|Celebrating Catholic Motherhood|
Catholic Kids *
Catholic Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton
Are You Suffering From Parent Burnout?
In her book Raising Adopted Children, Lois Melina estimates that while about half the parents in the US suffer from some form of parent burnout, adoptive parents are especially at risk because they place higher expectations on themselves. Ironically, she says this form of burnout is less likely to occur in families that adopt large numbers of children, especially special-needs children. “They tend to have more realistic expectations and are aware of the limits of their children…. With disabled children, the more severe the handicap, the less likely the parent will burn out. Apparently, parents realize that the probability of substantial change is the child’s condition is slim, and they adjust their expectations accordingly” (pg. 90).
As a foster and/or adoptive parent, we sometimes suffer from a compulsion to project a perfect family image at all costs. Those who did not receive unequivocal support from extended families and friends hesitate to voice any disappointments or disillusionments, for fear of having the confession fall on unsympathetic – or, worse, patronizing – ears. “I told you that it was too much, taking in someone else’s problems like that.” or, “I told you that it was unwise of you, a single woman, to adopt more than one child.”
Other times, we are ruggedly determined not to admit defeat in the “nurture vs. nature” battle. We don’t want to concede that there may in fact be some behaviors or compulsions that are hotwired into our child’s genetic material that we will never be able to rub out, no matter how conscientious our efforts.
Finally, we may have an over-developed sense of responsibility that will not allow us to admit that, despite our best intentions and efforts, we do not have it in us to give the child everything he or she needs, every moment he or she needs it. As time goes on, the warm and fuzzy moments of parenting grow farther and farther apart, beckoning like oases in the desert, separated by emotional storms, temper tantrums, and learning disorders. In reality, our children are louder, ornerier, messier, and more disrespectful than we ever imagined possible. And at the end of the day, we have no idea how they got that way – or what we can do to fix the problem.
As time goes on, though, we realize that it is not our children but we ourselves who need to adjust -- our expectations, that is. We need to rejoice in the little victories, however glacial the pace at which they are achieved. We need to compare our children not against their peers, but against themselves, neither making excuses for unacceptable behavior nor setting the bar so high that the child feels he is worthy of love only to the extent that he attains perfection. Finally, we need to remind ourselves that parenthood is not about turning out carbon copies of ourselves, but about helping our children to attain their full potential as God created them to be, with all their unique abilities, gifts, and challenges. And that, in the process, we move ourselves a few steps up the heavenly trail, not (as some have suggested) because we are inordinately saintly for having taken these children into our homes and lives, but because they have become little pestles in the crucible of family life, grinding out our weaknesses one grainy imperfection at a time.
Are you in the throes of “Mommy Burnout”? Here are some tips to help you through the rough patches.
7010 N. Marks, Suite 103
Fresno, CA 93711
CatholicMom.com Home Page