The result: foster parents are exhausted. You, me, all of us. We are exhausted, filled with our own anxiety and confusion. As we struggled with all of the confusion and chaos that resulted from the Coronavirus, foster parents are in jeopardy of burnout, of stress, of compassion fatigue, and even of ending their time as foster parents.
Yet, as I have said countless times at conferences, training sessions, webinars, and with journalists, if we, as foster parents, do not care for ourselves, we can not care for the children in our home.
Here are a few ways that we can and NEED to care for ourselves, or Foster Parent Self Care.
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.
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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.
Remember to “Be in the Moment”
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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Your Own Support Group
I have said it over and over again; no one truly understands a foster parent like another foster parent. That’s why it is important to surround yourself with a support group of fellow foster parents, especially when you are feeling burned out. 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. 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.
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.
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. By taking the following stress reducing steps, you will help to ensure your well being, as you care for others in your home.
Quite simply, you need to make 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.
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