I was upset last week when I saw a plea for in-home respite (overnight babysitting for foster families) from a Colorado foster mom.
I wasn’t mad at her. She’s been trying to arrange childcare for over a year, with family, through her agency, with friends. She'd just started a new full time job (her husband also works full time), and hadn't had more than two hours "off" in an entire year.
They’re fostering a little boy and adopted their teen daughter several years ago. Parenting a kid without special needs is hard enough, and I’m the most ardent advocate I know for ALL parents finding regular time to rest. When you add traumatized behaviors, driving 25 miles in rush hour for special therapy appointments, a new job, and unknown futures into parenthood? It’s no wonder they needed time off in order to stay mentally and emotionally present to help their kids heal.
For any mom or dad, its vital to have people on hand to “expand your capacity to be a great parent,” as Colorado parent coach, Mark Vatsaas, says.
When these parents told a family member about their exhaustion and desire to get an overnight breather, they heard, "Well, this is what you signed up for.”
So I was upset when these fellow foster parents said they hadn't found “their village” in a year. In a system so massive, they couldn’t find one person who could team up with them, and stay overnight at their home with two children, allowing them to keep building a home where kids are safe and healing.
I happened to see their post and wondered if I could make something work.
After 45 minutes of logistical planning, I'd arranged with a friend (who has a background check and CPR certification for work) to split the respite responsibilities with me. She’d take Thursday and Friday after school, I’d take Saturday.
It was maddeningly easy to make arrangements. It was unnecessary for the parents to get to the point of burnout. Pushing through burnout without quitting on your kids is noble and honorable, and exhausting.
And my friend and I are giving them a break on a weekend that we'd otherwise be . . . what? cleaning our houses and watching Netflix? I’m catching up on my computer while my son sits across from me, making a treasure map with the little boy. I chatted with their daughter about how she wants to be a lawyer for abused and neglected kids. We made brownies and watched movies. We fed the dogs. I gave the kids their medications. We walked to a garage sale and blew $3 on new-to-them toys. Easy. Not a bad way to spend a weekend. My son doesn't want to go home.
It feels good to spend my weekend fueling these parents with emotional presence and peace for another few months.
If we don't connect with families and sincerely mean the words, "I want to help you build this family. May I please _____?" we are missing out on the richness of life.
Scarcity mentality is a weakness of foster care. Phrases like "the system is broken" or “respite is hard to find” roll around too easily, overpowering imaginative solutions. The status quo and the overwhelm blinds us to human, neighborly problem-solving.
People are really good at figuring out solutions. I'm not a social worker. I don't have a Master's Degree. But I can see a need and rally up a couple of people to help me meet it. I can think of a work-around to suggest when the first answer is "no," or a waitlist, or a lack of funding.
People like to help. They just have to break through the wall of “I wouldn’t know where to start.” (And helping people get started is a goal of Foster Together Colorado.)
When my new friends came home, they thanked me for the photos I texted over the weekend. I later received this message: “He not only handled us being gone, he loved being with you guys. He misses M [my son]. I couldn’t have asked for him to handle it better. It would have wrecked my time with my husband if it was at the expense of him feeling secure.”
Yes, it was our pleasure, a gift to us, to spend our weekend expanding their capacity to help children heal.
I'm glad I saw that upsetting Facebook post. I'm relieved I didn't miss out.
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