Debunking the Myth – Self-Care is Selfish- Myths and Misconceptions About Self-Care Part 1

Myths and Misconceptions About Self-Care

Do We Need Self-Care?

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about self-care. I have believed, wrestled with, and reframed many which I will talk about in this series. Maybe you have read/heard some of the myths and misconceptions and you are mentally wrestling with them yourself. I’m going to tackle one myth today. Won’t you join me?

Before we begin, let me ask you a question -Do you think self-care is selfish? Do you think self-care contradicts servanthood, Christianity, or just being a good Mom or person in general?

One teeny assignment -before I get into the meat of “The Myths and Misconceptions About Self-Care” -I’d like you to do a little exercise with me. All you need is a pen and paper or your notes app on your phone.

The Exercise

Ready? List everything you have done in the past week. You can read my list below to start the gears in your brain. Feel free to be more detailed than I was. I didn’t include every pilates workout, when I prepared food, cleaned, did laundry (you get the point). The more detailed your list is, the better for you. It’s a great way to see all you do, especially if you are raising kiddos with a trauma history or who have a capital letter syndrome (ADD, ADHD, SPD, ODD, FAS, FAE, on the Spectrum, etc…)

I’ve had a busy week, including :

  • A trip to IKEA two hours away
  • A leaf-peeping hour drive up to Thomas to grab coffee at the Tip Top Coffee, and a hike
  • Kayaking with a friend
  • A mammogram (can anyone say streessssfullll?)
  • Helping my hubby clear baneberry bushes and roots out of our yard
  • Not to mention my regular job of – revising, editing, and writing. 

Just typing this list makes me want more coffee.

Are You Tired? Worn Out?

Are you tired? Worn out? Does listing your reveal some clues about your exhaustion? Do you want a nap now? I get it. We work hard. We fill our schedules to the brim. We do all the things and many of them are GOOD things, celebrations, outings, and feeding our families. BUT WE ARE EXHAUSTED AND WE FEEL GUILTY FOR BEING WORN OUT AND BURNED OUT. After all – isn’t this what we asked for? A home. A family. Children. We adopted/fostered because we love these kiddos. But it’s the hardest work we’ve ever done and some days we just want to say, “Stop the world, I want to get off.” And that’s okay. Say it. And then read what Jesus has to say:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Self-Care Is Not Selfish

Let’s look at the definition of self-care

self-care

/ˌselfˈker/

noun

  1. the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.
    “autonomy in self-care and insulin administration”
    • the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
      “expressing oneself is an essential form of self-care”

Imagine your child coming to you and saying he is hungry, tired, or angry. Or if you are raising a kiddo with a trauma history or capital letter syndrome, you’re watching for signals or have a timer set for snacks, water, and rest. When the child comes to you or your timer goes off, you tell the child. “You don’t need to eat healthy foods or stop and rest or acknowledge and sort out your feelings. That’s selfish. We don’t do that.” Sounds downright wrong, doesn’t it? 

When I Believed the Myth: Self-Care Is Selfish

I rushed around the table making sure all my kiddos had dinner and were eating it before we rushed out the door to the church. Like a jack-in-the-box, as soon as my butt hit the chair, I popped up again and met another need. And I barely took a bite.

Here’s the thing, I thought I was being a good mom, setting my need to eat aside so I could hover around my kids (that’s another post for another time) and make sure they ate food. Then I loaded everyone in the car to go to Wednesday night service so I could teach lady’s Bible study and my kiddos could go to class. I got home hours later, empty, depleted, and feeling as if I had done the holy and right thing.

And that’s what I have done to myself for YEARS. How about you? Do you deny your own needs? Do you think self-care is selfish? Do you not take the time to care for your own body? Do you stuff a few bites in your mouth while making sure you feed the rest of the family? Do you neglect yourself and call it self-sacrifice? Raising my hand here. Read the verse again and look at the phrase “Burned Out on Religion.” Hover there for a moment.

