Friday, August 26, 2011

"Foster Friday" - You're Stressing Me Out! Maintaining Our Sanity in a CRAZY World...

We all know that Foster/Adopt Land can be extremely stressful.  It causes a roller coaster of emotions, puts huge demands on our time, thrusts us into a world of rules, regulations, and restrictions, and yet expects us to provide "normal" homes for our kids.  We spend months, even years, waiting.  Waiting for a placement...  Waiting for a match...  Waiting for caseworkers...  Waiting for judges to make decisions...  And then in the blink of an eye, decisions are made and we are expected to immediately adapt.  Our children often suffer hurts that we cannot begin to understand, so we research, we listen, we counsel, and we love them to the fullest.  We try to take their hurt on ourselves in an effort lessen their pain.  We worry for those of them who have been returned to questionable situations every day.  I have never heard the phrase, "Foster care/adoption is a breeze!"

So how do our panel members and their families maintain their sanity (or at least attempt to) in this crazy world of Foster/Adopt Land?  See what they have to say...

Diane - How do I stay sane as a foster parent?  It is difficult at times, especially because I can be a control freak.  When you are a foster parent, you are most definitely NOT in control.  Therefore, the stress level can rise quickly if not kept in check.

Here are some techniques I have adopted to attempt to maintain my sanity in this crazy world of foster care:
  • Pray, A LOT!  Turn things over to Him, because He is ultimately in control and loves this child even more than I do.
  • Take time for me.  I try to have one activity that I do at least once a week just for me.  For years it was church choir, but that no longer works with our hectic schedules.  I guess now it is blogging.
  • Pick my battles, both with the kids and with the system.  I won’t win most of the time, so I spend my effort on the ones that really matter.
  • Ask for help.  I can’t do everything on my own.  Friends and acquaintances, especially from church, often offer to help “if you ever need anything”.  Several years into foster care, I had to make that phone call when a child was admitted to the hospital.  Multiple friends helped at a moment’s notice.  Since then I have learned that many people really do mean what they say.  Ask, but in moderation.
  • Stay organized.  Sometimes easier said than done, but being organized really cuts down on the stress.  Set and track appointments ahead of time.  This includes doctor’s appointments, case manager visits, therapy, even home repairs.  Last minute calls have to work around previously scheduled appointments.
  • Be involved.  Stay in frequent contact with all of the people on the case.  This sometimes helps prevent big surprises.  It also seems to help emotionally prepare for separation when it occurs.
  • Give myself permission to cry.  The stress and craziness will ultimately get to me at times.  I now recognize this and occasionally let myself go.
  • Schedule a future vacation.  I used to cringe trying to plan ahead, because I never knew if today’s child would be here when the event arrived.  Now I just plan ahead, 6-12 months out, and try not to worry about who is going until the time is closer.  Having that trip to focus on is a good distraction when things get rough.

I still struggle frequently, because so many times, the system just doesn’t make sense (and yes, I’m still a control freak).  Ultimately, I focus on the child in my care and remember why I am a foster parent.  My goal is to make that child’s life happier and less stressful; ensuring his/her safety and security is well worth the frustration and stress on my part.

Kylee - Foster care is full of many stresses, most of which I have only observed from the sidelines. I think I would be dishonoring all of the wonderful foster mamas out there in a big way if I pretended to know all of the stresses that are involved in this ministry. While I do know many of the trials, and have lived through some of them, I have never been the one directly dealing with bio families, scheduling appointments, sitting through meetings with caseworkers, writing progress notes, and filling out endless amount of paper work. I do not want to pretend that I know all that it entails when I have never been directly in that position or had that experience. 

I will say that I believe there is a different set of stresses that come along with being a foster sister. Obviously, those things are small in comparison to what you ladies go through, but they are still there, and since that is all I have experienced, I will go ahead and take this opportunity to share a little piece of my heart. 

Growing up, I was attached to each one of our foster children and formed a special bond with them. We always fostered under-five, and usually they were infants or young toddlers, so the "competition" aspect of fostering was really never an issue with me. Instead, I found myself bonding with them in a sisterly way as I helped care for them, changing diapers and feeding bottles. After "our" first child left, I quickly began getting nervous each time a child moved in with us. I loved our first little girl so much, and, even as an eight-year-old, cried buckets of tears when she left. In the early years, without the maturity to channel and control my emotions,  I developed, what I suppose could be called a "fear of bonding to a child".

As I spent time loving these kids, on the forefront of my mind was often the thought process of "What am I gonna do when I have to say goodbye?Sometimes, I spent much unnecessary time thinking about and stressing over what I would do when that moment arrived. I think without even realizing it, I was trying to find the perfect balance of loving a child enough, but not too much. It is an easy trap to fall into as a foster family, and I was no exception. 

Thankfully, as I got older, the Lord taught me a little bit more about loving because He has commanded us to, not because it makes me feel good or is easy to do. It is obviously something I am still learning and will probably be working on for a lifetime. 

So, just something to keep in mind- As you foster moms (whom I respect so much!) are dealing with the many logistical areas of foster care, there is a chance that your care-free bio child is focusing on only one thing- loving their new foster sibling just as they would a bio sibling or family member. Keep in mind that even if there is a child that you might not be particularly attached to, there is a chance your bio child has developed a strong friendship with that child and is trying to deal with what to do when the "goodbye" comes. 

