Raising children is a challenging job, as any parent can attest to. For foster parents who face the additional challenges of caring for children who come from difficult or traumatic backgrounds, the stress levels are certainly even greater. In our previous article, we identified some issues these children may face, and how foster parents can help them in their recovery process. As a parent in this journey, equipping yourself with the right mindset and ideas for self-care will ensure that you, and your family, can navigate the unique challenges and situations as well.
Have the right perspective
Firstly, it’s vital that you constantly remind yourself that you are not the source of your child’s problems. As mentioned previously, it is not the role of the foster parent to “fix the child”. Instead, your responsibility is to provide a stable environment in which the child can begin to heal and come to terms with various issues. Having the right mindset can get rid of the guilt and worry around your foster child’s development and progress.
Also, you may need to clarify with others that you are not responsible for your foster child’s difficulties. Help concerned parties within your circle, like your relatives, know that you are working hard to help your child overcome his issues, and that this will take time and effort before results can be seen. Assure them that you are fully committed and have the patience to help your foster child with his emotional wounds.
Don’t play the comparison game.
One common quotable quote making the rounds on social media reads, “Do not compare your insides to someone else’s outsides”. In our fast-paced society, we fall into the subtle trap of comparing ourselves to others, and using it as a yardstick of our own successes and achievements. It’s important to recognize that each family is unique, with its own challenges and strengths. Identify your family’s areas of ability as well as gaps that need to be addressed, and set goals and expectations based on these instead. This will help you to recognize and celebrate even small signs of progress in your foster child, and within the home.
Connect with other foster parents
The fostering journey is a unique one, and it can be isolating to face parenting challenges alone. One foster mum shared, “It can be frustrating when I have to deal with recurrent difficult behaviour in my foster child. It is also very hard for me to share this with my friends who are not foster parents, as they rarely understand me, or offer constructive advice”. In these situations, it is advisable for foster parents to tap into informal and formal support networks made up of other foster parents. Informal groups include play groups and regular friendly meet-ups with other foster families, while formal groups include foster family support organizations. Often, these groups are made up of foster parents at different stages in the foster journey, giving each person an opportunity to share and encourage a newer foster parent, while learning from the more experienced ones.
Find outlets for your own needs
Foster parents are often fully immersed in parenting demands and may allow other significant relationships to slide. In order to keep your own cup of energy full, you need to replenish it. Recognize that your foster child may be unable to fill your cup. While you wait for your child to reach a point where his own ‘cup’ is full enough to share with you, do nurture other relationships with people who can help to meet your needs. These may be with your spouse, your children, supportive friends and extended family. As you connect with others, you will receive the nurturing you need to care for and tend to your foster child.
Exercise is proven to release tension and increase coping ability. In fact, the endorphins released after exercise can be helpful in combating depression. While you may feel that you do not have the time or energy to exercise, it is likely that you will feel more energetic and rejuvenated, rather than tired, after some physical activity.
Try to schedule some ‘me time’ everyday. Committing to even a small duration of relaxation on a daily basis can have significant pay-off for foster parents in the long run. These moments of reflection and calm can help you stay centered and balanced. Some activities to try include:
- Quiet daily walks
- Time and space for meditation (to consider the purpose of your work with your foster child, record your thoughts, hopes and goals in a diary)
- Recreational reading
- A relaxing hobby such as gardening or music
Most of us would have heard of the phrase, “Affix your own oxygen mask first. When that is in place, you may help your child.” When your own needs are met, you would then be able to better meet the needs of the foster children under your care.
This is the first of a two-part series on self-care for the foster parent. Look out for the second installation in December 2015.
Adapted from Wounded Children, Healing Homes – How Traumatized Children Impact Adoptive and Foster Families by By Jayne E. Schooler, Betsy Keefer Smalley & Timothy J. Callahan. © 2015 Focus on the Family Singapore Ltd. All rights reserved.