In the first part of this two-part series, co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber discuss a critical practice every parent needs with special guest, Staci Thomas, the director of family programs for Chosen. As an adoptive mom, Staci has had to accept the value of, and then practice, self-care. Discover why self-care is an important spiritual discipline, and gain insightful tips on how to practice self-care in your day-to-day.

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Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.

Lynette Ezell: Welcome back to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. You know today, Tera, we wanna talk about a topic that’s been receiving more and more attention lately. It’s a good thing. This is not something I was very good at.

Lynette Ezell: I know, you know me. But the Lord says, “Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest.”

Tera Melber: That’s right, and a lot of times as moms we do not feel rested-

Lynette Ezell: No, we don’t.

Tera Melber: … or restful.

Lynette Ezell: ‘Cause I’m a fixer.

Tera Melber: That’s right, that’s right.

Lynette Ezell: And I just keep going 90 to nothing. But as parents we dive into fostering and adopting children from really hard places and it can get overwhelming. And we can find ourselves having seasons of weariness, like long seasons of weariness, right?

Tera Melber: Right. Right. And people say, just go take a nap, go do this, go do that, and you’re thinking that nap is not gonna do it for me.

Lynette Ezell: No. While my 12 year old rewires the house-

Tera Melber: Exactly.

Lynette Ezell: … I’ll go lay down for a little bit. But, yeah, people do say that and they’re just trying to help.

Tera Melber: They are. Well, we wanna talk about that today with our friend, Staci Thomas. We’re super glad you came today. She’s the Director of family programs for Chosen, and has been on staff there for five years. She has a passion for helping parents create homes in which their foster and adopted children can heal and thrive. Staci’s a certified trust-base relational intervention practitioner and she’s a trauma competent caregiver, affiliate trainer and has mentored hundreds of foster and adoptive families for the past 18 years.

Tera Melber: So, we’re glad you’re here. She’s married to John. They’ve been married for 24 years and they have 4 girls from 4 different countries.

Staci Thomas: Yes. It’s been quite a journey.

Tera Melber: I bet. And your girls are all hitting teenage … you have a lot teenagers right now, right?

Staci Thomas: I do. Yeah, almost. The youngest one will be a teenager in September.

Tera Melber: Right, so you’ve been an adoptive mom for a long time-

Staci Thomas: Yep.

Tera Melber: … and you’ve had to practice self-care a lot, I am sure.

Staci Thomas: Absolutely.

Tera Melber: So, that’s a new buzzword. I wouldn’t say it’s new in general, but the buzzword, I guess, of self-care is relatively new and talked about a lot. So how would you define self-care on the adoptive and foster care journey?

Staci Thomas: Sure. So I think self-care has become pretty trite and I think because it’s such a trite term, parents aren’t doing it [crosstalk 00:02:29], especially when they’re on this foster/adoptive journey.

Staci Thomas: So, I’d love to talk about what self-care isn’t.

Tera Melber: That’d be great.

Staci Thomas: Is that good? So, self-care is not giving yourself a break.

Tera Melber: If only it was that easy.

Staci Thomas: If only. You know, when we’re parenting kids from hard places the rally and cry is, “I just need a break,” right? “I just need a break.” Well, what happens when we get a three hour break? We think, well, that-

Tera Melber: I need a six hour break.

Staci Thomas: … yeah, and then I need a weekend off and then I really could use a week.

Tera Melber: And our mind’s racing, yeah, the whole time.

Staci Thomas: That’s right. But I think we could break ourselves out of parenting all together if a break was all we needed, so I like to talk to parents about how to do self-care in the days when you’re not on vacation. So, we like to think of self-care as an indulgence and really I like to talk about it as a discipline. It’s like a spiritual discipline, right? We have to figure out how it is we can parent well all day long, and that’s gonna look different with the different areas of our lives that we need to take care of and it’s gonna look different during the day, but it’s definitely a discipline.

Tera Melber: Well, you know the Lord created the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested.

Staci Thomas: Yes.

Tera Melber: And he rested because he knew, not because he needed a rest, but because he knew that we needed that example; and resting, however, has to come through and rejuvenating and refreshment has to come while you have little people hanging on your legs and you’re cooking dinner and doing all of the discipline that needs to occur during the day, so it’s not necessarily that you pull away from the world, it’s that you lean in and figure out how to take care of yourself during that time.