And to some of us foster siblings, that's a stress of our own.

aka. Mimi - I don't handle stress well.  I tend to internalize and do the "fester, fester, fester" thing until I blow up or have a complete and total meltdown.  So when I made the decision to enter Foster/Adopt Land, I had to try to find ways to cope and to deal with the ever-present stress.  Some worked...  Some, not so much...  But I think after three years of trial and error, I'm beginning to get a handle on what I need to do in order to maintain a small shred of sanity.  :-)

 1)  Happy Pills - Yes, I take happy pills.  My doctor put me on them years ago when I was going through hormone therapy for endometriosis, and I asked to stay on them.  No, they don't take all of the stress away, but they do make it a little easier to cope.  I no longer feel a burning desire to strangle people who look at me funny.  Nor do I find myself bawling during cotton commercials ("The touch, the feel of cotton...").  Come on!  Don't judge!  Only people with no feelings don't get a little misty-eyed at cotton commercials! 

2) Stress Balls - Okay, so stress balls (at least for me) ended up being one of those "not quite as helpful" remedies.  I think it had something to do with the fact that I didn't have a stress ball.  I had a stress cow.  Said cow met with an untimely demise as I had a tendency to twist the little guy's head around and around rather than squeeze him.  (You see where this is going, right?)  Yep.  Stress cow was decapitated.  :-(  No more stress balls for Mimi, although I hear they are helpful for some people.

3)  My Super-Cool, Mega-Sized Day Planner - This thing is my lifeline.  Keeping organized seems to be one of my main forms of stress-relief.  I can't control much in Foster/Adopt Land, but staying organized and keeping on top of appointments, contact information, paperwork, etc. is one thing that I can control.  I can't imagine not having a system for managing all of the required appointments and monthly paperwork.  Just the thought of having piles of papers, business cards, information jotted down on napkins, etc. gives me the heebie-jeebies.  For a control freak like me, the day planner makes me feel a little more "in control."

4)  Blogging - It helps.  A lot.  Being able to vent my frustrations on the World Wide Web somehow makes me feel empowered.  Sure, it's fairly anonymous, and unless you know me personally and know about my blog, no one would be able to guess who I'm actually talking about when I complain about the "Invisible CPS Caseworker,"  "New Girl," Skinny Bitch," or "Olga."  (I love making up little pseudonyms for people.)  For me, blogging is therapeutic.  It helps to get it out.  It helps to know that other people have been or are going through similar situations.  Reading other people's stories helps too.  And my online foster/adopt support system has been one of the biggest stress-relievers that I have found so far.

5)  Respite Care - My agency offers respite care reimbursement for one weekend a month so that foster parents can get some much-needed, well...  Respite.  :-)  I have to admit that in the time that I have been fostering, I've only used overnight respite twice.  I have a hard time wrapping my head around sending my babies to yet another home when they are so comfortable with me.  But I do know that the two times that I've utilized respite care (once when my mom took Little Miss for a couple of days because I had the worst stomach virus in the history of stomach viruses, and again when the Angel Couple took Itty Bitty because I was in way over my head with two infants by myself) ended in me being completely rejuvinated and feeling as though 10,000 tons of stress had been lifted off my shoulders.  I do think I'd be more inclined to utilize respite care if I could convince a few more of my close family and friends to go through the training.  I don't want my kids to be scared in a new home with strangers, but one night every few months where I don't have to sleep with one ear open listening for a crying baby would be lovely.

6)  "Me" Time - Being a single parent is hard.  Add being a single foster parent to the mix and the stress levels can go through the roof!  If you're not careful, every hour of your day will be completely consumed by your children or foster care.  I've tried really hard to make it a priority to have just a little bit of "me" time every day.  I've mentioned before how I changed my work schedule to accommodate my cat.  But the change in schedule was also so I have about and hour or so of "me" time every day before I pick the baby up from daycare.  I have to admit, I felt guilty about leaving Monkey in daycare while I was off at first.  But I quickly realized that I'm no good to him if I'm completely stressed out and miserable, so I take that hour or so every day to relax, take a nap, watch a TV show uninterrupted, blog, shop, or whatever I feel like doing in that one kid-free, foster care-free hour of my day.  Believe me, it has made a world of difference!

But in all seriousness, I think the Number One thing that has helped me get through all of the stress and craziness that Foster/Adopt Land can bring has been in learning to "Let Go, and Let God."  It's an on-going process that I'm sure I will struggle with for the rest of my life, but I can honestly say that in the situations where I have given up fighting for control and trusted that God would take over, the stress has immediately washed away.  I may not always get the outcome that I wanted, but in the end, it's not my plan that matters.  And in those times where His plan diverges from mine, I know that He will hold me and help me through so I can be there for the next child who needs me.


Joie said...

The closer I get to possibly being a Foster Mama, the more I enjoy reading of other Foster Mama's!

Thank you for this!

Penelope said...

The "Me time" is so important! That's become my jogging time - and I'm actually beginning to enjoy the exercise. Strange, huh?

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