Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be a part of a panel discussion at our foster care agency for a group of prospective foster and foster-adopt families who are working on their pre-certification training. I love doing this kind of thing because I have such clear memories of when Mr. Bean and I were doing our trainings, and hearing the foster/foster-adopt families who would come in to speak about their experiences. I loved hearing their stories! For me, it felt like meeting celebrities or superheroes. I was starstruck! Their real life journeys were always a little crazy … so much so that its hard to believe at times. Every single one. And now, years later, we are on the other side, with our own crazy stories to tell. So it was surreal to relive memories of our journey and relay those to the new trainees. Speaking yesterday left me with lots to think about for our journey ahead, and how I would like it to be different (and better) the next time around.
When Mr. Bean and I began our foster care journey, we did so with not much more than a little bit of information, a few trips to Target, and a lot of heart. (You can read about our first foster placement, “Mancub,” here.) For better or for worse, Mr. Bean and I are both “givers,” and so give we did. During the first 60 days of Mancub’s placement with us, our agency social worker would come out to our home once a week to check in. As per procedure, she would inquire about Mancub’s progress, set an action plan for us to further help and support him, check to make sure that our home was still clean, safe and up to the county’s standards, and always finish out by asking how Mr. Bean and I were doing, and what we were doing to take care of ourselves.
At the time, that question seemed odd to me. What were WE doing to take care of ourselves?? I thought that the point of her visit was to talk about the child, and make sure we were taking care of HIM. Right? So, why are we talking about Mr. Bean and I (who are “just the foster parents”). For the first few weeks, I don’t think I had much of an answer for her, other than, “we’re doing great!” I was stoic and trying to be strong. But as time wore on, the sleepless nights stacked up. Court dates were set, and then “continued.” (In layman’s terms, a continuance is when nothing happens in court. For foster parents, continuance is excruciating because it means that there has been no forward motion of your child’s case in either direction, and the state of limbo continues for all of you.) And then we experienced the realities of visits that Mancub had with his birth family, and how even though he seemed to be getting so comfortably settled in at our home, he would still come back from those visits hitting and kicking us and telling us to “go away.” Its a lot. Physically and emotionally. And so eventually, I began to understand why our social worker ended her visits with questions about how we were doing.
I would love to say that her question caused me to pause and think about self-care, and then immediately make some changes. But I am hard-wired to press on, work harder, and make things happen … sometimes to the detriment of my own emotional homeostasis. (I’m working on it!) Which is why last February, after two years, three foster placements and one finalized adoption, I finally had a chance to come up for a breath and evaluate how I was REALLY doing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a pretty picture. To be honest, I think I hit a wall! And it takes a lot for me to get to that point! I was stressed out. I was sleeping poorly, and often waking in the middle of the night to worry about things that I could not control. I was SORELY missing a regular exercise routine in my life, which is one of my primary ways of relieving stress. And I had gained so much weight that I only fit into a few of my outfits, which further added to my stress levels and mood. It was time for a change.
I have certainly not arrived in this area, but after almost a year of working on this, I’m happy to report that I’m feeling MUCH better. Its a process. My hope is that long after this month, this year, the next foster placement, and so on, … I’ll be able to maintain more consistent level of emotional homeostasis by prioritizing taking care of myself when things are going haywire in my life. So today I’m sharing the three big rocks of my self-care plan in hopes that they may help you also.
- SAYING NO when appropriate by setting a healthy boundary. A healthy boundary is an invisible fence you put up that keeps unhealthy things out of your life, while still being fluid enough to allow good and healthy things in. This one has been huge for me. Demands will come. People will ask for things. Some people will ask for a LOT of things. And you will continue get in your life whatever you allow. Let that one sink in. If, like me, you are a people-pleaser by nature, this will be hard for you, and you may even feel “guilty.” That’s OK. You may have to get used to that. Some people may even be annoyed with you if you have always said yes just to keep the peace. Roll with it and allow that tension to remain without acting on it, or “resolving” the tension by reverting to yes when it is unhealthy to do so. As you exercise this “no” muscle, it will get stronger.
- FIND WHAT PUTS ENERGY BACK INTO YOU and make a point of doing that for at least a few minutes. Every. Day. For me, that is exercise. In fact, during our pre-marital Prepare/Enrich assessment, this even came up! I very clearly remember our pastor telling me, “As a woman of God, this is something you need to be mindful of.” Oh, how I wish that I would have remembered this a few years ago, when we were in the trenches of foster care! I feel certain that I would have been more resilient in the day-to-day struggles! But I can’t go back and neither can you. We are here now, and its time to move forward. Your me-time may be a hobby. Or it may be a spa day. Or getting your nose in a book or having a glass of wine with a friend. Do it. When you borrow from your personal reserves, you pay back double. Its not worth it.
- Finally, CONSIDER HOW YOUR DIET IS PLAYING A PART. This is different for everyone. Personally, I’ve made some significant changes by completing two rounds of a Whole30 program. You can read about that here and here and here. You may not need to do something quite so drastic. However, I firmly believe that what we choose to fuel our bodies with plays a significant role in not only in our health and weight, but also in our sense of emotional well-being, anxiety level, mental clarity, and the strength of our immune system. You would not fill your car with sub-par fuel or cheap substitutes FOR fuel and expect it to perform adequately, yet many of us do this to our bodies on a regular basis and then wonder why we feel like crap all the time. I’m just saying … examine this area of your life with an open mind. You may be shocked at what you discover.
Well, … I guess I moved from blogging to meddling a bit with this post, but it is something that I’m passionate about. Doing life WELL is a marathon, not a sprint, and if you want to be able to roll with the punches of whatever comes your way (whether you are a foster parent or not!), you need to be able to take care of yourself. Because when you take care of yourself, you are able to give the best of yourself to the people you love, and work for, and come in contact with every day! It is not selfish. And it IS worth it.
So, tell me … have you ever experienced something like I have? A time when you needed to pause to remember to take care of you? Or maybe there has been a time when you neglected to, and paid the price? The future is unwritten and the great news is that you can turn it around right now. You don’t even need to wait for a new week or a new year to do it.
Peace and blessings to you all on your journey!