Staci Thomas: Absolutely, yeah.

Tera Melber: So, how is it different than just taking a break?

Staci Thomas: So, one of the examples I love to use is when I had my four kids from four very hard places who were all little and I thought I was gonna lose my ever-loving mind. What was really comforting to me was to read out loud. If I could do anything, I would read literature, like classic literature. So, I would start in the afternoons when I really felt like I needed a break and knew that I couldn’t because everyone’s cortisol levels were all jacked up and nobody was taking naps. And so, we would sit down and they would be crawling on the back of the sofa and hanging on my hair and doing somersaults, but I would be reading things like Heidi or Treasure Island-

Tera Melber: Right.

Staci Thomas: … and I would literally read out loud for three hours, every afternoon, because it was comforting to me, but I was still leaning in to my kids. I’ve got a parent, recently, that I told her that story and I said, “If you could do anything, you know, what is it?” And she had such a hard time thinking about it and I said, “What do you miss? What were you doing that you loved to do before these kiddos came into your home?” And she said, “Crafting. I love to craft.” And I said, “Then start crafting in the afternoon. You’re doing it for you, but it enables you to still connect with your children, and lean in to them, but it’s an outlet in the midst of parenting.” So, really like to think of self-care as finding how you can have those outlets in the midst of your parenting.

Lynette Ezell: I know when our son came home, he didn’t speak English very well at all, and my salvation was when all the other kids went to school … Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller. Because he loved animals and I, you know, I tuned in on that and we would just set and read and then he would begin reading with me, but it was a sweet time, but it also just refreshed me. I hadn’t even thought about that till you brought it up, Staci, but I guess that’s kinda what we did.

Staci Thomas: Yeah, and you know, I’ve got parents who are just … love exercising, and so for them, I encourage them, don’t feel guilty about going out and kicking the soccer ball around. Find out what energizes you and do that with your child. You can’t do that all the time, but in those moments where you’re desperate for a break, that’s what I love to tell parents to do.

Tera Melber: And it kills two birds with one stone when you’re doing it with your children, because it’s a connecting time.

Lynette Ezell: Helps attachment.

Tera Melber: Helps with attachment. I was just looking at Instagram the other day and a sweet little couple that I know, they have one biological son who’s autistic and four other children that they adopted out of the foster care system, that range, from like, I don’t know, maybe ten down to little, like toddler. And so they are actually getting ready to move onto the mission field to go to Malawi and so she is packing boxes, stressing out; and her Instagram picture was of her and all of her children, sewing. She loves to sew.

Lynette Ezell: Yes, that’s what we did.

Tera Melber: So, her little thing said, “You know my stress relief is obviously sewing.” So she’s got her little guy with autism sitting in her lap, running the little … making a quilt.

Staci Thomas: Wow. That’s great.

Lynette Ezell: I love it!

Tera Melber: But she said, “I just needed a break and this is stress-free for me,” even though she’s teaching and practicing sewing with the children, she’s connecting. And the toddler was with grandma. So she had the four olders and she was practicing self-care in the midst of an incredibly stressful time and prepping to go on the mission field.

Lynette Ezell: Right.

Staci Thomas: That’s perfect example.

Lynette Ezell: It is. It’s a great example and Tera and I’ve talked, we talk to so many younger moms or families who have just brought new children into their home that that’s your calling, like, you’ve gotta find out how to do self-care within the four walls of that home, quite a bit. Now, we would get out and ride bikes, that’s something that he enjoyed doing. My youngest one from Ethiopia, it was crafts, it was that sorta thing, and music. And so you have to find what they enjoy but what also helps you, but you don’t have to go out and conquer everything else anymore.

Staci Thomas: That’s right.

Lynette Ezell: For now, you gotta take care of the home.

Staci Thomas: That’s right, yeah. A big part of self-care is saying no to the things that you just can’t do in this season, and if it helps parents to remember it’s not forever, it’s just for a season, it’s good to say no to lots of things.

