This year has been without a doubt, the most challenging period of my life. We (my husband and I) went from no kids, to a sweet 4yo boy and a 9yo girl. We were both working full time and I was finishing up school. We became instant parents who had WAY to much on their plates. It felt impossible. We were not planning on taking any long term placements until my work contract was done (late June) but, as many of you know, once the placement desk starts calling, it can be incredibly hard to say no.
Our little guy was staying in a motel with a social worker before coming to us. They couldn't find a long term placement. Before the motel, he was jumping around to a new foster home every few days. Our foster daughter's story was pretty similar. They came to us needing our full attention. They needed validation that they were loved and that they had worth. They needed stability. We jumped into fostering feet first and committed everything we had to these kids.
At first it was fine. We were tired but this is what we signed up for. That saying, "If you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen." was kind of how we were feeling. The days were long with waking up at 5am, getting home around 4:30, playing with the kids, doing homework, dinner, baths, bedtimes and cleanup. The weekends were spent bonding with our little ones and playing catch up on housework.
Date nights diminished. Sometimes my husband and I would speak a total of 20 words to each other in a day. Everything revolved around the kids. I didn't want to get respite after knowing how often these kids moved around. I rarely saw my friends. They would sometimes come by to check in and would say something along the lines of "I'm sorry, but you look awful. You look SO tired." The few times I did get out, I just felt this huge amount of guilt for being away from home.
As the months went on, I fell into really unhealthy self care practices. I completely gave up running or exercise of any kind. I started stress eating at night to try to unwind and ended up putting on 15 pounds. I even started smoking the occasional evening cigarette (ew.) It's just amazing how when you're taking care of these kids, it's so easy to just completely put yourself on the back burner. It was common for me to spend an hour bathing our little guy, meticulously combing out his afro, trimming his nails, making sure every inch of his body was lathered in cocoa butter-meanwhile I hadn't washed my own hair in 4 days.
After 5 months of being in our home, our kids were doing amazing. Our little guy is now developmentally on track verbally, is now potty trained, and may just be the happiest kid in the entire world. Our little lady has been reading up a storm, is loving her gymnastics class, and has made it very clear to us that she loves being in our family.
As great as the kids were, my husband and I were not. I felt tired all the time, feeling groggy and just all around anxious. I missed my friends, I missed how capable my body used to be, and I really missed my marriage. It was confusing, because while I was having all these negative feelings, I was also experiencing the most intense feelings of love and appreciation for my kids. I felt fulfilled in a way I didn't know was possible. I was so thankful to have them in our lives, but at the same time I was just so, so burnt out.
I realized that we needed to make some major changes.
I quit my job so I can stay at home with my kids for the next year or two. I'm cutting back on school to just one online class a quarter. We splurge on a house keeper. My husband and I now have weekly date nights. I signed up for another half marathon for later on this year. With not working, I now have the time to meal prep and eat better. I'm making a way bigger effort to be a better friend. We decided that if we want to continue to foster for the long haul (without getting burned out) we need to take actual time for ourselves. We found respite and are taking two trips later this year.
Self Care is so critical to being a good mom. You need to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. It's easy to think that our commitment to these kids may be measured by our willingness to sacrifice our own self care. It's been challenging for me to intentionally give myself "me time" everyday. There's always something to be done, someone to take care of. But I realize I'm a way better mom when I spend a little time on myself. I engage with my kids more, I feel better. I have so much more patience and can be the mom that these kids truly deserve. It's not easy, but so, so necessary.
Be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace. We're doing something that can be really, really hard- but it's also tremendously important.