Self- Sufficiency is Not Holiness

I used to think being self-sufficient meant being holy. Self-sacrifice meant offering every bit of my energy and then some to the task at hand or life in general. And then I physically couldn’t do anything anymore. I don’t want you to go there. Jesus promises rest. He promises to teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace.” His burden is light. It’s not harsh, hard, or pressing. Self-care is recovering your life. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is simple practices such as:

  • Eating healthy foods
  • Resting
  • Hydrating
  • Acknowledging, and sorting out your feelings

*I’ll go more into detail pertaining to these practices in later posts.

Basically, what you do for your kids is what you need to do for yourself. We can serve others if we running on empty. In fact, when we are running on empty, we are more tempted to sink into bitterness, anger, depression, and an overall gloomy outlook (more on that in another post). When we are rested, we can approach life with a more positive and energetic outlook.

Summing It Up And A Prayer

Take one last look at the list you made. While you are adding up the activities, ask yourself, did I feed myself nutritious food, hydrate, rest well, and add some joy into and in between the work? Did I believe the myth – Self-Care is selfish? Are you tired and worn out and rethinking the limiting belief? I’d like to pray with you before you go.

Dear Jesus, show me how to take a real rest and walk in the unforced rhythms of grace. Thank you that you won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on me. Help me not to wallow in guilt, shame, or the habit of self-sufficiency or the kind of self-sacrifice that doesn’t serve you or anyone. Help me to take a deep breath right now and walk away lighter, fresher, and full of grace.

*Join me next time when I tackle a Misconception – Self-care is doing whatever you FEEL like doing.

Advent Prep Day 5

Are you ready?

Advent starts on Sunday, November 29th!

We’ve been prepping for it all week- thinking about how we are going to approach this year.

  • Prepping physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
  • Forming some new traditions.
  • Sowing seeds of celebration when your kids are in survival mode.
  • Taking some time to grieve and celebrate at the same time.

It’s time to dive in!

What’s in the book?

  • Each week day, you’ll receive a tip to help you and your kiddos thrive this season. I’ve included a few of them this week in our Advent Prep!
  • Plus read a short Biblical application to feed and nourish you soul.
  • On the weekends, read a longer lesson – Joseph, Mary, Wisemen, Jesus (in that order).
  • Bonus – I’ve included a tip for December 26th.

A Professional opinion

Adoptive families have unique challenges, which often become magnified during the holidays. Kathleen’s experience as an adoptive mother has enabled her to provide an insightful perspective that many other adoptive families can relate too. She does this in a way that also incorporates specific scripture that connects very well to the concept of adoption. This spiritual connection can help families reflect on the adoption story of Christ, as a way to help their family bond and form traditions through their own adoption stories. Parents will be able to read along on a day to day basis and reflect on their own experiences, while reading encouraging words from a fellow adoptive parent. The tips that Kathleen suggests offers comfort for adoptive families as they learn how to best navigate through the holiday season in ways that fit the specific needs of their child and their family as a whole. 

Molly McCartney, Adoption Therapist and Adoptive Parent

For All Families

Although I wrote 25 Days of Thriving Through Christmas for adoptive/foster/kids with capital letter syndromes, considering the events of 2020, all families would benefit. All kids have been traumatized by the losses this year – not seeing friends, family, events canceled, (fill in the blank).

Grab the book here!

How to Stunt the Growth of Anxiety in Your Kiddo

Right now we are living in a season when the simplest tasks can seem overwhelming. Going to the grocery stores isn’t the chore it used to be. Now it’s full of even more stress and tension. We don’t know if someone will bump into us, yell at us, or if we are crossing the aisle at the wrong time.

As much as we tell ourselves, I will not let this bother me (raising my hand here), it does. It’s a palatable feeling in the air. The anxiety settles down on all of us collectively. As much as we feel it, our kiddos do too.

Our kiddos  mirror us. If we feel stressed, they feel stressed.

If we feel overwhelmed, they feel overwhelmed.

If we feel anxious, our anxiety adds to their stress shaped brain and squeezes.

This is true for any kiddo, even more so for kiddos from hard places and who has a capital letter syndrome.

My anxiety Story

When I was growing up, there was a lot of political unrest. Adults around me had an unwritten rule – Kids should understand how serious this is. I didn’t know what “this” was, and I wasn’t sure how to act. So, I did what any kiddo would do in the situation – I felt anxious. My anxiety grew over the years and became my constant companion in my adulthood. I felt as if I SHOULD FEEL ANXIOUS ABOUT EVERYTHING. So I did. I was like the character in The Great Divorce with the creature on his shoulder:

“What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear.”

