Thursday, January 28, 2016

Empathy overdrive

There are essential things you will have to live with as foster parents, but in those things, we all have different strengths.  Mine is empathy.  If I read a tragic story in the news about a child who is neglected or abused, I feel nearly physical pain for that child.  If I read a story about a parent losing his or her child and the agony of those emotions, I feel the same.  So, foster care is a great and an awful match for this natural characteristic of mine.  It's great because I am putting my empathy to use as I know I am doing some part to be there for some children going through those emotions. 

It's great because it takes a lot (though I am not perfect) to feel antagonistic toward biological parents, as I hear a part of what their brokenness as a family comes from, and I feel for them.  B does fostering out of obedience to a call from God.  I do fostering in obedience but it also comes from my heart's instincts.  It puts my empathy overdrive to good use.

It's not so great because I can't turn it off sometimes.  Dinosaur plays a computer game that involves adopting little creatures and taking care of them.  Except he doesn't take of them and plays other games in the world instead.  The creatures can desert him for this, but mostly they just sit and look sad.  This. kills. my little empathetic heart.  Okay, it probably would have anyway, but having known children in foster care be neglected, or move from home to home, I start getting really angry and lecturing him on attachment.  They're probably not my finest parenting moments.  It would be nice to turn my empathy off and recognize he's a 7-year-old playing a game learning more minor life lessons, like caring for imaginary pets before we get real ones.

It's not so great because it wears me out.  Sometimes my emotions are still wrapped up in processing and empathizing with someone that when some new need begging my attention just sets me off.  I have found I need much more alone time now that I am fostering.  I have thought about whether it's about having three kids versus two or one, or that they're small children, but I really think it's about the foster care aspect as well.  I need time to emotionally process some of the big, sad moments that I come across in my daily life.  When I hear a piece of a the story that I've never heard before.  When a child tells me a memory I've never heard before.  When a child voices and expresses feelings in a new way.  I'm knocked over again, feeling everything.  And then I need to fix lunch, and reschedule that visit, and fill out that paper.

So, to my other empathy overdrive people, read on soon for a post about self-care that I'm doing to try to help recharge this crazy heart of mine.  And for people who have supportive roles in the lives of empathy overdrive people, thank you for loving our tender hearts despite our struggles to be objective or recharge ourselves.  And thanks for not rolling your eyes too hard when you see us bawling after reading some sad news article, or hearing a song, or watching... okay, all the time.

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