Sometimes, taking time for yourself also means saying “no” to the next phone call; the next placement. It is okay to say “No,” once in a while as a foster parent. It is okay for you to take time for yourself, your spouse, and your family. It is okay to re-charge those batteries. It's okay to take some time off to grieve the loss of a child from foster care in your home, and in your life. It’s okay to take some personal time, each day, for mediation, prayer, or spiritual time for yourself. One of the ways to treat burn out is simply to rest from time to time. Indeed, foster parents DO need rest and a time of reprieve, every now and then.
Remember to “Be in the Moment”
Far too often, I spend too much time looking ahead to what I have to do. With all of the responsibilities as a foster parent, father, husband, as well as my work commitments and responsibilities, I find that I spend far too much time planning and worrying about all that needs to be done. There are times when this results with me feeling overwhelmed. There are also those times when I allow myself to worry what might become to a child that has left my home and family. I worry for their safety, their future, their well-being. There are even those moments when I feel anger towards a decision made by the court system regarding a child that I am caring for; a decision that I might not agree that is in the best interest of the child. I imagine that you have the same experiences from time to time. You worry too much about the future. You grow concerned about what has not happened yet. You allow yourself to become overwhelmed with these feelings and these anxieties. My friend, that’s normal, and it is easy to do.
Instead, we need to remember to stay in the moment, so to speak, to focus on the here and now, instead of what might happen, of what could be. When we worry about what might happen in the future, we lose the chance and the opportunity to embrace and enjoy what is happening in the present time. When we allow our worries and concerns overwhelm us about future events, we do not allow ourselves to be helpful to those around us in the present moment. As foster parents, we can’t care for, help, teach, and love the children living with our family, children that need us to be with them right now, in the moment, if we are overwhelmed with things we have no control of tomorrow, next week, or next year.
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Let your heart break
You have probably heard the same thing I have heard, over and over again. They tell me, “Dr. John, I couldn’t do what you do. It would hurt too much to give the kids back.” I reassure them that is how it is supposed to be. Our hearts are supposed to break for these children, because that means we are giving them what they need the most; someone to love them with all their heart.
Now, there are those who say that you, as a foster parent, should not get too attached. There are those who might suggest to you that they are really not your children. There are even those who might advise you that you need not become too emotionally invested in the children, because they are bound to go back home. The truth, as you most likely know, is the opposite. We do love them as our own, and sure, we also experience feelings of grief and loss when a child leaves, as we examine fully in The Foster Care Survival Guide. Yet, it is healthy for us to become emotionally invested, and to become attached to the children in our home. If we do not become attached, and hold ourselves at arm’s distance, so to speak, and try to protect ourselves, we will not be able to help the ones we are trying to care for.
Exercise, Diet, and Sleep time
Sure, you feel worn out, exhausted, and have lack of energy. You feel as if you simply do not have any energy whatsoever. Yet, exercise goes a long ways towards treating burn out. Studies indicate that exercise is able to act as a sort of antidepressant medication, in that it helps to treat moderate depression. Furthermore, when you exercise regularly, it also helps to prevent future burnout. You see, when we exercise, it helps to do all kinds of wonderful things to our brain. There is neural growth, endorphins are released, strong chemicals run through our rain helping us to feel great and revitalize our well emotional well-being. Along with that, it simply helps to serve as a distraction to what is troubling us. Instead of focusing on all of our worries and concerns, we are instead focused on walking up that next hill, running that extra mile, lifting even more weights, or whatever type of exercise and workout you chose to begin with. Plus, as my wife tells me, it allows us to have a break from the norm and gives us some quiet time.
Speaking of my wife, she is a doctor of nutrition. In our home, it is all organic, all natural foods. None of that processed stuff on our shelves. If you have heard me speak at a conference or event, you know that I love my chocolate chip cookies, frozen pizzas, and sugary cereals. Yet, I can also tell you that I feel so much better when I cut out that junk food, and instead eat healthy. According to the other doctor in my house, my wife reassures me that when I eat the foods I enjoy eating, it leads to lack of energy and a crash in my mood. So, I have learned to reduce my sugar intake, eat a great and healthy breakfast, drink up to 8 glasses of water a day, plus follow a regular healthy diet. Make no mistake, this has helped me immensely, and is a strong contributor to treating burn out.
As a foster parent, you are probably asked when you sleep. We both know that finding sleep when you care for children in foster care and in need in your own home can be a challenge at times. When we are burned out, we may have trouble sleeping, or we may even sleep too much, as we feel like we just can’t get out of bed or make it through the day. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to our health, our well-being, our productivity, and of course to helping treat burn out.
Next month, we shall have three more things that you MUST do in order to care for yourself, so you can care for children in need.
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