Tera Melber: Even the wisest man that ever walked the Earth, King Solomon, wrote in Ecclesiastes 3, “There’s a time and a season for everything.” And I think many times we feel guilty when we bring new little ones in the home that we can’t be room mom or that we can’t be the team coach for the soccer team or we can’t do this, or we can’t do that, and we begin to put judgment on ourselves, like we’re not doing enough or whatever, but it’s okay. There is a season. Your kids are going to grow up, you don’t have to do everything when you’ve got lots of littles, or just lots of kids at home. You just focus in on what you can and each season the Lord allows you something fresh and new. I’m doing things now, at 47 years old, that I was not able to do when we were raising all six kids under the same roof.

Lynette Ezell: Exactly. You know, sometimes you just have to pull back, for me, when times would get really difficult and we’re just at home. See, we adopted then moved to another state. Not the best plan.

Tera Melber: What were you thinking?

Lynette Ezell: Exactly. You know, we knew it’s what the Lord called us to, but there were so many days I was just breathing through, “Lord I just trust you in it,” and retrained my mind. That gave me, that was self-care for me, to sit back and just focus on He is good, He is here and reminding my kids of that, too, ’cause they were struggling.

Staci Thomas: Yeah, and I think as adoptive and foster parents, too, a lot of the times we struggle with self-care in the spiritual realm and we forget where our identity is. We tend to think we’ve got to do it all because our identity is being a foster or adoptive parent but part of spiritual self-care is remembering that our identity is in Christ.

Lynette Ezell: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, Jesus says, “Keep your eyes on me and just retrain the mind,” like you said, in the midst of the chaos. It’s kinda release and control, too. When I’m doing self-care, it’s like, Lord I don’t have to fix it all, I can’t really fix anything, I’m just gonna trust you to do that. It makes my days more pleasant, and it makes me … I’m not mom on a broom, so much.

Tera Melber: Right. And it’s really not going to be the end of the world if you go outside and garden with your kids because it’s refreshing to you, and you have laundry.

Staci Thomas: Right, yeah.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah, it’s swapping out the … you know, swapping out … that’s a good thing to do to keep the house tidy but the best thing sometimes, is just to pull back.

Staci Thomas: Yeah. I was kind of flipping the coin a little bit. I was having a conversation with a mom and I told her part of my self-care is planning out meals for the whole week and grocery shopping once a week because I hate going to the store, and if that doesn’t happen, I am dysregulated. This mom I was talking to has eight kids and she said, “That would not be self-care for me. I go, I plan meals one day at a time and I go to the grocery store everyday-

Tera Melber: Oh wow!

Staci Thomas: That’s self-care for me because that’s what I love to do. So I love to tell parents, you’ve got to find what it is for you and I also like to say that hiding in our closet and eating chocolate, that’s an indulgence, that’s not self-care.

Tera Melber: Oh man, I’m getting it wrong!

Staci Thomas: You know, that’s not gonna help us parent well. That’s not gonna help us through the really hard days. So, we do have to think, what do I need to do to plan so that things aren’t piling up, and that’s a big part of self-care, too.

Lynette Ezell: And do you find that mainly in the afternoon? You keep saying, “The afternoon,” why do you keep saying, “Afternoon”?

Staci Thomas: Yeah, so I find that moms, especially, have a ton of energy in the morning and then as they’re helping their kids from hard places, who can’t calm themselves down, self-regulate over and over again and it’s actually co-regulation as they’re trying to help their kids do things that their biological kids can’t do … or have always done and their new kiddos can’t do, but afternoon … it tends to be really, really tiring.

Lynette Ezell: We call that the Witching Hour. You know that time right before dad gets home?

Tera Melber: Oh, which always makes it super pleasant when he walks through the door on some days.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah, and think how much better that would be if we’re practicing self-care in the afternoon.

Tera Melber: That’s right. Even by doing the example, yourself, of self-care and helping our children recognize, you know, we’re doing this together, it refreshes my soul; it also is teaching them how to regulate, in a sense, of finding what refreshes me. Do you have a child who’s a reader, who it just would do a world of good to go sit in a reading corner for an hour when they are dysregulated and feel out of control, to get a weighted blanket and go sit in a corner and read for an hour. Is it that your child really enjoys that you’ve taught them how to sew, or that they can get that sensory stuff by going out and banging a basketball out in the driveway? We have lots of basketball bouncing going on in our driveway to help just soothe regulate. They get home from school, they’ve been bound up, they can’t just jump into homework and we always say, “Go outside. Just go outside.” For our boys: go shoot baskets, go throw the football, just do something outside to kind of … we always say, “Give your brain a break.”

