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It was a very difficult, almost impossible, word for “The Fonz” to say on the classic TV show “Happy Days.”

Maybe, it is a very difficult, almost impossible, word for you to say at times.

The word “No” has been a difficult one for me as a foster parent whenever we got “the call” for a placement of another child.

Indeed, for my first 14 years as a foster parent, I felt guilt whenever we had to tell a case worker that we were unable to care for the child that needed a home, at that very moment.

I have no time

I have had to say no on a few occasions over the year, and would be saddled with guilt for a time afterwards. With the lack of foster homes in the area I live in, along with the increase in the number of children being placed into care, my wife and I have taken in child after child, signing waiver after waiver. A few years ago, we had 11 children in the house. Two years ago, we had 9. This time last year, we had 8 children. Yes, we were running on fumes; exhausted each day from the many emotional needs and challenges the children brought into our home and into our families. Make no mistake; we loved what we were doing, and we felt called to do so.

Yet, we were tired. We needed a break.

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Soon after this, a rather strange thing happened. Four of the children in our home went off to college. We had been caring for some older youth, all seniors in high school, who had nowhere else to stay, no one to care for them. It had been a rough 12 months, yet it had also been an adventurous one, as well. And then, within a matter of days, the four older ones in our home were off on their own adventure. While we still call them, visit them, and love them, they are starting exciting new chapters in their lives, and we shall continue to support them in so many ways. What I found, though, was an exciting adventure was about to start for my wife and I.

For the first time, in 15 years, we only had 4 children in the home; a biological son and three children we had adopted from foster care. We found the house much quieter, much more peaceful, and we embraced it. The past few weeks have been as if we were on vacation; as if we were on respite care. (I can only imagine that this what having an “empty nest” felt like.) It has been a time to re-charge those batteries, reconnect with each other, and reconnect with our children. It has been a time where we could find rest, for you see, we had reached a stage bordering on being burned out.

More importantly, it has reminded me that foster parents do indeed need rest from time to time. Indeed, foster parents DO need rest and a time of reprieve, every now and then.

The life of a foster parent is a difficult one. It is unlike any other life style. The outside world does not see the many challenges and struggles you may face on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. Your friends and family don’t truly understand or appreciate what you are going through. Others see the children coming in and out of your home on a regular basis, and most find it a wonderful thing you are doing, but also may find it a little odd or strange, and question why you do it.

You will often find yourself exhausted, both mentally and physically, and feel drained. There is very little money available to help you, and you may not be reimbursed for all the money you spend on your foster child. The job will require you to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no time off. You will probably feel overworked and under appreciated. You will work with children who are most likely coming from difficult and harmful environments. Some of these children will have health issues, some will come with behavioral issues, and some will struggle with learning disabilities. Many times, the children you work with will try your patience, and leave you with headaches, frustrations, disappointments, and even heartbreaks.

So, it is okay to say “No,” once in a while as a foster parent. It is okay for you to take time for yourself, your spouse, and your family. It is okay to re-charge those batteries. It’s okay to take some time off to grieve the loss of a child from foster care in your home, and in your life. As a foster parent, you NEED to take care of yourself. You NEED to ensure that you are watching out after yourself, finding the time you need for you, and the help you need to care for not only the children in your home, but for yourself and your family. If you do not, all that you do will suffer.