Fostering is a deeply rewarding experience, but like all parenting, it can be challenging. Given all the time, energy and love you put into being a foster parent, you might end up putting your own needs last. That can be a recipe for prolonged stress and even burnout — because as the saying goes, you can’t fill from an empty cup.
That’s why self-care is essential for anyone balancing parenthood with life’s other demands, and especially for foster parents. Self-care has been shown to lower stress and anxiety while increasing self-compassion (something we all could use a little more of!).
Check out these six self-care tips for foster parents.
1) Give yourself something to look forward to. What makes you happy? Coffee with a friend, a manicure-pedicure or a trip to the movies (complete with buttered popcorn)? Whatever reinvigorates you, plan regular activities that you can enjoy alone or with others. The anticipation may just help you get through a tough day or week.
2) Turn to your network. Chances are your family, friends and neighbors are willing to help you on your fostering journey. They just need concrete ideas for how they can lighten your load. So ask for what you need most, whether it’s running errands or coordinating a meal train.
The people closest to you can even babysit or provide overnight care for the children in your foster home. (In Texas this requires a background check and prior approval, so be sure to go through all the necessary steps.) This arrangement not only gives you an occasional much-needed break, it gives the child in your care a chance to build another positive adult relationship.
3) Join a support group. Few things are more powerful than connecting with others who have “been there.” Tapping into the collective experience of other foster parents can help build your confidence as you navigate this journey. In-person support groups are held throughout the state, and virtual/online options exist as well. Turn to your local Upbring Foster In Texas office for more information.
4) Commit to healthy habits. When you treat your body well, you feel better and are better prepared to cope with everyday stress. A healthy lifestyle includes all the basics: following a balanced diet, staying hydrated, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. This is good role-modeling for the whole family!
5) Make time for yourself every day. Time is often the biggest barrier to self-care, right? The good news is even a few minutes of “me” time can feel restorative. Take this time to reflect or meditate, or to simply distract yourself from your ongoing to-do list. It could be an early morning walk, journaling before bed or curling up with your favorite magazine or TV show.
6) Let go of guilt. As a caregiver, you may feel selfish spending time on yourself or asking for help. But no one should face this fostering journey alone, and you’re not letting anyone down by doing so. Think of self-care not as a luxury but as a way to tend to your basic human needs. It may help to share your self-care plans with others in your life so they can help you achieve it.
Make Self-Care an Everyday Habit
Routinely practice self-care, and you’ll bring your best self to your family, your work and all the things that matter to you. Remember too that most people struggle to find time for themselves, so perfection is not the goal here. Treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion you show others!
That said, caring for a child with a history of trauma or other special needs is emotionally and physically hard. Empathy is a vital part of helping others, but caring too much without proper self-care and healing can take its toll over time (known as secondary traumatic stress or compassion fatigue).
If you’re feeling symptoms of burnout such as irritability, apathy, loss of motivation or exhaustion, check in with your child’s caseworker as soon as possible so you can get the support you need. Your family’s wellbeing is important, and help is available.