothing wrong with training children to leave your presence when you declare you need some “private Self time”. It’s perfectly legitimate to set up these kinds of boundaries as a self-preservative measure. I know people say that you “should” never remove yourself from attachment disordered kids, however, I don’t agree. There is something to be said for the fact that you are showing them you can go away and they can learn to trust that you’ll come back. Take private walks, go out in the garden and pull weeds after dinner or early in the morning, go into the bathroom and simply close the door for 15 minutes or so and read a magazine or a few pages of a book. I went back to college in order to save my sanity (and my daughter is not adopted). Figure out a way to reconnect with old friends or cultivate new ones. Get involved in something once a week. The most important thing is that you start doing something for yourself. When it helps you feel more whole, take a private mental holiday and just do the minimum for about a week.
These invisible mental holidays (you know you’re doing it yet nobody else does) saved my sanity more times than I care to admit. So, the question is, how can you effectively pull-back? It’s an individual decision. Will a shift in attitude be enough, or do you need some real private time in order to renew yourself?
For me, it required that I spent some time in “solitary”. I’m a writer, so I always had the home office as an escape. I could be at home in case something went amiss, and yet still feel fulfilled.
Attachment disordered children may or may not ever be able to make a real connection with family. Neurologically impaired children are unwritten books and may remain so for years. Getting rid of preconceived notions of what “should” or may happen in the future enables you to start each day without disappointment and it’s a weight lifted off your shoulders.
Some parents unknowingly adopt a child with alcohol-related neurological disabilities (ARND). Their unfulfilled expectations are that they were bringing home a child who could compete on a level playing field with other children their age. As it sometimes turns out, they have significant disabilities with which they will struggle their entire life. It’s a daily challenge for parents as well as for these children. You have to continually remind yourself that life with them must be seen in a realistic light.
Some parents are somewhat disappointed with themselves for feeling this way.
It is okay. Some wish they felt Do differently. There have been many times I have assisted a family with an adopted child who was plagued by that guilt.
I remind them that the child needs to be accepted AS THEY ARE.
That’s not to say it makes the parent feel any better about their feelings or the situation in general, yet it does enable them to do their parenting job to the best of their ability, and that gives them a feeling of self-worth and accomplishment.
Over the years parents and adopted children will learn to accept each other the way they really are and to make the best out of what actually exists. At least that is how it worked for me as an adopted child.
Let me tell you that one of the most important things you need to do is to line up some sitters so you can have at least one night a week to yourselves. When you have no extended family to rely upon, make a concerted effort to do this anyway.
Find people who can come and stay with the children so that you can get away.
Don’t think that just because you have no extended family that it’s impossible to find some help.
Ask at church. Ask all your friends who don’t have extended families what they do. Call a Nanny service. See if there are responsible kids at a local college who would like to sit. Make it a priority!
It can saved your marriage and / or your sanity. More importantly, it will strengthen you as an individual person. After all, when the children are finally and gone, who will still be there? Don’t sacrifice your relationships with others in your life. Avoid the debilitating burn-out that can come with parenting children with challenges. Acknowledge the difficulty of the job you’re doing. Rid yourself of counter-productive expectations about your children. Make sure your expectations of yourself are realistic and constructive. Find ways to have some alone time and make an effort to keep yourself renewed and nurtured. Re-assess your family priorities.
Devote some extra effort to your partner in life and /or to yourself. Reach out for help and support. Keep things in perspective and most of all keep it real!