Being a foster parent is incredibly rewarding, but it can take a toll on your mental health. You must provide a positive environment for trauma-informed recovery while facing the general challenges that come with parenting. If you feel burnt out, overwhelmed, or stressed, know that you are not alone. Here are some mental health tips for foster parents to help you through the hurdle.
Mental Health Considerations before You Become a Foster Parent
Foster parenting is not right for everyone. Before you embark on this journey, take these factors into consideration:
- Have you worked through your own trauma? Every child in foster care comes with some form of trauma, even if they have great parents at home. Being removed from one environment and thrust into another is a traumatic event, and many children have neglect/abandonment to deal with as well. If you have previous trauma that you have not worked through, you may not be equipped to help them handle theirs.
- Are you willing to be a stepping stone in children’s lives, not a savior? The goal of foster care is reunification. The system is designed to safely return children to their families when possible. You will be a safe space for the children in your home, but do not approach this with a “saving” mentality. You are an integral part of a support system, not a knight in shining armor.
- Can you handle extra stress based on your current lifestyle and mental load? If you are near a breaking point with your own mental health, you need to wait to bring fosters into your home.
- Is everyone in your household on board with this lifestyle change? Check-in with your spouse, your children, and other members of your family. Every person in your household will be affected by this change, and they should all have a say in what happens to their lives.
- Can you listen to a child’s story without casting judgment? You may hear horrific tales, but it’s important to remain neutral. You can support and care for them, but do not make assumptions about their parents. You do not know their side of the story, and you shouldn’t project your opinions onto your foster children.
Think carefully before becoming a foster parent. This is a wonderful path to take, but do not approach it lightly. Get your mental health in check so you can adequately address your foster children’s needs.
Join a Support Group for Foster Parents
One of the best ways to protect your mental health as a foster parent is to join a support group. You can speak to other people who directly relate to your experiences and consult with peers in your community. The Child Welfare Information Gateway offers a directory of foster support groups for each state. You may also find foster support groups through your local DHS office or social media groups.
Take Breaks between Foster Children to Reset Your Mental Health
Fostering is a revolving door of children in need. You may feel compelled to constantly have fosters in your home, but it’s important to take breaks periodically. As the saying goes, “you cannot pour from an empty cup.” You need time to replenish your mind and heal your soul so that you can take on the next set of challenges.
Use Respite Days to Take Care of Yourself
Foster homes have access to respite care. This provides a short-term foster break to give you temporary relief. Utilize these services when you feel overwhelmed, and provide them for others when you’re available. This is the true power of having a strong support system. You can rely on others, and they can rely on you in return.
Be Realistic about What You Can Handle and Commit to
Do not be afraid to say no when you have reached your limits. You want to help as much as possible, but you must think about your own needs first. If you need a multi-month break before taking in a new foster, take it. If you need to stop fostering altogether because you cannot mentally handle it anymore, that is OK. Your efforts are appreciated, no matter how big or small they may be.
Work with Your Therapist to Overcome Mental Health Hurdles
Just about everyone can benefit from therapy. Your time as a foster parent may unearth past traumas or trigger unexpected emotions. Work through these emotions with your therapist and find coping strategies to manage them in the future. CNLD Testing & Therapy offers mental health support for foster parents and children. Contact us at (734) 994-9466 to schedule an appointment.