“Fostering is a difficult job, one that leaves little time for rest, time with spouses, and time to recharge those inner batteries. For myself, there have been times in my life when it seems I had very little time alone with my wife, even spending five minutes alone talking about the events of the day, plans for the future, or challenges that some of the children in our home were facing. This alone can be exhausting, and can lead to burnout”
-Dr. John DeGarmo, The Dangers of Burnout.
“It can happen to anyone, at any time; that feeling that you just need a boost, mentally and/or physically. It is a feeling of frustration, exasperation, a feeling that everyone’s needs are prioritized before yours. It has a label, burnout. Burnout can affect anyone, of any age and profession, although it normally occurs more often to people in helping professions, such as nurses and social workers. It normally develops over a period of time. The risk of burnout in the helping professions and care giving roles increases when people are nurturing and anticipate the needs of others, have less support than they need, feel powerless, are workaholics, and are perfectionists” – First Home Care, Foster Parent Burnout
A current foster parent, Rebekah Goodwin Lynch, shares her insight and advice from firsthand experience. In her words, these are the best ways to avoid and overcome foster care burnout:
1) Focus on the moment. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with fear over where these children may end up in the future or anger over what they have faced in the past. However, if you worry about the past or the future, you will lose the opportunity to make a positive impact on the child in the present. Don’t let your mind wander too much. Rather, seek to make the child feel loved, secure, important, confident, and wanted. Those positive feelings and the memories associated with them will remain with the child even if you do not.
2) Get attached. Many will advise that you stay emotionally distant so as to “not get attached.” I tried that road, and with hindsight, I couldn’t disagree more. For now, at least, you are the parental influence on that child. Whether you adopt or act as a temporary parent, it is still important to love that child wholeheartedly and give her the security of being part of a loving family in a safe environment. Besides, if you are truly mothering a child, you will inevitably get attached even if you try not to.
3) Be thankful. I occasionally find myself feeling anger and frustration toward the birth family over the neglect that my foster children endured while under their care. During those times, I remind myself to be thankful that their mom chose life, even though she later chose to not brush their teeth (thus allowing them to rot by the age of two). It’s all about perspective, and I choose to bless their mother for carrying them and giving them a shot at life rather than aborting them. I also pray for their mother daily, which often helps prevent negative feelings.
4) Be patient with the child, as she is going through an emotional roller coaster. Be intuitive enough to see that the meltdown over something small may actually be tied to deeper emotional struggles. Sometimes, because of their unusual situations, foster children need disciplined differently. I’ve found that tantrums and meltdowns often indicate that my girls need a hug and words of reassurance more than they need a time-out (though they often need time-outs, too!).
5) Allow the children to express their emotions, but try to direct it in a healthy way rather than a destructive way. Don’t be afraid to weep with them when there is nothing else you can do (which is often the case in the early days).
6) Don’t take it personally. When a child expresses defensiveness over his or her prior home or that he or she doesn’t want you, don’t take it personally. They will get over it. Often, I think kids try to push foster parents away to see if they will leave them, too. These are prime moments to prove to them that you love them unconditionally, no matter what they say or do.
7) Get over caring what people think–especially random strangers in public who don’t know the background or the situation. This is very important. Do what is best for you and the child without regard to what others think about it.
8) Take some time for yourself. This may seem obvious, but it’s sometimes too easy to push your own needs aside. Leave the kids at home with your husband, put on some real pants, and go interact with adults for an evening. Your foster children will be much cuter when you get back home.
9) Know that sometimes, it’s okay to not be okay. Being a foster parent is draining in every way imaginable–emotionally, physically, mentally, and even spiritually. Let yourself express your emotions. If you need to hide on the basement stairs and have a draining cry, do so with no remorse. Everyone in your home will be better off if you are emotionally healthy and stable, which sometimes requires a good cry.
10) Remember that you matter. The world may be changed because you opened your heart and your home to a child in need. Never underestimate the power of selfless love.