I usually talk to you about how to take care of yourself first so you can take care of others. This time I want to explore the art form known as a family. I could pick any of several metaphors for this: a car, the human body, a track ball mouse, or a crib mobile. They all share one thing in common: when one element gets out of whack, the other elements don’t function as effectively.
Today is the third day of kindergarten for the twins. I just heard my daughter say, “The whole family is disrupted because he is so irritable.” First, he refused to place his bus card in his backpack, then he demanded his sister’s fidget necklace, then he yelled at his mom, then he refused to go to school, then he wanted to go to school. All the while, screaming, crying, and refusing any and all offers of typical self-regulating options.
Dr. Perry focuses on your resources; your extended family, friends, childcare, finances, transportation options, time and how these can limit what you have to offer to the hurting children in your home. My daughter’s resources are pretty solid but we all have our limits and today her husband is out of town. I want to approach this from a different point of view.
In our family, we are watching 3 children, ages 5, 5 and 8, learn to negotiate life together: the disappointments, the mistakes, the feelings of others and the obligations and the shared joy. We are trying to keep in mind those periods of deterioration that precede a plateau of new skills, but it seems that as soon as one kid reaches a plateau, another is in chaos. Our focus 2 months ago was sibling rivalry in the 8-year-old. That has now ebbed (with the introduction of regularly scheduled special alone time with each parent) only to find the only boy feeling left out when dad is out of town. Unfortunately, he just came off 6 months of observing his older sister’s yucky coping strategies so here we go again!
That’s what a family system is all about: one person’s crisis can contaminate others. This occurs due to empathy, resentment, competition, adoration or simple fatigue. In our current situation, competition based on gender allegiances is at play. We just came off one based on cuteness envy. In your families, the arrival of a new foster child presents its own challenges. How each child copes with the disruption or attention drain presented by the new family member can tax even the most experienced of parents.
1 on 1 time restores a child’s sense of being special to you (30 minutes per week seems to be the ticket). Family meetings can be used to establish clear expectations, to air grievances respectfully, and negotiate solutions (I highly recommend a talking stick to protect the speaker. Not to hit people with, but to signify who has the floor.). Visual cues like signs and taped off areas can be used to point out territorial boundaries. Rhythmic, repetitive activities like bike riding, singing, dancing, walking or drawing can support the neurological capacity for self-regulation when conflicts arise.
She just texted me, “I didn’t handle any of that well and I’m feeling so disappointed.” My reply to her and to you: “Nobody gets it right all the time. It’s much too soon to expect the machine to operate smoothly when one of the cogs is missing.”
- I’m teaching another series about the Neurosequential Model. On Zoom for 6 weeks, Wednesdays, 9/8-10/13 from 7:30 to 9:30 evenings. While this training is full, there will be another starting in January. Stay tuned!
- Check out the AZAFAP Event Calendar at https://azafap.gnosishosting.net/Events/Calendar.
- Our Friday night Happy Hours continue. Some nights find me and a single other participant; others find a conversation among 4 to 6 people. The topics range from silly colloquialisms that add color to self-expression to what hobbies have us in their grip to what life has thrown in our path over the past few days or years. If you ever find yourself awake and wanting a bit of grown-up novelty, consider joining us (check your email for the unchanging link).
- Though pressures are easing, this pandemic continues for those of us who understand what is at stake. Others seem to struggle to grasp that. While we await vaccines for our kids, you are in my thoughts. Reach out if you need an ear: email@example.com.
- I encourage you to check out what Dr. Bruce Perry has to offer. Find his thoughts at https://www.pcaaz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/B21-Insightful-Caregiving-Intimacy.pdf and at https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources.
Thanks for listening. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.