Kris’ Corner: The Importance of Self-care

by Andra Martinez

I want to talk to you this week about self-care. And no eye-rolling because I’m certain many of you think you don’t need it. But trust me: you do (or you will)…I know about that of which I speak.

Self-care was not something I ever really held in high regard or thought was important for myself specifically…until I became a foster parent. And if I am being completely honest, I was a few years into the journey before I realized the importance. So I am hopeful that my words can spare all of you some of the burden which lack of self-care brings about.

True confession: I thought I could just keep going and push through it all…and that my fatigue and stress and anxiety were just issues that I could deal with through a different supplement or getting more sleep (ha!) Or changing my diet…things like that. Granted, those things helped and they ARE self-care in a way, but were not the ultimate answer.

The self-care I’m talking about is removing yourself from the situation or the child/children. Even if it is only for 5 or 10 minutes. Some people call it “putting yourself in time out”…so that’s one minute for every year old I am, right?

Bottom line: it is whatever you need to do to refresh or recharge…I highly encourage you to do that.

This doesn’t always mean 5-10 minutes…it can be longer for sure. It might mean (*dare to dream!*) even leaving the house by yourself or going on a date with your partner.

If you don’t do it now, or don’t see a need for it now, I still encourage you to try it out. I (now, but didn’t used to) make myself get to the gym five days a week. Most of the time I go by myself. And most of the time it’s only for 30 minutes, because this is what has ended up working best for me and my schedule. More than likely, you’ll have an entirely different scenario.

I realize most people don’t have the luxury of always having someone who can hang out with your child while you get a little self-care time in, but it is still something that I think everyone should make a priority. At the risk of stating the obvious, it might mean that you have to get up early or go in the evening. Maybe you take turns with another foster parent, watching the kids while you each get a little self-care. Whenever and whatever fits best into your lifestyle…do it!

Now the other thing I’m going to encourage, and this will sound completely insane to people who are currently fostering: go away for a weekend. Go on a retreat. Connect with people who understand what you’re experiencing like no one else does. Sure, you might know one or two, or even a handful of, other foster parents in your community and maybe you have even built up a nice support system.

But there’s seriously nothing like the experience of being surrounded by other foster parents for a whole weekend. Now, I know it’s hard…extremely hard…to find childcare/respite for kids who come from hard places. They often have needs, issues, and behaviors which many people do not understand and cannot always manage. But that’s the beauty of respite, because other foster parents “get it.” So don’t be afraid to ask them!

That said, I encourage you to, even now before you might be licensed, or before you even have a placement, try to seek out someone (or someones…it’s always best to have options!) in your life you can use for childcare.

So here’s the reason for my desire to share with you about self-care: I have been licensed for about 8 years and just a couple weeks ago, I went on a retreat for foster and adoptive moms. I’ve never done anything like that before. I have, on occasion, been on retreats, but not one for a specific slice of the population. And it was amazing.

I have never felt more heard, or seen, or understood than during the 48 hours I spent with these other moms who are in the trenches with me. It was a great time to be encouraged, but also to learn and expand my “toolbox” for parenting trauma. I came back recharged, refreshed, refilled and ready to jump back in to this seemingly upside down world of foster care and adoption.

One additional thing you might be thinking: “But Kris, you couldn’t possibly understand…how can I leave my partner and kids at home for a couple days without me? How could my partner stay at home with all the kids without ME? I’m the main caretaker, I know them better than he does, what might happen? What if things totally go off the rails? If I’m not there, and things fall apart, what will happen?”

Well, as I said, there is a reason I just now went on said retreat after 8 years of being a foster and/or adoptive mom…it’s because I was feeling all the same anxiety as you. So I was voicing this concern to a friend prior to going on the retreat, and she said, “Well I have something you need to hear…you’re just not that important.”

And at first I felt a little hurt, because who knows my child better than I do? I know every single little nuance of word, attitude, behavior…all the things. My husband is gone all day every day…how could he survive if I’m not there? I AM important to that child!

But as I thought about, I realized that it is true. She did not intend it in a harsh or mean way. Just as a reminder that I’m not the ONLY one that knows how to parent trauma. My husband has been right there with me the whole time, and he really is paying attention, but often he will let me take the lead in situations, because I AM the primary care giver. But that does not diminish his capabilities…only his opportunities.

So I gave him the chance to do this parenting special needs gig solo for four.whole.days.

And guess what? They had a fantastic weekend without me. Behavior was great. Meals were eaten. Lots of fun was had. Bedtime was much later than usual. But nobody died. Nothing bad happened. The house was even clean.

So all that to say, even when you feel like you can’t find time for self-care because things might crumble without you…that’s really not the truth.

Sincerely,

Kris