You can read all kinds of stuff about what to do when you get a new foster placement. But, I've never read anything about respite. And, well...respite is different.
I'm still working out the kinks. Each respite placement is going to be different. But these are the things I've been thinking about this weekend. (We've got two extra kids – 13yo and 7yo sisters for the weekend.)
The first thing I do is give a tour of the house. Then, I make sure the kids aren't hungry. I'll go over a few things like making sure they know they'll get food any time they want – I just need them to ask me first so I can let them know what's available. I also show them where the glasses are in case they're thirsty.
But that's about it. I don't think it's necessary to start going over house rules and all that. These kids are already in "the system". Granted, everyone's house is different. But so many of our little family rules (like asking to be excused when at the table) don't have to apply to guests. And really, these respite kids are just guests.
I am speaking about short term respite of course – not several weeks or months.
It's been a good weekend so far. The girls came last night at about 7:15PM, there wasn't too much to last night. As for today, I decided to leave the TV in their room. (We've got an extra TV that I keep in the guest room for when my parents come to stay.) We've got toys coming out our ears in this house. So the littler one has had a ball exploring and playing with Bart. But the 13yo girl? I figured it wouldn't kill her if she was allowed to watch TV all day. I feel bad for her. She's 13. I know when I was that age I spent all my free time with my friends. So, not only is she now dealing with the daily trauma of being in foster care. But for reasons that probably don't make sense to her, she had to go stay with a different family for a weekend. She's got no friends here. She has no electronic "toys" to occupy her time. Some extra TV won't hurt her.
Doing respite care really stretches me. I find myself deciding regularly if correcting a "rule" is really necessary. It's not that I want to let things slide all over the place. But I do realize that life is a lot easier if I loosen up. It's not a big deal if they don't ask whether or not they can have chocolate milk when they're getting themselves something to drink. (Typically chocolate milk is a treat – not an every day thing in our house.) I'll even let them stir it themselves. If they eat cereal for breakfast and supper, that's OK too. (I can try, but I just don't cook like anyone else down here.) The girls that are staying right now had never had stir-fry before. I had planned spaghetti for the menu thinking that was safe but one of them doesn't like anything in tomato sauce so I decided to improvise with pantry staples. I asked if they liked Chinese and was told that they'd try it. Unfortunately, the little one freaked out at suppertime. And yes, our food rules state that PB&J is the alternative. But really – what difference does it make in such a short term situation. So, I told her that if she was living in my house all the time I would really want her to take a bite. But it was OK for her to get a bowl of cereal instead.
Honestly, the hardest part about doing respite care is reminding my own three that the normal rules haven't changed! I swear, they have taken every opportunity today to test my patience. We have had many, many conversations about how they are to model the rules for our guests because it makes it easier for everyone that way. It's been stupid, common sense stuff too. Bart was climbing the fence in the back yard. Bart was running all over the house with the play dough. Bart was interrupting and screaming and yelling and carrying on all day.
Oh wait...I haven't been reminding all three of mine all day. It's just been Bart. Over. And over. And over.
But, on the flip side, he's had a lot of fun playing with our guest. And despite the fact that she's so shy she barely talk at all, she's had a lot of fun playing too. The two of them were giggling so much while playing zombie that I couldn't help but laugh myself.
I like doing respite. I know that the one thing foster parents need more than anything else in the world is support. And sometimes that means they need respite. It's helpful for me to do things like this so I can meet other foster families too. I may need a babysitter or respite sometime myself.
And I'll keep praying that my own kids can learn to roll with the punches just a bit better. That Bart (and Herman) won't have to show off so bad every time. That TT won't let his anxiety get the better of him. It'll get easier with practice. Right???