For the first time in about nine months, I was able to get outside and do some work in the yard. I have been a lifelong gardener, and I often found refuge while gardening; time for myself to reflect, think, and relax. Of late, I had neglected my gardening chores, due in large part to having nine children in the home. I was not making time for the garden, and thus not taking time for myself. As a result, I was becoming worn out, exhausted, and was approaching a burn out that I did not want or need.
As I tackled the job of pruning back the many butterfly bushes in my yard, I felt the stresses and tension that had been in my shoulders the past months quickly slip away. Indeed, it had been a difficult time the past six months, with a house full of children. The latest children in foster care in our home had come with a variety of challenges and needs that were all too demanding of my wife and me. We had both grieved when the two youngest foster children were placed into another home; a home with no children and where the foster parents could completely focus on their many needs. With nine children in our home, my wife and I were spending all our time trying to meet the needs of these two, while almost ignoring the other seven. Perhaps it was best for all if these two were placed into another home; a home that could give them all the support and resources they needed. The oldest foster child stayed with us; a decision that the courts, the case workers, and the teen all felt was best, and one that we so very wanted, as well.
Pruning back the branches and spent flowers from the previous season, I allowed myself the first opportunity in a long time to take some time for myself, doing something I enjoyed. I needed this time alone, and I could tell right away that I would be better for it, and my family would benefit from it, as well. In an almost humorous light, I laughed to myself, thinking that seven children seemed much easier than nine. Foster parents certainly have a different perspective of things in life.
Without a doubt, foster parenting is hard work! It may just be the hardest work you ever do. You will often find yourself exhausted, both mentally and physically, and feel drained. There is very little money available to help you, and you will not be reimbursed for all the money you spend on your foster child. The job will require you to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no time off. You will probably feel overworked and underappreciated. You will work with children who are most likely coming from difficult and harmful environments. Some of these children will have health issues, some will come with behavioral issues, and some will struggle with learning disabilities. Many times, the children you work with will try your patience, and leave you with headaches, frustrations, disappointments, and even heartbreaks. There is a reason why many people are not foster parents, as it is often too difficult. The turnover rate for foster parents in the United States is between 30% and 50% each year.
I know of some people that become so engrossed in being a parent and taking care of children that their own personal identity disappears over time. Don't neglect who you are and what makes you special. After all, your spouse fell in love with you for who you are! When foster parenting becomes too stressful, you, your family, and your foster child will all feel the effects. Thus, one of the most important reminders for you, as a foster parent, is the fact that you need to take care of yourself, physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you neglect yourself, your family will suffer as a result. 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. If you take time for yourself, you will help to ensure your well being, as you care for others in your own home.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 14 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 50 children come through their home. He is a consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. He is the author of several foster care books, including The Foster Parenting Manual, and writes for several publications, including Fostering Families Today. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.