special needs

8 Suggestions for Marriages with Adoptive, Foster Care and Special Needs Parenting

Marriage is a total yet daily commitment. Add the joyful privilege (yet often stressful life) of adoption, foster care, or special needs parenting to marriage, and it can be easy to lose focus.

Following are my 8 suggestions for marriages with adoptive, foster care and special needs parenting (just for fun, I added Top 40 song titles as headings):

1. Right Here Waiting

Make time for each other, even if it is a few minutes a day. Time for a back rub, or simply time to actually look each other in the eye and asking about their day. Appreciate each other. We can find the time. It’s making it a priority that we often struggle with.

2. It Takes Two, Baby

Always remember that you are a team. It is not just you or only your spouse. You are of one flesh now; it is the two of you, together and with God, that takes on whatever the day may bring. When you focus on facing what comes together, as a team, you will gain strength.

3. Laughter in the Rain

Finding the humor in situations many would gasp at is part of being in relationship. Jahn and I have so many “inside” jokes. The most stressful moments can bring about howls of laughter. Laughter is a natural stress-buster. We may look crazy, but it is balm for our weary souls.

4. Let’s Get Physical

We need to be good to ourselves. Get up and go to bed at the same time each day (as much as you possibly can). Take your prescription medication and vitamins as directed. Exercise, even if it means with the kids in tow. Get outside at least 20 minutes a day. We all know this stuff. Make putting it into practice a priority. Keeping our body healthy spills over into our mental and emotional selves, and helps us keep balanced.

5. Keep Our Love Alive

Keeping romance in your marriage takes work. So, get out the candles, your favorite CD (or dare I say, mix-tape?), and lower the lights. Acknowledge what you have always found attractive about each other. Regardless of how you are expressing your physical affection for each other (yes, cuddling is great and can be an endgame), acknowledging that part of your relationship in a number of small ways throughout your day is a great way to keep romance alive.

6. Blame It on the Rain

We can blame the rain, but never blame each other. We need to bite our lips, and not let those “I told you so’s” out. Blame is completely destructive. We need to save the sarcastic humor for time with our girlfriends, and use every word to build up our spouses.

7. The Heart of the Matter

One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in my marriage is to practice forgiveness. I had to learn to forgive even when I was in the right. To allow unforgiveness to creep into our most intimate relationship will erode it from the inside out. To be able to forgive is to touch a bit of the divine. We who have been forgiven so much by God himself, must learn the act of humility that is forgiveness and practice it always.

8. Livin’ on a Prayer

Make time in your day for each other and use it wisely. Praying together is a great investment in your marriage relationship. Pray for each other aloud. Whatever is important to our spouse is important to us. It is amazing the intimacy praying together, and for each other, builds.

God’s love for us models the marriage relationship for us. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 isn’t just for our wedding ceremonies (wink). This Bible passage serves as a great reminder for us in the journey of marriage, as well.

Peace & grace,

*This topic was suggested by Stop! Hammock Time with Katie M. Reid (Facebook Page). Be sure to look for our interview there:)

3 Ways to Battle Compassion Fatigue

As an undergrad, I majored in Criminal (Juvenile) Justice. As I interned with the Kalamazoo Probate Court, I learned about compassion fatigue first hand. However, that experience was introductory compared to caring for our newly adopted child.

Having been raised in an Eastern European orphanage from birth to almost four years of age, little Sasha was a heart-broken, un-diagnosed (therefore untreated), bundle of unfocused energy.
Our first months together consisted of constant indulgence of his sensory deprivation and his inability to ever be away from me without his fear of separation making him extremely upset or even ill. I eventually got used to his watching me shower (or joining me while he was still fully clothed), or his sitting on my lap while I used the toilet. It was draining, exhausting and an unexpected addition to the already stressful situation I was in (read about our adoption journey in “Until We All Come Home: A Harrowing Journey, a Mother’s Courage, a Race to Freedom,” Faith Words, 2012). But I loved him. A mother’s dilemma.

Over the next few years, I found myself exhausted. I felt a strange sort of emptiness. His pain was my pain, yet whatever I did made little difference. Exhausted, empty, I cried out to God to fill me, to heal my son, and sometimes I just prayed, “Help!”

Compassion fatigue is described as “the overall experience due to chronic use of empathy when helping those who are suffering in some way” (my simplified version of Newell & MacNeil’s study definition, 2010). With any parenting, there can come fatigue. Special needs parenting raises fatigue to a higher level, and perhaps, an even greater need for attention. While not limited to adoptive parents, those involved in the foster care system or those ministering to orphan care needs, I have heard more such talk about compassion fatigue from these groups more than any other I know.

With all praise to God’s grace, I discovered three simple yet effective strategies that helped me the most while dealing with compassion fatigue, and they were found in God’s word.

1. LOVE GOD (Matthew 22:36-40)

When you love someone, you spend time with them. Yet recent studies reveal that many Christians are not in the word of God everyday. Start simple; a devotional constructed around at least one verse or verses. I chose, “Our Daily Bread” (mailed to our home monthly and free) and “Jesus Calling” (I actually bought it in two different formats–hard copy and a phone app, to ensure constant availability). The next decision is harder – Make a decision to read everyday. Some days I needed to read the devotional a couple of times (sleepy eyes blur easily and a multi-tasking mom’s mind often fails to catch everything the first time). Then, I discovered “31 Nuggets of Hope,” a devotional especially written for adoptive parents by Shelly Roberts. Only 30 days long, this power-packed devotional can be read and re-read over a span of months. Highly recommended for those searching for a more specific devotional versus a general one.

2. PRAY BOLDY (Ephesians 3:20)

After reading (and if time allowed, re-reading) the days devotion, follow-up with a short prayer. Mine usually went something like this:

“Dear Heavenly Father. Thank you for your word. I am seeking your will for my life. Help me to apply what I read. Re-fill me with your grace for anything I face today. No one knows what I will need more than you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” Short prayers like this one, throughout the day, worked best for me. Be specific, bold, and keep asking. There is power in prayer.

3. PRAISE CONSTANTLY (Hebrews 13:15)

If fatigue (or worry or fear, for that matter) engulfs you, little will help more than praising God.

Praise him for what he has done, is doing, and will do. Praise him throughout your day. Praise him in song. Satan can’t get away fast enough. Praise is another under-utilized power source – tap it.

Those are the three simple strategies which help in my battle against compassion fatigue. Share yours in the comment section below.

* Photo courtesy of Cathy Cantu, blogger at 5 Minutes for the Frazzled Mom

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