I looked at the clock and groaned a little to myself when I saw that it was 3:30 a.m. I had just arrived back home an hour and a half ago, 2:00 a.m., from a foster parent training seminar I had just conducted in bright, sunny California. The travel back to Georgia, where I live, had been a long one, and I was a little tired. Yet, our newest foster child, a tiny baby, was crying in the next room, and needed feeding. He was only four pounds when he came to us, up two pounds from when he was born, ten weeks premature. When he first arrived at our house late one night in early May, the tiny infant was on a heart monitor, and was so very week and fragile. As he was so very small and premature, he desperately needed to put on some weight and gain strength. Therefore, our little foster baby was up pretty much every hour and a half each night, all night long, letting us know he wanted a bottle.
I had been away from home while in California for a few days, and my wife had seen to all of the child care while I was gone. At the moment, we only had seven children in the house, and our older children were helping out with the younger ones. Nevertheless, when it came time to feed the little one each night, all night long, my wife was on duty while I was away. Normally, we take turns each night, as we try to split our responsibilities as parents 50/50, or in half. Now, at 3:30 in the morning, my first desire was to sleep, as I had just put my head on the pillow, as I was quite tired from the weekend on the West Coast, and the day's travel. Yet, I knew that my wife was tired, as well, from her weekend as a single parent. I gladly got out of bed, and fed the infant, and did so again at 5:00 a.m., as well. After all, my wife and I are in this together, and it is a partnership that I do not take for granted. For me, the partnership with my wife is essential in so many ways, and I would not be a good foster parent if not for her.
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.
If we do not take care of ourselves, you and I as foster parents, we may very well become filled with anxiety, grow weary, and face burnout. To be sure, I have experienced those feelings, at times, as well. Just recently, when we went through a one year stretch of nine children in my own home, I grappled with my own burn out. Yet, when I took some steps to help my marriage, they helped to alleviate much of the stress and anxieties that were on the verge of overwhelming me. When we do take time for ourselves, for our marriage, and our own children, we not only help ourselves and our family, we also help the foster children living in our homes. May you all take time for yourselves, and may you all continue to care for children in need.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 13 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 45 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic, and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several foster care books, including the brand new book Helping Foster Children in School: A Guide for Foster Parents, Caseworkers, and Teachers, and writes for several publications, including Foster Focus magazine. Dr. DeGarmo is the host of the weekly radio program Foster Talk with Dr. John, He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website, http://drjohndegarmofostercare.weebly.com.