My anxiety is like the lizard. It whispers things in my ear, and I act upon them. But this isn’t about me. It’s about the growth of anxiety in a child.

Tips for Stunting the growth of Anxiety

With my experience in mind (and science) I’m sharing a few tips to stunt the growth of anxiety in an already anxious kid.

  1. Tell them what’s going on. Your kids need not know everything. On the flip side, they don’t need to know nothing. Not knowing breeds anxiety. Whatever the situation, let them know what is age appropriate for them. This applies to any life situation. If Great Grandma dies, a five-year-old needs to know the truth. Not, she is floating in the air. But don’t go as far as the embalming process. 
  2. Let your kiddo talk about it. Whatever it is. One of the healthiest things a kiddo can do after a tragedy is talk. For example, my two-year-old Granddaughter fell while playing and suffered a concussion. At the ER she had a CT scan. Later, via Facetime, she told me several times about the giant camera that took a picture of her (and her daddy’s) head. She retold her story of falling and her ER visit. We make progress in our healing journey by telling our stories to an empathetic listener. So do kiddos. When something happens to a kiddo, it tempts us to tell them they will be all right. It’s tempting to tell them to forget it and move on. The truth is the world is full of adults who never talked about “it” and who have never moved on.
  3. Realize although your kiddo may have a stress shaped brain, anxiety can also become a habit. When I was a young mom, struggling with depression and anxiety, a friend recommended a book to me (that I can’t remember the name of!). The author had many of the same anxiety driven habits. She didn’t like closed-in places; she didn’t want to do anything in which she wasn’t in control. On a ski trip, she asked an exuberant  friend – Aren’t you anxious about going down the hill. To which her friend replied, “Yes, isn’t it glorious!” I’m paraphrasing here. The point is one woman took the anxious feeling, and it caused her to miss out. Another took the feeling and let her body feel it and felt joyful about it. While I’m not saying you can teach your kiddo to feel joyful about everything they are afraid of, it’s good to look for the habit of anxiety. When you see it, talk it through, work it through. Do whatever you need to help your kiddo form a new habit. “I feel anxious” can turn into “I feel excited!”
  4. Talk through an event before you go. Guess what. I still do this to quell my anxiety. One of my adult ways for handling this is looking at routes on the GPS. I ask someone who has traveled it how many tunnels there are. I plan my rest breaks when traveling alone. I count out my change for toll booths. These practices lessen my anxiety. Sure, I run into unknowns, traffic jams, a pit stop, my cooler sliding off the seat so I can’t reach my food (true story). I handle these unknowns better if I know the majority about the trip. Kids need to talk through events even more than adults do. It moves them to their upstairs brain. They can look at the event logically and stunt the growth of anxiety.

Remember, anxiety grows if fed. I fed mine for years. Now, I’m working on starving it out. I use these tips with my kiddos. They know them so well; they use them on me! 

I hope these tips help you and your kiddos. Do you have your own tip? Share it here.

WHAT DOES A TRAUMA-INFORMED CHURCH LOOK LIKE? PART 3

*I started this series as a response to a question I got via email. If you missed the beginning, click here.

At the end of the first article, I said a few words about teens. I’d like to continue with more on the topic today.

Let’s not excuse behaviors, Let’s Understand Them

If you read through my first two articles, you may be thinking trauma-informed means excusing behaviors and doing everything to make the child happy. That is not what it means. We don’t excuse behaviors. We nip them in the bud. A trauma-informed church, school, or co-op, uses the IDEAL Approach. Instead of letting a behavior escalate, it is dealt with immediately. Directly. Efficiently. And leveled at the behavior, not the child.

For all interactions with your kiddos, use the IDEAL response as a guide. The IDEAL Approach is among the best tools for parenting, teaching, or supervising kids who have had trauma:

I: You respond immediately, within three seconds of misbehavior.

D: You respond directly to the child by making eye contact. Get down on their level (or look up for some teens).

E: The response is efficient and measured. Use as few words as possible.

A: The response is action-based. Lead the child through a re-do.

