Utah Foster Care Foundation Symposium: Enjoying the (bumpy) ride.

Heidi Naylor (in purple) and I were the Utah Foster Care Symposium bloggers this year.
Photo by Deborah Lindner, Utah Foster Care Foundation

I was invited to attend the Utah Foster Care Symposium as an adoption blogger.
I am certainly a friend of foster care, but I am in no way an expert on it so I was both shocked and thrilled to attend and especially to learn more.

The symposium started Wednesday with Dr. Susan Cutler Egbert, MSW, PhD whom I have heard speak on numerous occasions at the annual Utah Adoption Council Conference. I had plans to blog from the conference, but wifi wasn’t available in the conference center …so I am posting now that I have gathered all my thoughts and photos from the 2-day event.

Susan Egbert, PhD
Asst Professor, Utah State University

Dr Egbert joined USU’s MSW program faculty in 2008. Prior to her work at USU, Dr Egbert was a child and family therapist. She has presented nationally on a variety of adoption issues including lifespan development, post-adoption support, and transracial adoption. Dr Egbert is an adoptee, herself, and a foster/adoptive parent.

Dr Susan Egbert, PhD
Photo by Deborah Lindner, Utah Foster Care Foundation

Dr. Egbert was adopted at 3 weeks old.
She is married, has biological children and children that were adopted through the foster care system. She is a gifted teacher and very endearing.

This is a re-cap of her presentation with some of my notes and thoughts added in along the way.

Enjoying the (bumpy) ride:
Stress management and the foster/adoption family

Dr. Susan Cutler Egbert, MSW, PhD

She started off her presentation by acknowledging that foster and adoptive parenting is not the “average bear” of parenting experiences. She compared parenting biological children to driving a newer car, like a Subaru or something.

“It’s all-wheel drive. It’s doable with just a little maintenance.” She called this smooth parenting.

Then she talked about foster parenting and she compared it to driving a clunky green bus.

“There’s more maintenance. It’s more conspicuous.” She called this a “new parenting experience.”

She then spoke of the dichotomy between this “new family” and the traumatized child that has been removed from an unsafe environment and found themselves in foster care. She said that these two world could not be further apart from each other, worlds apart even.

When DCFS approves a family to become a foster family, they are looking for families that have functional ways of of dealing with family life, families that are stable, families that exhibit positive ways of rearing children.

But the child has experienced trauma, a chaotic environment, instability, grief and loss.

When these two world come together in one household and family there can be a lot of stress. In fact, the rest of her presentation was about stress.

Why do we care about stress management?

Because of B U R N O U T.

“The world needs foster parents. The world needs us. The world needs therapists,” she says.

Unmanaged stress leads to burnout. Burnout is a slow-growing condition that derives from stress and poor stress management. It occurs over months.

Burnout risk increases when people:

  • Are nurturing by nature and anticipate the needs of others
  • Have less support than they need
  • Feel powerless
  • Are workaholics
  • Are perfectionists

Are you suffering from burnout?

Symptoms of burnout:

  • Tiredness
  • Small health complaints
  • Too little or too much sleep
  • Feeling sad, angry, irritable and depressed
  • Appetite changes
  • Lack of motivation and loss of interest in everyday activities which you once enjoyed
  • Feelings of hopelessness or being trapped
  • Feeling like running away

What are some changes that you can make to help yourself from becoming burned out?

1) Learn how to relax
“Research on the Internet,” she says. “You will sleep better.”
(Try this or this.)

2) Improve/gain new coping skills
The way I cope is different from how you cope. Figure out what your individual stress signs are. Find your own coping strategies. Observe how your kids deal with stress.

3) Keep a journal or process your feelings another way
We have triggers that set us off. Keep a journal on how you deal with stress. What behaviors do you express when in this stressful environment?

4) Research ways to reduce stress and fins a “good fit” for you.

Then we talked about what we can learn about stress from the experts:

  • Stress and Coping Theory: People respond to stressful events/situations and cope with the stress in different ways
  • Life Event Theory: The situation requires more resources than are available
  • Hardiness Theory: One’s attitude toward the event determines stress
  • Social Support Theory: There’s insufficient social support for responding to the event (This is the reason why I blog–to create support for myself and hopefully for others!)

“I don’t know how to help you cope,” Dr. Egbery says. “You have those answers.”

Watch your kids for cues and get some ideas on strategies to deal with stress.

Stress impacts you biologically (physical care and health), spiritually (meaning to life, understanding of hope), psychologically (mental self care and health) and socially (family, friends, community–self care in uman relationships.)

One of the keys to self-care is balance. Balancing self-care between physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and relational/social helps to ensure that our efforts to take care of ourselves don’t turn into escapism or overindulgence. -Momaroo

The thing about Dr. Egbert is that she is so real (and funny!). She shared some personal experiences with us about the adoptions of her children–specifically how hard the court proceedings were, the STRESS of the court proceedings. She described it “like being engaged to a married person and trying to save their marriage and when their marriage fails, you go ahead and marry them.” There was a spontaneous burst of applause after that statement. HA!

She then shared some strategies for managing stress for you mental health toolbox.

Mental Health Self Care Strategies:

  • Acknowledge your feelings
  • Manage your anger
  • Address and process your grief and depression
  • Do things that improve your self-esteem
  • Develop your character
  • Learn something new
  • Depersonalize
  • Challenge/argue with your negative thoughts and empower yourself (i.e. blaming others for your feelings, feelings of inadequacy, worried about what other people think.)

Think back to the things that lit up your brain as an adolescent. Those things should light up your brain now. What were you interested in back then? Revisit it!

Extinguishing “Hot Thoughts”–change the way you think.

Empowered Thinking

  • Understanding your moods
  • Taking your unhappy moods seriously
  • Discovering what is behind your moods
  • Evaluating the evidence
  • Taking positive action

Disempowered Thinking

  • Getting stick in a cycle of negative thinking
  • Not recognizing “hot thoughts” as important and destructive
  • Experience without evaluation
  • Letting bad moods and situations persist

Social Impact of Stress

  • “Social isolation–lack of contact with members of one’s species.” (Wikipedia)
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Strained relationships in family, extended family and the community

Social Self Care Strategies

*Hang out with your species. They make you world seem more normal. (My favorite quote of the whole presentation.)

  • Get involved in a babysitting co-op for date nights
  • Adoption play group (allows children to be connected as well)
  • Blogging (Booya!)
  • If people don’t support your family, are toxic–cut them loose. (Amen!)

Dr. Egbert closed her presentation with some really powerful words:

“I knew 4 other kids in elementary school that were adopted and that just helped me so much.”

“Allow yourself to grieve as a way to maintain hope.” (Let that marinate for a minute! It’s so powerful!)

She mentioned to us that she purchased a butterfly growing kit to help her children understand the cycle of a butterfly and watch what it takes to make it through the process. “If the conditions are right, we have the ability to change and become something new. We have great potential within us.”

“I am not cut from the same cloth, but I am part of the quilt.” (Talking about her family as an individual that was adopt.)

“Remember to enjoy the ride!
Not everybody gets to drive the Green Bus. :)”