Holidays for kids with trauma are a little bit like the apocalypse. All of the excitement and joy triggers an “end-of-days” type reaction withing them. There is yelling, lying, screaming, fighting, nightmares, rages, the works. I’m pretty sure a bunch of locusts just flew by the window. I might need more deodorant. Welcome to Christmas with children from foster care.
Thanksgiving starts the countdown. Christmas is on it’s way. It isn’t their fault at all. It’s not intentional. it’s simply their reaction to trauma. As parents, Luke ans I try to be as therapeutic as possible. We connect before we correct, we listen, we stay close, we are present with our children. We acknowledge their emotions. We give them choices. We give them a voice. Sometimes, we need to give ourselves a break.
Self-Care is one of the most important things we can do to support our kids. It is more important than making it to all their sports games, volunteering in their school, or even deescalating every meltdown. There is no way to provide the kind of parenting it takes to work through their childhood trauma, unless we get a break.
Luke and I rarely get out, so we take our self-care moments when we can get them. For example, last Saturday was one of those days. One of the days where our squawking little chickens are convinced the end is nigh! Carl spent most of the day arguing with just about everything anyone else said. He was loud, aggressive, and screaming. Even his hugs were leaving bruises. In short, his energy was off the wall. He yelled things like, “You’re ugly! I hate you! Your armpits stink!” See? I was stinking and so was this Saturday.
After a reapplication of deodorant, I doubled down on “time-ins.” I encouraged Carl to share his feelings. He shared that he was mad that Mary spit in his face. Mary shared that she was mad that Carl slapped her in the face. Carl shared that he was mad about “all of his mad feelings.” He shared them so loudly that I considered ear plugs. Nonetheless, I kept him close by all day. He wasn’t regulated enough to be away from his parents. He needed us to role play and practice “do-overs” with nice words.
After about 10 hours of the little chickens yelling at each other and shoving each other and generally just spreading their panic around in the form of anger, Luke and I were exhausted. Objects were flying through the air, little chicken tears were mixing with little chicken screams. The end was indeed upon us, at least the end of our patience as parents!
We looked at each other and just knew. We both needed a time out. A mom and dad time out. Luke poured out two glasses of wine. I looked up at him adoringly in what can only be described as cinema-worthy romance. All we needed was background music.
Carl stomped by screaming, “And you know what else? I’m going to tell everyone that you pick your nose, mom! I’ll do it!! I will tell everyone that you stink!” Then I did something that we honestly try not to do. I sent them to their rooms to play for awhile. I phrased it as something along the lines of, “It seems like you might need some space. You two can play with the toys in your rooms for a bit. Go ahead and try out a couple of coping skills. Dad and I will check back with you in a bit. We will be right down the hallway in the living room.
Two doors slammed simultaneously. For a moment there was the sound of throwing toys. And then…blessed quiet…for about 2 whole glorious minutes. Luke and I bolted to sit in front of the fireplace with our glasses of wine. We snuggled in close and looked deep into each other’s eyes. From down the hallway Carl shouted, “I know what you guys are doing. Your kissing! You can’t trick me, I KNOW you are out there kissing!”
And then, for no discernible reason at all, Mary began belting out the Star Spangled Banner from her room. Finally, our romantic background music had begun! So right there, on the floor in front of a roaring fire, to the off-key tune of our national anthem accompanied by an enraged 10-yr-old boy, I kissed my husband. A lot. On the mouth!
Then we welcomed the kids back into the living room for a family art project and some real Christmas music. We were all ready to try again. And we all lived happily ever after. Without an apocalypse (at least not yet!)
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the children involved
*If you have ever thought about foster care or adoption, I encourage you to get started on your own adventure!