Staci Thomas: Absolutely, yeah. I love to talk about the engine plate.

Tera Melber: Oh, yes.

Staci Thomas: So, I teach my kids, you know, your engine is in red, which means you’re really running way too high, or sometimes your engine’s in blue; you need to get some energy, but we want you in green. So, part of self-care is modeling that for our kids and I will say to my kids all the time, typically again in the afternoon at 2:30, I’ll say, “Mom’s engine is in blue, I have got to get some coffee.” Or, “My engine is approaching red, so I’m gonna go walk around the house a couple times,” and because I’ve done that for so many years my kids will now say, “My engine’s in red, I’ve gotta go run around outside for a little bit.” If we can model that self-care for our kids they’ll start doing it and like you said, it is killing two birds with one stone.

Lynette Ezell: It absolutely is true, because one of mine is just to pull away and be by herself a little bit or just to sit and talk with me or me to just let her drive and I sit beside her. Another one of mine, she wants to run five miles, and she’s just a better teenager. Her mind’s clear when she gets that time, but they also need time just touching me, shoulder to shoulder.

Tera Melber: Yeah, and one more big part of self-care is knowing what our past triggers in us, and so, life is hard and this is a tough world and a lot of foster and adoptive parents have difficult pasts and so if they’re not realizing that things that their kids are doing are triggering their own pasts and their own history, it’s gonna be really hard to connect to that child. So part of self-care is just having a really strong awareness of what makes the parent upset or dysregulated, themselves.

Lynette Ezell: Do you have a story how this has worked in your home? Like, maybe with one of yours?

Staci Thomas: Not in my home, but I do have a parent who had been physically abused and she fostered a wonderful, wonderful teenager and that teenager was pretty desperate for some physical touch and what we realized is that that desperation on that teens part, for physical touch, was triggering her. It was just bringing up her past and so once we talked through that and realized that’s what was happening, she was able to give that healthy touch that that teenager really needed. You know it wouldn’t have been at all healthy for that teenager to not have any healthy touch at all because of the mom’s past, but once we worked through that she was able to give it and things are going really well.

Lynette Ezell: And they both got self-care.

Staci Thomas: They did. Absolutely, they did.

Tera Melber: It does require a lot of self-awareness to parent, in general. But, finding somebody that you can talk to about things like that, about your own past, your own self-awareness, or even helping understand: what is it that really makes me tick, that makes me feel refreshed. We need somebody to be able to kinda process through that with, and so, you know, how do other people kinda come into this picture, how would you say other people play a part in self-care?

Staci Thomas: Sure, so, Jayne Schooler is really great about talking about the circles of support in the foster/adoptive journey and she says we all need five people to help us with self-care.

Tera Melber: I’m gonna start listing them as you’re telling what they are.

Staci Thomas: So, we need the rock. That’s the person who’s gonna be with us all the time. We need the wise person who’s gonna remind us of wisdom when we’re not quite there. We need the learner, so somebody who’s gonna learn alongside of us. We need the helping hand, so somebody who is gonna give us those breaks when we need it, because sometimes we do actually need a break. And then we need an advocate, so somebody who’s gonna stand up for us when we need that. I think a lot of times we need all five of those people. You can’t get that from just one person.

Lynette Ezell: No.

Tera Melber: Right.

Staci Thomas: You can’t get it from your spouse, you can’t get it from your best friend. Your spouse could be the rock, your best friend could be the advocate, but you need those five people. So, I encourage all of our parents to make a list of those five things and identify who those five are, and if you don’t have those five, go find one. Pray that the Lord would bring you the missing person.

Lynette Ezell: Absolutely. And speaking truth into your life, that’s so huge … that wise person. And that can also be, you know, listening to a really good podcast or you’re going through teaching. I’m gonna go through this series of first, second and third John, with this teacher, but having a good … Tera’s taught me that, just to have a really good podcast going, or some teaching going, also, while maybe I’m putting on my makeup.