L: Your response should bed leveled at the behavior, not the child.

Applying the Ideal Approach to Teens

When Dr. Karyn Purvis and her team from the TCI Institute of Child Development, trained staffers from Methodist Children’s Home in usingTBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention), the youth (aged 11-18) experienced remarkable changes. Several of the staffers remarked that Dr. Purvis didn’t let the kids get away with anything. This may be because when you start talking about focusing on relationships instead of behaviors, some people get the idea that you are going to excuse behaviors while you float on rainbow clouds and eat ice cream.

What Dr. Purvis did is respond immediately to behaviors with a redo or whatever fit the bill and went back to connection quickly. (For more information on how to respond, read our “Instead of” Tips.) One of the most important things that trauma-informed organizations do is make sure staff/volunteers are present. It’s a mistake to take a group of teens who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome and let them hang out unsupervised. Adults need to be present and participating in order to be a co-regulator for the teens and stop a meltdown before it starts (no guarantee that the teen won’t meltdown anyway, better to have an adult present).

I asked three of my adult boys about this topic this morning. They agreed they shouldn’t have been unsupervised at youth type events. They also agreed hanging out with other teens with proper supervision was super healthy for them.

Social Camouflaging

Social Camouflage, is a way of learning social nuances, that help, to fit in, and function in this world.

The natural camouflage teens perform is to do the thing when the adult isn’t looking and then stop when the adult is. This is when you hear the “Yes, sir,” or “Yes, m’am” types of responses. These kids who were behaving badly suddenly act good. We adults know the pattern (most of us). What we must understand is teens who have had trauma or have a capital letter syndrome don’t camouflage. They don’t behave one way in front of adults and another in front of peers. They just are. And. This. Gets. Them. Into. Trouble.

Why does the inability to camouflage get teens into trouble? Usually because they watch a peer performing a dangerous feat or breaking the rules and they follow suit even after the adult appears. These teens who can’t camouflage don’t turn off the behavior. Some don’t have cause and effect thinking. Some don’t have a break pedal. They will keep performing the behavior until someone gets hurt (usually themselves). This is why kids who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome need adults to be present and participating.

The Inability to Regulate happens at home too

It’s not just when these kids get with a group of people they endanger their lives. They do it alone. As I said, many lack cause and effect thinking. They dysregulate alone. There are stressors everywhere. It’s not the other kids. It’s their own inability to regulate. It’s their inability to process stimuli. These kiddos are impulsive. So, if the idea has crossed your mind that these teens are just misbehaving for you, it’s not true. When you replace behave with regulate, it makes more sense. These teens can’t regulate no matter where they are. If we are going to minister to them, we have to become co-regulators.

Want to read more about co-regulation? Click here.

Just a reminder teens CAN sometimes be toddlers in larger bodies. If you begin to picture them that way, co-regulation becomes a little easier to swallow. You have the opportunity to be their pre-frontal cortex until it has time to mature!

Want some free trauma-informed e-course for your church?

Are You Instilling Healthy or Unhealthy Fears in Your Child? (Capital Letter Syndrome/Foster/Adoption Edition)

No Fear

Is your child the opposite of fear?

Taking dangerous risks because he has no cause-and-effect thinking?

Does he think the laws of nature don’t apply to him?

When raising a child with a capital letter syndrome or one from hard places (a child who has experienced trauma), healthy fear is a little more muddled. While we want our kiddos to have healthy fears, some of them seem to be in a no-fear frame of mind when it comes to outdoor play and all fear when it comes to some other aspects of life. What’s going on here?

1. Lack of Cause-and-Effect Thinking

Kids who come home to us through foster care/adoption have had trauma. One of the five Bs affected by trauma is the brain. Kids who have had trauma have altered neurochemistry. The Hebbian principle states that what fires together, wires together.

Simply put, an infant’s brain is experience-expectant. Experiences wire the brain. This is where the attachment cycle comes in. The infant expresses a need and the parent meets that need, thousands and thousands of times, until eventually the loose “wires” in the brain are connected.

