The Deadly Secret of Adoptive and Foster Moms

What do many adoptive and foster moms suffer intensely from that they keep secret? What causes them to push themselves to the hilt, unable to think of anything but caring for their child while never caring for themselves?

The answer is Compassion Fatigue, which is a state of extreme distress and preoccupation with the suffering of their adopted children. It is now being called a secondary trauma stress disorder.

This is no small thing. A friend once said that her physician warned that she’d die if she didn’t start taking care of herself.

The first thing that comes to mind when I read the words “Compassion Fatigue” is PTSD–the horrific psychological trauma soldiers experience during and after battle. Adoptive and foster moms aren’t on duty overseas, but they’re at home, battling for the welfare of their adopted and foster kids. They’d do anything for those kids, including being rejected repeatedly by them. They just want their children to thrive, discover, and enjoy the life purpose for which they were created.

Is it really any wonder that adoptive moms suffer from Compassion Fatigue? Research proves that adoptive parents invest more time and financial resources in their children compared to biological parents. The study, by sociologists at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Connecticut, found that two-parent adoptive parents not only spend more money on their children, but they invest more time, such as reading to them, talking with their children about their problems or eating meals together.  Society often tells people that adoption isn’t normal,” said IUB Professor Brian Powell, who focuses on the sociology of the family. “When people make the decision that they want to have children and then use unusual means to have them, they compensate for the barriers.”   #hexometer-broken-link-repair-https://www.asanet.org/galleries/default-file/Feb07ASRAdoption.pdf.

With this is mind, with the raw reality being exposed, let’s take a close look at Compassion Fatigue, and then learn something new that may encourage beyond belief. You will also be able to take a test to see where you’re at in dealing with Compassion Fatigue.

What Really Causes Compassion Fatigue

What causes compassion fatigue is a boldfaced lie that the enemy of mom souls relentlessly whispers, “You are not enough. Not enough as a mom. Not enough to meet the needs of your adopted child.”

I know for a fact that my Mom (Retha) believed the lie. How could she not have upon learning that her daughter was a failure to thrive baby? How could she not have upon watching her best friend who was a nurse, bathe her baby? How many nights did she cry herself to sleep, wondering why she couldn’t me to eat formula? How many nights did she weep over my loose life style?

This is partly a spiritual battle, moms. If the enemy of your soul can keep you in fear that you’re not enough, discouragement is sure to follow.

Please read this illustration about discouragement: It was advertised that the devil was going to put up his tools for sale. On the day of the sale, the tools were placed for public inspection, each being marked with its sale price. They were a treacherous lot of implements–hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, pride. Laying apart from the rest was a harmless looking tool, very well worn but priced extremely high. What is the name of this tool, asked one of the shoppers. Ah, said the devil, that is discouragement.

When asked why he priced it so high, he said, “Oh, because it’s more useful to me than all the others. I can pry open and get into a man’s heart with that, and when I’m inside, I can make him do whatever I choose. It’s badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, but few people know it belongs to me.

The devil’s price for discouragement was so high that it was never sold… and, discouragement is still his tool today.

Please note that I’m not saying you have a spiritual problem–I’m saying that lies are often aimed at the most vulnerable part of you–your mothering.

What Characterizes Compassion Fatigue

 When a mom is suffering compassion fatigue, she can’t stop trying to help her child. It’s like banging her head against a brick wall. It hurts, but she can’t stop. This is called repetition compulsion.

This mom may say, “If I try again, surely my child will respond.” And so, these moms operate out of fear. What if I can’t meet my child’s needs? Will he/she have to be sent away to residential care? What if my child keeps lying at school? Will she ever be able to graduate? What if my child is so miserable that he kills himself? What if my daughter won’t quit cutting?

My mom sat up til the wee hours of the night, waiting for me to return from “sketchy” dates. I can still see her slumping in the chair when I pushed the front door open, trying to hide wrinkled clothes. Perhaps she thought, “If I am here when she comes home one more time, maybe she’ll stop parking with her boyfriend and doing the unmentionable on county roads.”

In addition, moms may feel like a gerbil on a wheel, relentlessly spinning and going nowhere. Try, try, try, with no response. In fact, the child may regress. The baby keeps arching, the lying child delights in covering up and screams hateful words, and the sleeping-around teen now smokes marijuana. 

What Compounds Compassion Fatigue

What intensifies compassion fatigue is judgmental outsiders. They have not a clue of what moms is endure.

