Self-Care: A Critical Component of Persevering

Posted by Heather Sewell on August 17, 2017  /   Posted in Advocacy, Family Support

By: Amy L. Denley, Psy.D.

By and large, most adoptive parents I have met are remarkable people. They are committed to causes bigger than themselves and are courageous and generous about investing themselves in the lives of others. But sometime this “outward focus” can leave adoptive parents little time for self-care. Their own emotional, spiritual and physical needs may be chronically sacrificed for the sake of others.

Attending to self-care is critically important for a task as profound and demanding as parenting. Many adoptive parents, if they are honest, will admit that their day to-day lives leave them feeling exhausted, frequently frustrated and maybe a little exasperated. Parenting depletes our emotional and physical resources in much the same way that driving a car depletes the gas reserve. That is why it is essential that adoptive parents be intentional about “refueling” their own spiritual, physical and emotional reserves. Many parents tell me that self-care sounds like a great idea, if only they had the extra time. But for all parents, and especially adoptive parents, self-care is not a luxury—it’s a necessity. Consider that the adoption journey is more of a marathon than a sprint, and genuine perseverance demands intentional planning.

Most of us are familiar with the risk of post-partum depression in mothers after the birth of a biological child. According to research by Karen J. Foli of Purdue University, mothers face an even greater risk for depression after adoption. Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS) is a term used to describe the frequent depression parents face in the months and even years post-adoption. Foli’s research has identified several factors that contribute to depression in adoptive parents including exhaustion, unmet expectations for the parenting experience and lack of social support from friends and family. If there has been a fertility struggle before an adoption, parents may also experience unresolved grief around their losses.

Grief, exhaustion and isolation are self-care issues because they represent emotional, physical and spiritual demands and they will deplete your reserves. It is critically important for adoptive parents to develop routine self-care practices to address their spiritual, emotional and physical needs. Identifying those activities that bring renewal, joy and relaxation can be prioritized to add balance to a life of serving others. But it is also important to recognize that self-care for adoptive parents may involved professional counseling. If the demands of parenting leave you feeling depressed or hopeless, if you are having trouble eating or sleeping, if anxiety is interfering with your ability to connect with your child, or if you recognize unresolved grief from past losses, it may be time to seek the help of a professional.

There is no shame in admitting that as a helper, you also need help from time to time. In fact, most (if not all) adoptive parents would benefit from professional therapy or counseling at some point in their journey. Reach out to your church or a trusted friend for a referral to a counselor or psychologist familiar with adoption and then make that call. When you find a counselor that you are comfortable with, follow through and prioritize the time you need to get back on your feet.

Adoption is a profound and often demanding calling. It’s a marathon, requiring endurance and stamina over the long haul. If you’ve been courageous enough to invest in the life of a child, being intentional about self-care will help you stay fit for the race. Prioritize your own daily refueling so that you are able to refuel others.

And if you find that you are “running on empty”, courageously seek the help, even professional help, you need to persevere.

Blessings to you and yours,

Amy L. Denley, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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