Staci Thomas: Absolutely.

Lynette Ezell: And it really does steady you.

Staci Thomas: For sure.

Tera Melber: I think it’s really very wise to say you can’t lump all those things, or even three of those things into one person, because that’s not … and typically we’re gonna do that with our spouse, and it’s really unfair. David does not want to be all those people to me.

Staci Thomas: No, John does not either.

Lynette Ezell: No, it’s a no win situation. You know, we’re setting each other up for failure when we expect that.

Staci Thomas: Right. We really are.

Tera Melber: It’s too many words and too many categories for him to be able to listen to.

Staci Thomas: Yes, exactly.

Tera Melber: So finding those people is really important. And Lynette and I have talked about, in the past, in a kind of a different way, that before you even bring children into your home that often times adoption agencies or foster care agencies will have you list resources. Who’s a speech person? Who’s a psychologist? Who’s a pediatrician you want to go to?

Lynette Ezell: Yeah, have it ready.

Tera Melber: Have it ready, because when you get in the thick of it your mind is way too dysregulated to be able to say I can’t even make up coherent thoughts, of where’s my list. So even before, and often times when people especially come to see you for coaching and mentoring, they’re in a sticky situation

Staci Thomas: Yes.

Tera Melber: So one of the first things, I’m sure, you have them do is say, let’s prayerfully consider who these people are in your life. So whether it’s before your children come in or if you’re already parenting, sit down today and pray through that list and ask the Lord to bring to mind, Lord what does refresh me? I mean, we think we would know that about ourselves, but a lot of times the things that I think refresh me are busy work that keep my mind off other things.

Lynette Ezell: Yeah, and we’re really not thinking about ourselves in those moments-

Tera Melber: Right.

Lynette Ezell: … in those seasons, you know. And for me, it’s giving the Lord frequent spaces. I remember Ruth Bell Graham saying that, you know her husband traveled … he’s evangelist, right … he was gone all the time and she was raising all those children way out in the country and she kept her Bible open on the table so that she could make frequent spaces for the Lord. That was her way of doing self-care.

Tera Melber: Right. And listen, Ruth Bell Graham, she birthed all of those children but she was living in a tough spot with her husband gone all the time. So this is so vital for all of us as parents, to be able to really, really dig into this and see, how is it that we can best care for ourselves because in doing so we become a far better parent, a far better spouse, a far better friend.

Lynette Ezell: You know 1 Samuel 14, I’m an Old Testament, I don’t want to say nerd, it’s a good thing to love the Old Testament, but I love teaching through it. But, Jonathan and his father, Saul are out to war; and they’re fighting the Philistines on separate battlefields and they’re exhausted. Saul, just quickly off the cuff, makes this oath to his men that if anyone eats before sundown … they’ve been fighting for days, Staci, they’re just worn out … if anyone eats before sundown or takes a drink or a rest, I’ll kill them. Well, problem is, Jonathan doesn’t get the memo and so Jonathan’s coming back with his men; he is exhausted, the scripture says he is just weary unto death, and he sees some honey pouring forth and he takes the end of his sword and dips it in the honey and refreshes himself and scripture says, “He was refreshed unto life,” and he knew to do self-care. And that changed his whole ability to lead his men even though he had a issue with his dad when he got back, of course, with Saul. And Saul realized he had made a unhealthy proclamation against his own men. But Jonathan took that time to take care of himself. I remember teaching through that and thinking, wow, I’m not good at that. I need to do better.

Staci Thomas: Yeah, I think Jonathan was probably really more ready to deal with-

Tera Melber: Yes, right.

Staci Thomas: … a dysregulated father. Yes he was, he was refreshed.

Tera Melber: Great point, yeah.

Tera Melber: Well, it is a blessing to be able to talk through this with you and I know that our time has come to an end, but we want to talk to you again about another issue that you’re really great at coaching people through, so we’re gonna ask you to stick around for another podcast.

Staci Thomas: Certainly.

Tera Melber: Thanks so much for coming, today,

Staci Thomas: Thanks for having me.

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