It probably comes as no surprise that a recent study of foster parents reported increases in stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.1 Foster parenting already presents a complex set of challenges due to the trauma and neglect children have experienced in their families of origin. Many foster parents pour so much of their effort into providing a stable and loving home, that they forget to take time for themselves.
In February, a month when it is common to celebrate love for others, remember that it is vitally important for foster parents to be proactive in showing love for themselves through self-care.
Sadly, another recent study found that foster parents report only moderate engagement in self-care—and that self-care practices vary by gender, relationship status, health status, and financial status.2
If you recognize yourself in this description, you may be wondering how you can practice better self-care this year. Here are a series of tips to help you get started:
1. Self-Care is Self-Preservation!
Taking care of yourself first prepares you to take care of your family. There are a lot of idioms to address this such as “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” or “you need to put on your oxygen mask first.” They all essentially mean the same thing. If you always put yourself last, you will have nothing left to give.
2. Be Proactive
Self-care has several aspects including Physical, Psychological, Emotional, Spiritual, and Social. To address each of these fully, it is important to be proactive about self-care. Regularly schedule times for self-care activities each day to avoid burnout. Practicing consistent self-care builds a reserve of resiliency that you can draw on. This is more effective than trying to squeeze in some self-care after you are stressed out or in a crisis. Perhaps the first step is as simple as getting up a little early or taking a break at lunch time to have some uninterrupted time to yourself.
3. Learn to say, "No."
Many foster parents have an extremely giving nature. That makes it really hard to say “No” when asked to do something. A part of practicing good self-care is setting boundaries. It is important to be honest with others and yourself about what you can handle, then begin to turn down some opportunities. The more you set healthy boundaries, the more you'll find that people are respectful of your time. You are also likely to find that you are able to give better attention to the things that you decide to do if you are not overwhelmed.
4. Be intentional about doing things that give you energy, not drain it.
What gives one person a boost might be totally different from someone else. Make a list of things you enjoy or that give you satisfaction such as: reading a book you have been putting off, tackling a home improvement project, talking with a good friend, baking a new recipe, or getting outside in nature. The list is unique to you! When you need that energy boost, look at the list for inspiration and do an activity you enjoy. Taking even a few moments to practice tiny acts of self-care can change your whole outlook.
5. Don’t give up
It can take some time to develop a routine and rhythm of self-care. Stick with it. It is worth it! Schedule self-care times. If you miss a day, or even a week, then resolve to start again. Every little bit of time you spend on yourself is worth it, and its only human to have a setback.
1 Miller, J.J., Cooley, M.E. & Mihalec-Adkins, B.P. Examining the Impact of COVID-19 on Parental Stress: A Study of Foster Parents. Child Adolesc Soc Work J (2020).
2 Miller, J., Cooley, M., Owens, L., & Fletcher, J. (2019). Self-care practices among foster parents: An exploratory study. Children and Youth Services Review, 98, 206–212.
This article posting is part of the Foster Family News monthly newsletter designed to keep foster parents informed about all the new and notable happenings in Fairfax County.
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