Foster Care Institute Dr. John DeGarmo
There have been those times when some of the children living with my family have been disrespectful to me, have called me every name in the book, and have been downright mean spirited towards my wife and me. Does my blood pressure rise, as a result? Yes, sometimes it does, and at times it is difficult on all of us. To be sure, when a child calls you names, pushes your buttons, disobeys you, and treats you poorly, it is difficult not to take it personally. You may become angry; that’s normal.
Yet, as a foster parent, it is important for all of us to remember that the child is most likely not attacking you personally. Children in foster care are often scared, often afraid, often hurting, and often in emotional pain. For so many children, they simply do not know how to process the many feelings and emotions that engulf and enwrap them. They are unsure how to appropriately release these pent up feelings, emotions, and anxieties, and simply lash out instead. Lash out at you. Lash out at me. My friend, that’s okay. You and I are simply the recipient of the pain and trauma that they suffer from. It is important for us not to take it as a personal attack. So, how do we do that? How do we prevent this from leading to burn out?
First, we need to remember that it isn’t really about us. The child has been abused, neglected, abandoned. There is a reason why the child living in your home has been placed into foster care. He is hurting. It’s not about us. It’s about the child, and his pain. Even when he is yelling at you, “I hate you!” and slamming the door. His anger and emotion may be directed at you, but it’s not truly about you. Instead, his anger and pain comes from someplace else.
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When your buttons are being pushed, it is important to remember that you are the mature one, you are the adult, you are the parental figure. Resist yelling back, don’t give in to the temptation to respond in anger, no name calling from you. Try to not respond emotionally. Instead, focus on the child’s behavior and not his emotion. Respond to why he is feeling this way, not to the words he may be yelling at you.
I have said it over and over again; no one truly understands a foster parent like another foster parent. That’s why it is important to surround yourself with a support group of fellow foster parents, especially when you are feeling burned out. There are a number of foster parent support groups and associations across the nation. A few of these organizations may be national ones, while many others are, comprised of foster parent, like you. Either way, you will benefit by being in a support organization, as they will provide you with not only support, but information, fellowship, and important insight that will help you be a better foster parent.
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I know of some people that become so engrossed in being a parent and taking care of children that their own personal identity disappears over time. Don’t neglect who you are and what makes you special. After all, your spouse fell in love with you for who you are! When foster parenting becomes too stressful, you, your family, and your foster child will all feel the effects. Thus, one of the most important reminders for you, as a foster parent, is the fact that you need to take care of yourself, physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you neglect yourself, your family will suffer as a result. Finding time for you will not be easy, but it is very essential. Make time to do something you enjoy, and that you find relaxing. Spend time with some friends, perhaps over lunch or dinner. Do not neglect your own personal health; make sure you get plenty of exercise regularly and eat healthy. If you take time for yourself, you will help to ensure your well-being, as you care for others in your own home.