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Published on: 2016-02-03 10:15:00
This week has been a difficult one in our household. J, one of my younger foster children has been having trouble at school with both authority and other students, M, my fostered young person, has been having GCSE assessments, contact is looming for J which upsets him for days afterwards, Hubby has had a tough week at work and my stress levels have been through the roof.
Late at night when I’m lying in bed with my heart still racing after M has slammed her bedroom door… again after I dared to suggest that her screen time was up, I’ve questioned why we foster, that I need respite, that I should stop drinking coffee and that living alone on a deserted island is the way forward!
Stress and being a foster carer are closely linked. Your Looked After Child will often be dealing with internal demons, even after they are settled with you without adding family contact which will usually come with its own special bag of stress, even if it goes smoothly. When I know contact is approaching, particularly for J, my stress levels build gradually as the date approaches so I can only assume this is doubled or tripled for him. A week before we are due to meet with his birth mum or dad his behaviour deteriorates and whilst I know the reason, I can feel myself getting agitated and stressed.
Then add in your own birth children, relationships, work, baskets full of laundry and life in general. After gripping the steering wheel so hard I left marks as M was arguing that all her friends were going to the party on Friday night, I knew I needed to stop and assess before my stress got the better of me.
Other stressful factors for foster carers include working with children with learning disorders or emotional trauma, dealing with a variety of professionals often coming to your home, who can offer advice but also add to your stress and the unique strain of saying goodbye to a fostered child if they move on, return to their family or are adopted.
A physically or emotionally exhausted foster carer is not going to provide the best care to Looked After Children or your own birth children and if you foster as a couple, it can put a tension on your relationship. But most of all, your own personal wellbeing is important for your own sanity and health as stress does horrible things to your body and mind.
You’ll know what works best for you even if it’s just a cup of coffee with friends but for me the key things are:
Having a break does not mean your weak; it means you are human and it will make a huge difference to your own mental health. As a foster carer, you have to put yourself first as you are one of the most important people in your children and foster children’s life and if you don’t function effectively, they won’t be able to. I am a great believer in the power of coffee… and cake!