I will hold my hands up and confess to being snide and sceptical about the ‘have a nice bath’ brigade. I have always believed in getting your head down and getting on with it. It runs in the family; when my mum had breast cancer the nearest thing to a complaint included the line ‘lots of people have got it worse’. And through the pandemic we have said ‘we’ve got a house, a job, our health, more or less’. So the suggestions from my social worker that we needed time to ourselves, or that we needed to make sure we didn’t burn out were met with superficial smiles and nods and yeah yeahs and general agreements to not being able to pour from an empty cup, blah blah blah!!! But lately I have been wondering. For three main reasons. Firstly, I am exhausted and feel very negative towards everything. Even counting my blessings is not helping and I know I am being snappy. Secondly I know this is affecting our placement. Recently I have raised my voice at one boy and cried in front of the other. And finally, I have been doing lots of research on how to help children with attachment issues. Because goodness me I would like a magic wand!! Dear reader I don’t wish to preach to the converted but after three years of fostering I am still exploring the range and severity of effects of trauma on a developing mind. Our boys are so different and yet so similarly hurt and what helps them seems so frequently counter intuitive. The most fundamental approach I have found is that our children have not shared that early regulation with a care giver: the rocking, the response to needs that a baby cannot yet articulate, the exaggerated facial expressions, the mirroring. So they cannot now self regulate, despite our efforts to help them with milky drinks, hugs, physical exercise, bouncing, swinging, slime.... Because, it turns out, they need us to be regulated. Not just ‘in control’ of our emotions but actually ok, actually calm, actually full of love for them even when their door is off the hinges for the umpt
eenth time. And it turns out that I can’t be self regulated without being actually ok. I need to feel calm, relaxed, rested in order to regulate myself when I am being called a b****. These adorable, wounded mood barometers know when I am just presenting a façade of calm and it is not enough to help them regulate. So maybe I do need a nice bath, I definitely need a good walk in a forest, I need a meal that I will enjoy, I need to see people who make me smile, I need to read trashy romance novels. And it actually isn’t weakness or giving in or self obsessed, it is essential to do the job I have chosen. To help and heal the internal workings of a child I need my own internal workings to be fully functional. You can’t pour from an empty cup, you can’t offer the benefits of healthy emotions if you don’t have healthy emotions yourself. And if you choose to give love to very difficult little ones, surely you can spare a bit for yourself!
H Akers, Parallel Parents Foster Carer