In the fall of 2016, my husband and I became licensed foster parents. Everyone told us we would get a nice “honeymoon phase,” before behaviors escalated with the kids who came into our home. I was caught off guard when we did not experience the “honeymoon phase.” I felt unprepared and overwhelmed. I began to question if I actually knew what I was doing. The information from all the classes I had taken seemed to disappear. “How will we ever get through this?” My husband and I would question.
Start with Self Care
Managing behaviors comes with practical skills to use with kids daily, but those skills are not fool proof and sometimes you have to combine skills or get innovative. What helped me with managing behaviors, started with me. The first thing to go when I became a foster parent was self care. I didn’t have time to take care of myself because I had too many fires to put out. People would tell me I needed to take care of myself, but I was so caught up in dealing with challenging behaviors, I didn’t take care of myself.
Burnout began to creep in and the more I neglected myself, the harder it became to parent. I started to realize that parenting was not a short sprint, but a marathon.
4 Ways to Keep Going
In order to have the endurance to make it through, I would need to recognize four things:
- Nourishment- In running a marathon I would eat a banana. In parenting kids with challenging behaviors, I needed to do simple things like brush my teeth and shower. Each person is different when it comes to what they need and I would encourage you to think about what your needs might be and write them down.
- Support- Running can be fun when the race first starts, but the adrenalin at the beginning of a marathon is not something that can sustain you through the entire 26.2 miles. There are several different people who support races.
- Volunteers- they can give you a glass of water or Gatorade when you need a break. Much like taking advantage of resources like respite.
- Cheerleaders- These are the people who are on your side and want you to succeed. They are not the ones telling you just to throw in the towel because the weather is five degrees cooler than you expected. They may not understand what you are going through, but they are for you.
- The other runners- Some run ahead of you with many more races under the belt while others this is their first mile of their first race. All of the runners have an understanding of what its like to run the race. Other foster and adoptive parents can be a great support in the midst of managing behaviors.
- Coaches- These are the experts that see your strengths and have wisdom to help. When things felt completely unmanageable, our wrap around coach (who was a counselor), was one of our greatest supports.
- Realistic Expectations- When I ran my first marathon, I had no idea what to expect. People had told me that at some point I would hit a wall. I knew that this would happen, but I did not fully understand what to expect, so when mile 18 rolled around I almost quit.
My second marathon, I researched and found out what other runners do when they hit a wall and made a plan that worked for me. When mile 16 started to creep in I decided to take extra magnesium to prevent me from hitting the wall at mile 18. It did prolong me wanting to quit at mile 18, but then at mile 20 I was struggling. I had it in my head that if I executed my plan then it would be smooth sailing until the end. That was not the case and it made it harder to push passed the wall.
When parenting kids who have experienced trauma through foster care or adoption, it is important to understand how trauma can affect the child developmentally so the expectations that are in place are realistic.
- Having the right tools- If one day I woke up and decided to run a marathon without preparing, I would be in a world of hurt. I might be able to push myself to mile 5 or 6, but there will be a price my physical body pays. When working with kids who are in foster care or who have been adopted, it is important to know your limits and train.
Every child is unique.
You know the child living in your home.
You are the best person to suggest tools that can work to support kids.
The one practical thing I can say is laughing more has helped me when I am trying to redirect behaviors.
Dawn is here to support you as a foster and adoptive parent as well as the kids in your home. Contact us today for support for your child, register for an upcoming training, or do some self-care by seeking your own therapy. We are here for you and your family.