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(5-minute read)

I’ve gotten hooked on a TV show on the History Channel: Alone. I enjoy several things about it. The variety of skill sets brought to the situation by the group of contestants is truly impressive. Some approach the experience with great shows of bravado and entitlement, others come with humility and wonder. The first group I call the Manifest Destiny bunch, the second are the Woo Woo bunch. Occasionally, there are those who seem to combine that confidence with a sense of humility and wonder. So far, it seems that these are the folks who prevail over the hardships of existing in the Arctic, the wilds of Canada, Mongolia, or Patagonia.

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit how often the most mundane parts of my life in retirement lead me straight back to you, AZAFAP, and the children in your care. Between my own early life, my career, and the conversations I continue to have with AZAFAP members it is inevitable, I guess, but I still marvel at it.

I learned something about myself last week. Not really a surprise but to find it in black and white got my attention. (Bear with me, I’ll connect these dots before we’re done here.) I find that keeping promises is one thing, feeling obligated or a strong sense of duty is something entirely different for me. Gretchen Rubin, in her book, The Four Tendencies, explores what motivates us to do what needs to be done. What needs to be done, it turns out, can be defined by an employer, our government, a teacher, a parent, or from within ourselves. This matters when we seek to hold people accountable for delivering on what is expected of them. By knowing their “tendency”, we can appeal to it specifically to optimize the chance that things will get done. According to her schema, the most typical kind of accountability is the obliged upholder. Once they tell you they’ll do something, or once asked to do something, they’ll do it. Not me.

I diverge from the typical much to the dismay of a few employers who wanted their edicts followed without question. Ms. Ruben classifies me (and I easily concur with her assessment) that I am best described as a Questioner. I meet only my self-imposed inner expectations once I find the reason, logic, or fairness behind the expectation. I write this Blog in the hopes that someone out there will gain new understanding or perspective from what I share here. Without that reason, I wouldn’t do it.

I know exactly where and when I developed this “tendency”. As a little kid living with inebriated parents, their credibility soon came into question. Throw in a little domestic violence and emotional bullying, and you end up with someone who distrusts any authority without first researching the justification behind any expectation. When I ran programs heavy in state statutes, I read the statutes myself rather than trust the agency attorney to interpret them for me.

I suspect that those of you parenting older kids with trauma history run into Questioners. Parentified kids have learned to figure things out for themselves. These folks on Alone often describe childhoods fraught with deprivation and sometimes heartbreaking neglect. I have to wonder if their passion for learning the survival skills necessary for living off the grid, radical self-sufficiency, and their willingness to endure devastating self-denial, doesn’t stem from those early experiences. Months of living in the most extreme conditions, finds even the most confident, most well prepared, weeping with loneliness for their loved ones. For most, their bodies wear out before their determination lags. The idea of the prize money sustains few even though most identify it as their primary motivation.

I’ve often written about how hard it is for kids dysregulated by perceived threat, extreme fatigue, or hunger to hold the thought of reward in mind as a motivation to exercise self-control. Well, as Alone shows us, it appears that the strongest, most determined, most equipped among us also struggle to find the promise of reward adequate when the threat is as real as a foodless winter in the Arctic. No shame, no humiliation, please.


  1. Check out the AZAFAP Event Calendar at https://azafap.gnosishosting.net/Events/Calendar.
  2. Our Friday night Happy Hour and Tuesday afternoon Coffee Chat continue. Some find me and a single other participant; others find a conversation among 4 to 6 people. The topics range from the silly to what hobbies have us in their grip to what life has thrown in our path. If you ever find yourself wanting a bit of grown-up conversation, consider joining us (check your email for the unchanging link).
  3. Parent Mentor Partners: AZAFAP has trained volunteer parents as mentors who are ready to help support foster, kinship, and adoptive parents through one-to-one conversations. Interested? Fill out the form at https://www.azafap.org/family-support-services/
  4. Registration is also open for new, regional Circles of Supportive Families. Reach out to find another parent who understands.
  5. Though pandemic pressures are finally easing, reach out if you need an ear or even to share your thoughts about this or a past blog: cathyt@azafap.org.
  6. 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.

Thanks for listening. Maintain yourself so you can be there reliably for others.