The reports of foster parent burnouts are frequent. This is understandable, given that fostering has a number of stressful challenges, ranging from traumatized children, frequent changes in caseworkers, limited support, the nearly constant threat of losing children, and more. But it doesn’t need to end there. To maintain the stamina for long-term foster parenting, it’s imperative that foster parents invest in their own emotional and physical health.
Foster parenting is a child-focused service, which is important, but in order for you to care for others, you will need to take care of yourself. If not, you will start to exhibit signs of stress, such as irritability, exhaustion, illness, impatience, depression, or anger. Here are some things to evaluate:
- How much sleep are you getting? Adults need between six to eight hours of sleep every night. Depriving yourself of sleep on a regular basis will help no one.
- Are you eating right? Sitting down to eat healthy meals at regular times can prevent stress, illness, and more.
- How much social interaction do you have with healthy adults? Every foster parent needs a support system—shoulders you can cry on, family or friends who can cheer you on, respite caregivers that can give you a short reprieve, professionals who can offer advice and resources, and more.
- Do you get exercise? Exercise is not just about getting fit or losing weight—it’s also about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is vital to your physical well-being.
- Have you created space to do things that you enjoy? Even if you can only carve out a little time here and there to engage in a favorite activity, it can replenish your emotional stores.
It is not a badge of honor to deplete yourself in order to serve the needs of those in your care and around you. Learn how to establish healthy patterns and recognize the signs of burnout.
When you say yes to foster care parenting, you’ll need to say no to other things—sometimes things you very much enjoyed. Perhaps you won’t be able to volunteer at the local homeless shelter or head up that committee or hold a full-time job. Some unimportant tasks may need to be left undone. You may also need to say no to some requests for help from individuals outside your family. You may even need to establish some healthy boundaries with people who don’t completely support you or don’t understand how to relate to foster children.
Keeping yourself healthy and maintaining healthy boundaries will ensure that you have the energy and emotional stamina to handle the demanding role of caring for foster children. It will also enable you to avoid burnout and stay for the long haul. Because when foster parents provide stable homes, foster children fare better as well, particularly if they end up staying with you for a long period of time.