5 Things You Need to Survive as a Foster Parent
Taking in children from foster care into your house can certainly be a challenge.
It isn’t always easy. Taking care of kids, that is. As a father of three biological children, and three children from adoption, there are those days when I am a little worn out.
Know what’s even harder? Taking care of children in foster care. As a foster parent of over 55 children from foster care, there are those days when I am a whole lot worn out! Now, don’t get me wrong, it is the most important “job” I have ever done, and it has made me a better person.
In truth, though, taking in children from foster care into your house can certainly be a challenge. Behavioral issues, learning disabilities, emotional trials; all can be exhausting and trying for a foster parent. Yet, what many foster parents often overlook is the risk factor that goes along with taking a foster child into a home. As a foster parent, you become vulnerable to many possibilities, and it is important that you protect yourself and your family from the possible implications and investigations. Just as important is making sure you do not become overly exhausted and even burned out.
1 Handling Burnout
One of the keys to preventing burnout is awareness. Once you are aware that you are truly exhausted and facing burnout, you can then take steps to better care for yourself. If you are feeling exhausted, run down, depressed, unmotivated, hopeless or powerless, or even feel like running away, you may be experiencing burn out. Changes need to be made, otherwise you will not only suffer, but your marriage, your family, your children, and even your job will suffer, as well. There are a number of other ways to help reduce stress and burnout, including lifestyle changes, diet, exercise, support groups, and even respite care If burnout is left untreated or ignored, there can be serious complications for not only the foster parent, but for the foster child, as well. After all, if you are too exhausted and feeling burn out, you will have a difficult time giving the love and support a foster child sorely needs.
2. Time for Yourself
As a foster parent, this will be difficult, as you will be required to take care of a child full time. Along with this, you may also need to care for your own children, as well as your spouse. You may have a full-time job that requires a great deal of your energy, plus there are those other commitments you have, such as church, volunteering, and other organizations you might be involved in. Finding time for you will not be easy, but it is very essential. Make time to do something you enjoy, and that you find relaxing. Spend time with some friends, perhaps over lunch or dinner. Do not neglect your own personal health; make sure you get plenty of exercise regularly and eat healthy.
You are making a difference. Now, take care of yourself, as well!
3. Your Marriage
Sadly, many marriages suffer during the foster process. When you are putting much of your energies and time into your foster child, you may be so drained and exhausted that you soon neglect your spouse. Further complication this, some foster children are skilled at pitting one parent against the other, bringing some heated and very unproductive arguments to your home. Make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page with your parenting, and ensure that the two of you are consistent when it comes to all decision making with your foster child. Finally, do not neglect the needs and concerns of your spouse. Instead, make your marriage the cornerstone of your home, and work to make it a productive and happy one.
4 Your Children
If you have children of your own, you may find that you are not giving them the attention and love they need. Instead, your attention is many times on the needs and behavior of your foster child. As a result, your relationship with your biological children will suffer. Make sure you spend one on one time with each of your own children. Go out on a “date” with them, take them for a drive, have a picnic. During this time alone, allow them to talk to you about how they are feeling about the foster child in your home. If they are frustrated, encourage them to tell you about how they feel. Listening to your child is important to your relationship. After all, they may be worn out and exhausted, too, just like you might be.
5. Foster Parent Support Groups
There are a number of foster parent support groups and associations across the nation. A few of these organizations may be national ones, while many others are, comprised of foster parent, like you. Either way, you will benefit by being in a support organization, as they will provide you with not only support, but information, fellowship, and important insight that will help you be a better foster parent.
My friend, I am thankful for what you do each day. I am thankful that you are making sacrifices in your life in order to care for children in need, children in foster care. I am thankful that you have opened up your home and your family to children who need help, who need stability, and who need love. You are making a difference. Now, take care of yourself, as well!
Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert on foster care and TEDx Speaker. He has been a foster parent for 17 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home. He is a consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. He is the author of several books, including The Foster Care Survival Guide: The Essential Guide for Today’s Foster Parents, and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, and elsewhere. He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo,or at The Foster Care Institute.