Often parents are told that taking care of themselves is selfish, that when they decided to become parents the option to take care of ourselves was given up. This pressure to do for everyone else without caring for yourself may be increased by the higher needs of the child you are caring for, and especially so after a traumatic event. Parents are sometimes afraid to ask for support as the fear of being asked why they didn’t stop the abuse or not reacting fast enough is too stressful. So, instead of reaching out they may keep it bottled inside or delve even deeper into the care of their child in an attempt to help make up for any self-perceived mistakes they may have had previously. Meanwhile the sense of isolation, loneliness, and shame may only intensify. Remember, it is not your fault!
Self-Care for parents/caregivers of abuse survivors is an often overlooked aspect of the process of moving on from the traumatic experience. Parents may be busy running around to therapy appointments, trying to be supports for their children, possibly contending with problematic behavior, or gathering information from several professionals involved in the case. In the meantime, their own self-care may not even be a second thought. However, it is so important for the caregivers to make time for themselves in order to be an effective support for their child.
With all the emotions that the parent may be dealing with about finding out that their child was a victim of abuse, the need for taking a moment out for yourself may seem negligible. The truth is that taking time out for yourself can help to ensure that you are able to continue caring for your child at the level they need you to maintain. The child needs you at your best and without giving yourself a break you can’t be your best.
There is a little known (or at least little talked about) condition called Caregiver Fatigue. While this is often associated with those who are caring for people long term such as nurses, social workers, or therapists, it can also sneak up on you if you are going through prolonged trauma. Taking care of the needs of someone else is exhausting. Adding in the problematic behavior that may or may not be accompanying the child after the trauma and it can quickly feel overwhelming. If you have no one else to help you with caring for the needs of your child the fatigue can happen even more quickly. You may have heard of this being referred to as burnout. Some symptoms might include things like disassociation (where you feel like you are no longer connected to the situations surrounding you), feeling lost, feeling behind and/or like you will never catch up, being quick to anger, sleep disturbances (either getting too much or too little), and disconnecting from things that you enjoy.
Having your child go through a traumatic event is hard. Often times, during the forensic interview additional information or more detailed information may come out. This can be especially traumatic for parents to hear when they thought they knew the scope of what may have happened to their child, only to find out that there was more. Just hearing of the experience that your child had can be a lot for you to have to process and can cause secondary trauma. Essentially, secondary trauma is where your brain processes the event of hearing the trauma that the child survived as one’s own personal trauma. Quickly, appointments with professionals begin. The responsibility for keeping track of all the people involved and what they need from you, increases, and perhaps the behavior of your child becomes more challenging or concerning. You can very easily begin to feel the weight of all of this on your shoulders, like walking through an emotional minefield. This is why it is so important to take care of yourself so that you have the stores of emotional energy to deal with the whirlwind.
Ideas for Combating Caregiver Fatigue
When considering how to take care of yourself, think small. Although, a vacation to Hawaii may be very relaxing, it may not be in the cards at this time. Taking on smaller projects for relaxation can take the pressure off you. It can also create a sense of accomplishment when you are able to complete a task. Making small relaxing moments can have serious benefits. Here are some ideas of what might work for you:
-Kera Wagner, Small Talk MSW Intern
To provide a comfortable, child-friendly atmosphere where children receive coordinated services during the child abuse investigative process.
A state of the art center leading the community in addressing child abuse and empowering children to have the courage to heal.