Military veterans often come back home after their tour of duty with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). This is a disorder that can have lifelong effects and stems from the result of witnessing or being in a terrifying event. You, as a foster parent, can also experience trauma. It is a given that our foster children have experienced trauma such as abuse, neglect, or abandonment, but have you considered that you—as a foster parent—are also experiencing trauma? Or secondary trauma? Here are some questions you need to ask yourself while handling difficult situations in foster care: Do I get flashbacks to my own difficult childhood? Does a word or action trigger an uncharacteristic response in myself? Do I have restless/sleeping nights? Here’s how to manage trauma within yourself:

Come to terms with your past

I hated being bullied as a kid. My first day of school in first grade, I had “an incident” in the school parking lot. I avoided being pummeled by the school bully by swinging my bookbag around my head like a helicopter. Oddly, he never bothered me again. But other bullies at different times would rear their ugly heads. My dad eventually enrolled me in a martial arts class where I could learn to defend myself, but part of my motivation to foster is that innate need to defend the defenseless, to protect the weak, to care for those who cannot care for themselves.

I also grew up in an alcoholic home and witnessed things that no child should ever have to witness. In some ways, I can identify with foster children who grow up with alcohol or substance abuse. But I do not allow my past to dictate my future. What trauma have you experienced in the past? Will it impede your ability to care for a child or motivate to help a child to excel?

Get counseling

I’ve heard stories of foster parents being threatened by their foster kids. I’ve heard horror stories of biological children being sexually abused by foster children. I heard stories of foster kids harming the family pets. I‘ve heard stories about intense conflict between biological parents and foster parents. These are very traumatic events that can affect not only other children in the home, but also the foster parents themselves. My suggestion is to get counseling for you and your children. Talk through some of the issues. Some states may even provide counseling at no cost if the issues are related to the case. Take advantage of it.

Take time for yourself

When preparing to depart on an airplane, the flight attendant goes through the directions on how to apply your oxygen mask before you apply your child’s mask. Why? Because you cannot help your child if you can’t breathe yourself! It’s not selfish to take time for yourself. Your car cannot run on empty. Your home cannot run without electricity. You cannot give to a foster child if you have nothing to give. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Take advantage of respite. Take a few weeks off between placements. Self-care is vital if you have had a traumatic case. Don’t be a martyr! Do what you need to care for yourself.

Foster parenting is not for the weakhearted. It sometimes feels like war. Recognize the signs of trauma and hit it head-on. Be proactive and do not procrastinate. If you have to make changes, do so. There’s a foster child that needs 100% of you.