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 7 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 AM, 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.
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Although it may be difficult to schedule, foster parents need to try and have a Date Night with their spouse on a regular basis. I understand that this can be quite difficult, and I struggle to do this, as well. Yet, whether this is once every two weeks once a month, or a similar example, spouses need to have time alone to re-charge their foster batteries, have time to talk without the constant interruption of children, and simply to re-connect with each other and listen to the wishes and frustrations each has. Anniversaries, birthdays, and other important dates should not be forgotten by the foster father, as this usually leads to some heavy apologizing afterwards. Indeed, foster parents should make a commitment to their marriage and make time for it each day in some way. Express appreciation for all the work your partner does. Maintain a positive sense of humor. Learn the fine art of compromise; practice forgiveness and learn to fight fair. These are all practices a healthy foster father should employ. Remember, there should be no shame in seeing a marriage counselor with your spouse. Sometimes, a listening ear and a helpful word can aid in creating a healthier marriage.
If we do not take care of marriage, 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. 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 marriage, and may you all continue to care for children in need.
-Dr. John DeGarmo
For more foster parenting tips and strategies, check out Dr. DeGarmo’s book The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe, and Stable Home.