By Sona Klimowicz
February 14th is Valentine's Day. Over the years, the meaning of Valentine's Day has changed; it reportedly started out celebrating Saint Valentine who conducted wedding ceremonies for soldiers who were forbidden to marry in the 5th century. In the 14th century, in the days of Chaucer, it was first associated with romantic love; in the 18th century, as courtly love flourished, rituals around St Valentine's Day grew to include the gifting of flowers, confections, valentine's cards and Valentine's Keys to unlock the giver's heart.
Today, Valentine's Day traditions include the traditions around romantic love, and have expanded as a way to show care and love to members of the family, teachers, friends and classmates. We celebrate it with cards, flowers, chocolates and Teddy Bears, some of which carry deep meaning, and some superficial. Regardless of the gift, every heart seeks to be accepted and cared for in a meaningful way.
In residential services, we provide a caring and nurturing place for kids to live for the period of time that they are with us. They come to us, often in crisis, not knowing they are being placed with us and not knowing where they are going next. Sometimes they have been here before, and are familiar with our space and the staff. Sometimes they are here for only a day, sometimes for over a year. Sometimes their families are there to support them, and sometimes they are alone.
Residential workers are willing to make themselves vulnerable every day, in unique and specific ways. They share their time, talents, insight, care and energy with our most vulnerable kids. They are often at the receiving end of all of the anger and hurt that our kids carry with them, attached to their life experiences, their "invisible suitcase". They stay with them through their most difficult times, and then come back the next day to do it all over again. They celebrate their victories with them, and encourage them to do better. They become their "emotional containers," holding the anger and hurt, and not taking it personally.
We know, through research conducted on trauma, that life experiences, or trauma, affect the kids with whom we work. We also know that as residential workers, the life experiences we hear about, process and help our kids cope with, affect us deeply in ways that we did not expect, and often deny. Sometimes we want to hug them and fix everything; sometimes we despair of them ever having any common sense; sometimes we want to get angry at their families and other adults who have hurt them. As emotional containers, we sometimes become dented or cracked ourselves, and in need of repair.
As residential workers, we hold a key to the success of each child's stay with us. It can be difficult to maintain calm and consistency in the midst of the daily struggles, to manage or set aside our own feelings in order to give the kids what they need in the moment. So it is important that we take the time to reflect on how their experiences have impacted us. This is true of anyone who works with traumatized kids, but especially of residential workers who spend many hours a week living with the kids. Taking the time to reflect on how we are doing, checking our responses, giving ourselves permission to experience a range of emotions away from the work, makes us better people and better workers. Checking in with each other makes us a stronger team, better able to contain the powerful emotions that are exposed to us, and help our kids through them.
Valentine's Day traditions are wonderful expressions of the heart, and carry great meaning. But flowers die; chocolates are eaten; cards are thrown away. Care and nurture have a lasting impact on all our lives, whether we give it or receive it. This Valentine's Day, or month, I encourage you to take the time to show the people in your life the care and appreciation you hold for them, in lasting and meaningful ways.
"One Hundred Years From Now"
One hundred years from now
It won't matter
What kind of car I drove
What kind of house I lived in
How much money I had in the bank
Nor what my clothes looked like
The world may be a little better
Because, I was important
In the life of a child.
Author: (excerpt from "Within My Power" by Forest Witcraft)