This week has been very busy; M has had a LAC (Looked After Children) review and a PEP (Personal Education Plan) meeting, Baby S a health assessment and routine supervision appointment with her social worker and although J hasn’t had any official appointments he has had lots of after-school activities and his annual sports day.
My parents who are both in their 80s, have each had a hospital appointment and my mum has needed me for a job she can’t manage on her own. It’s been difficult fitting in all the appointments, entertaining Baby S, attending sports day (with a baby), making sure M is up by midday, as well as fitting in hospital runs, laundry and sweeping up copious mounds of dog hair. Note to self: check the dog doesn’t moult before adopting him!
I also have my part time work and this week it’s all felt very much like a chore. At one point I had to take a step back and I treated myself to a coffee in a local cafe with baby S. I took 15 minutes to sit back in their comfy chairs to recharge my batteries and assess my priorities. The laundry could wait, watering the garden could wait and my writing deadlines were not yet looming. What was important is that the children are happy and my parents don’t feel abandoned.
I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful sister in law and my brother is not bad either! As our parents have aged our responsibility to them has increased and we have found our roles reversing; getting them to their appointments on time, ensuring they take their medication and that they have enough food at home. Like a lot of people with families, I have responsibilities to my parents as well as to the children in my care. I have realised I am slap bang in the middle: The sandwich generation.
Thank goodness, I am the master organiser! Just ask hubby. I live my life with a very robust and finely tuned diary, calendar and mobile backup and I have backups for my backups. After missing a crucial appointment for a foster child a while back, where I looked inefficient and irresponsible, I have never allowed myself to miss an appointment since. The experience still makes me shudder, hence the diary and backups. Every week is a busy week in our household; Hubby works full time but has dog responsibilities before and after work and I manage to give Luke, our lovely (but hairy!) Labrador, a walk during the day. But this week even Luke has felt like an added responsibility.
Self-care is essential and it’s not a touchy-feely phrase I use lightly. It’s about making sure my needs are met in order that I can provide the best care for everyone in my life. My parents are independent and I’m glad they are still able to live full active lives enjoying their own dog and hobbies, but as they grow older, the need for my brother and I to be in their lives is increasing. It is an extra responsibility but one I do gladly as I think of all the times they have been there for me and for the children in my care at the time. We even lived with them for several months while the house we were buying at the time years ago took longer to complete than anticipated. Whilst I love my parents it’s not an experience I wish to repeat!
With three foster children there is always a meeting, review, an assessment or appointment and that usually falls to me. I’m an expert juggler and whilst I was once fazed by having three appointments in the day I can now generally handle it as well as fit in a dog walk and possibly some shopping. I realise that this week is getting on top of me and I didn’t want to take it out on Luke or any of the kids. But I think hubby realised I was feeling the strain after another sleepless night with a Baby S.
So I booked myself in for a Zumba class which is a fantastic stress reliever for me and I get a chance to meet up with some friends. That definitely helped, it certainly helped my abdominal muscles anyway which need all the attention they can get.
Self-care is something that every foster carer needs to consider as a serious part of their lives. You cannot be effective, therapeutic or patient if you are tired and at the end of your tether. So, whether you do Zumba, have a coffee with friends, indulge in retail therapy, book yourself in for a spa day, or just do a little bit of relaxation with a magazine and a nice cup of tea, it’s essential that you realise that you are important and taking care of yourself is a necessary part of being a good foster carer.