It’s the school counselor who declares the adopted child acts just fine at school. It’s the religious lady who gossips to other worshippers that the father has no problems parenting. It’s the goody-two-shoe fellow adoptive parent who says her kids never act like that.

It is shame that forces moms to not share their pain with anyone. There must be something wrong with me. I’m a mess of a mom.

And, with all this pressure, what is a mom to do?

The sad fact is that she isolates herself, usually with no support whatsoever.

This breaks my heart, moms. I have created a FB page just for you where you can encourage one another. @adoptedkidsrejectlove, or What Parents Can Do When Adopted Kids Reject Their Love.

What Calms Compassion Fatigue

  1. Learning About Your Child’s Longterm Memories

So, if a mom is being constantly rejected by her child, if all her efforts to help are like pouring into a bucket with a hole, she wonders if the foundation she’s trying to lay will ever set.

My backstory is that I had absolutely no warm memories of mom, nor of almost anything she did for me…until her dying day. Whenever I shared the process of how healing occurred for me, moms would ask, and rightly so, “What is it that made the change? How can I know that my son or daughter will have what you got?”

Even though mom didn’t understand what I’m about to share, she must have kept on. laying a foundation for me. What she didn’t know about, nor did I until recently, is that memories can be lost. Those are called long-term memories. They’re like a lost glove. You still own it, but you can’t use it.

Let’s get heady for a moment? Let’s discuss how long-term memories are made in your child’s brain. Longterm memories are like the hard drive on your computer. These memories have an actual physical presence in the brain–in the hippocampus. 

When a new long-term memory is being made, neurons make physical connections and synapses with each other, and encode information. For example, as a child, the smell of mom’s apple pie was encoded in my brain repeatedly, with each apple pie.

So, moms, take heart that your loving deeds are not lost. Your child’s brain makes them into memories and embeds them for further use. Is that not comforting?

Reflecting on my relationship with Mom, I can now smell her essence, like a fine, expensive perfume. Even though the bottle is empty, I can still distinguish the fine fragrance.

 If I would have been handed the full bottle of perfume as a kid or teen, I’d either grab it and throw it to the ground, stomp on it while screaming, or plug my nose and run in the opposite direction.

Was I just a character-flawed kid? Were the genes stacked against me? Was there no hope for me to someday be able to cherish the fragrance of the perfume?

Of course not. I was one kid whose brain was telling her to move and attack, to rage, and to shut the world out completely.

The second thing that will surely calm Compassion Fatigue is self-care–the thing you need the most, but usually ignore.

2. Practicing Self-Care (Honoring Yourself)

Moms, think years ahead to the day that your child will say goodbye and go off to college, marriage, or total independence.

Imagine him jumping into the car in trashy clothes, pulling out of the driveway, and non-chalantly waving goodbye. What words would you say? “Bye…take good care of yourself….I love you?”

How can you ever expect and hope that your child will take care of himself? Where is he going to master the skills of self-care? Are they even on his radar screen? And, what about the “love you” part? How can he love others when he can’t love you, when he absolutely rejects love?

It is entirely possible for self-care and love to be on his radar screen because self-care can be modeled by you in the midst of the chaos and brokenness. And, your loving mom actions will show him how to love others.

As important as it is to make sure you are learning about what your child will need from you, it is equally important to tune in to your own heart; learn to recognize your needs; take time to honor yourself.

 What Moms Can Do

  1. Rest! Can someone help you take a “mental health day?” A spouse or friend? I do this often and I stay in bed and watch something that I’ve loved, like Call the MidWife tv program.

2. Go on a Mom Retreat. What an incredible experience to be with those who parent in the trenches, like you, and with speakers that know where you’re at and what ministers most to you.

3. Asses the level of your compassion fatigue: Symptoms of Compassion fatigue are listed here by @stress.org (The American Institute of Stress):

– Affects many dimensions of your well-being

– Nervous system arousal (Sleep disturbance)

– Emotional intensity increases

– Cognitive ability decreases

– Behavior and judgment impaired

– Isolation and loss of morale

– Depression and PTSD (potentiate)

– Loss of self-worth and emotional modulation

– Identity, worldview, and spirituality impacted

– Beliefs and psychological needs-safety, trust, esteem, intimacy, and control

– Loss of hope and meaning=existential despair

– Anger toward perpetrators or causal even

4. Take a bubble bath.

5. Find an adoption-competent therapist. Check with Center for Adoption Support, or Heather Talbot Forbes.

6. Identify a sport that you really like and sign up for a class.

BTW–I can not only smell Mom’s best-in-town apple pie, but I can make a mean one myself.

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