What does attachment have to do with healthy fears? Everything. When those “wires” connect, the child is “wired” for cause-and-effect thinking. If there are breaks in attachment (or the child has a capital letter syndrome), then cause-and-effect thinking is not in place. It’s as if the child has some lose “wires.” This isn’t to say that the child isn’t intelligent — in fact, it’s often the opposite. It’s just that he doesn’t expect B to happen if he does A.

Instilling Healthy Fears

What does this look like?

  • A child decides to catch bees in a jar but didn’t think they would sting him.
  • A child watches a video of a man leaping from limb to limb high in a tree and tries it. (Yes, this actually happened in my family, and yes, he fell.)
  • A child tries to ride his bike under the trampoline.
  • A child starts a forest fire playing with a lighter.
  • A child walks on the pool cover and their foot falls through.

These are all true stories, and I could tell many more, but the point is that in each of these cases, no cause-and-effect thinking was applied. You may say, “Well many kids are adventure seekers and do these sorts of things.” That’s true.

However, neurotypical kids have a learning curve after these types of adventures. Kids with capital letter syndromes and kids with trauma often don’t. They will continue to try to defy the physical laws of nature with intensity and regularity. They don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.

Here’s a good test: If you warn your child that the activity he is about to embark upon may cause harm and he says, “I’m not going to get hurt, I’m not that stupid!” then cause-and-effect thinking probably isn’t happening.

Unrealistic or faulty connections

On the other end of the spectrum, these kiddos may have one bad experience and instead of adjusting their approach and trying again, simply declare, “I’m never doing that again!” What does this look like?

  • The child refuses to put sunscreen on (because he won’t get burned), gets burnt, and won’t go to the beach ever again.
  • The child falls off a rock while climbing, scrapes his knee, and won’t climb again.
  • The child doesn’t think he can do something, so he says it’s stupid and refuses to try.

Trying to instill healthy fears in these kiddos can be confusing. They need to be watched more closely and encouraged more than neurotypical kids to keep them safe and get them trying new things.

2. Felt Safety

Another conundrum with kids with capital letter syndromes/foster/adopted kids is they often don’t feel safe when they are safe. To describe this, we use the term “felt safety.”

“Felt safety, as defined by Dr. Purvis, is “when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so your children can feel in a profound and basic way that they are truly safe in their home with you. Until your child experiences safety for himself or herself, trust can’t develop, and healing and learning won’t progress” (p.48, The Connected Child).

Fear is crippling. I know. Not only have I watched my own kiddos struggle with feeling safe and talked to countless moms whose kids struggle with it, but I have also experienced it myself. My fears were an oddly shaped gift that, when opened, gave me empathy.

Because of some trauma in my past, I feared riding in the back seat of a car, going through tunnels, riding elevators, and more. My fears helped me understand my kiddos’ fears. Your child’s fears may seem weird or unrealistic to you, but they are super overwhelming to them.

“From research, we know that fear left unaddressed can have pervasive and long-lasting effects on a child, including negative impacts on cognitive ability, sensory processing, brain chemistry, brain development, ability to focus and ability to trust. As a result, it distorts and dictates much of what our children are dealing with.” – empoweredtoconnect.org

Instilling healthy fears and avoiding unhealthy fears is hit-or-miss with these kiddos. We keep trying, keep asking, and keep being flexible. No one wants their kids to be overwhelmed with fear all the time. No one wants their kiddos to get injured because they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them, either. So, I’ll finish with some tips. Feel free to comment and add your own tips!

Tips for Instilling Healthy Fears and Disarming Unhealthy Fears in Kids From Hard Places or Kids With Capital Letter Syndromes:

  • Watch these kiddos more closely.
  • Talk them through their fear even if the solution seems obvious to you.
  • Help them try an activity away from the crowd.
  • Ask them what they need.
  • Remember that they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.
  • These kids have enough fear; don’t instill more.
  • Clap for them if they accomplish an outdoor feat even if you think it is below their ability. Baby steps.

On the one hand, you are instilling healthy fears and calming ones that seem far fetched and unrealistic to you. On the other hand, when you provide fun, S.A.F.E. activities, you are relieving fears, which is healthy!

This week on the podcast, Amerey and Kathleen talked about healthy summer living/eating on a budget. They delved into the topic of healthy fears when discussing some outdoor activities. You can listen here. And don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this article, the Neurotypical Edition, here.