Studies confirm that caregivers play host to a high level of compassion fatigue. Day in, day out, workers struggle to function in care giving environments that constantly present heart wrenching, emotional challenges. Affecting positive change in society, a mission so vital to those passionate about caring for others, is perceived as elusive, if not impossible. This painful reality, coupled with first-hand knowledge of society's flagrant disregard for the safety and well being of the feeble and frail, takes its toll on everyone from full time employees to part time volunteers. Eventually, negative attitudes prevail.I hit a brick wall on week two. I showed up at church last Sunday, saw that Daisy was still listed as a family member in the computer there, and just about lost my shit. I sat in the back of the auditorium and cried.
I was mad that I had already asked the staff at church to remove her twice and her name was still on our family list. I was triggered because I remember what it felt like to ask the church to remove Dude and Dolly after they left. And I was exhausted from caring for the three new ones that needed to be added.
I don't care how much I feel "called" to do this thing called foster care...it still drains me terrifically. It is no easy task to invite strangers into your home and have them wear out their welcome. I'm wiping the butts of children that I barely know. I'm tending to crying in the middle of the night because these strangers are confused, upset and miss their mommy and their other siblings. I feel physical pain when I try and process in my own mind the horrors my newest cherubs have seen and experienced.
When Daisy came there were things to "fix". Daisy needed to see all her specialists. She needed therapies and medications. I could physically do things to help her get better. The weight of her story was crippling to bear. But in some twisted way it was a little easier because Daisy's brain was so mixed up when she came, that she had no idea what was going on around her.
My new cherubs know. They know they aren't at home. They know everything is new and different. New foods. New rules. Bedtimes. Vegetables. Less TV. More books. Everything is different. I don't have anything tangible to fix.
Sometimes it feels like the weight of their story is three times as hard to bear. Not only are there three new cherubs in my home, but I can't "do" anything to help make them better. I can only love them and safely care for them.
It physically hurts.
When Tinkerbell is crying in the middle of the night because she is very obviously looking for someone...and that someone isn't there...I cry. I cry for all she has lost. We cry together in the dark.
When Pirate is crying mournfully for his mommy I want to badly to scream, "She is gone! She really f'd this whole thing up. She didn't keep you safe!!" Instead I have to validate him and hold him while he cries.
When Captain is turning the corners of his mouth down and his eyes get all glassy because something didn't go his way, I have to tell him it's OK to be mad. It's OK to be sad. I have to give him words for what he's feeling. I have to tell him it's OK to not want to be here.
All this pain is hard for me to handle. I can only imagine how my cherubs are feeling. But this post is about me. I'm writing this post to help other foster parents recognize what they're feeling. It's more than just physical pain and fatigue. It's deeper than that.
Because I can love on these kids. And I do love on these kids. And I'm glad they're here and they're safe.
But it takes a toll on me.
I'm tired. Physically tired from the increase in demands on me. I hurt. My chest hurts sometimes when I think about everything (literal physical pain). My mind gets foggy. I feel myself not wanting to interact with everyone. I long for solitude. I worry that I'm not giving enough attention to my forever kids and my husband.
Oh the worry.
All the professionals will tell you to "take care of yourself".
What exactly does that look like though?!
I mean really...I just added THREE young children to my family. That makes SIX kids total. Take care of myself?! How?! My shower lasts a whopping 5 minutes if I take a long one because these new cherubs wake up before the butt crack of dawn. I can't pee alone anymore without hearing my name half a dozen times hollered out by the 3yo. And bedtime can drag out forever because of crying cherubs. I wouldn't dream of using respite or babysitting yet because these cherubs need to attach to me and my core family. I can only go out alone when Mr. Amazing is home to watch the brood.
I'm trying though. These are some of the things I have been doing:
First and foremost I'm clinging to my "word of the year". Before these cherubs came, I chose the word enough for this year. It couldn't be more appropriate. I am enough. I am a good enough mom. I am a good enough wife. When I worry that dinner isn't nice enough because I don't have a fruit and a vegetable, I remind myself that we have enough food and the meal is enough. When I worry because I didn't get some paperwork filled out instantaneously, I remind myself that I have done enough and I'll get to the paperwork eventually. It's not a cop out. It's a valid reminder that I am enough and I am doing enough. If the baby wants to hold her own bottle and lie on the couch, that doesn't make me a bad mom if I don't try and force her to cuddle. I wear her. I interact with her all day long. I do enough.
Second, I'm trying really hard to eat healthy and get enough sleep. I've been crashing out (or at least going to my quiet, dark bedroom) early every single night. I put the little ones to bed. I spend some time with the bigger ones and put them to bed. Then I go retreat to my room by myself. I've stopped watching a few TV shows with my husband (and that's OK because I am a good enough wife) because relaxation and sleep are important too.
Like always, I'm relying on my personal "therapist", My Genius Sister. She's awesome! She'll give me a pep talk when necessary. She'll just listen when I need that. Or, when it's called for, she'll tell me to put on my big girl panties and just get over it. It always bums me out that she lives 1255 miles away. But she always answers her phone for me and for that I'm incredibly grateful.
My blog and FB page are also a form of therapy for me. I do enjoy immediate feedback when I post about my day or my kids. Just knowing I'm not alone in this journey is helpful.
I'm not candy-coating anything when it comes to dealing with social workers or my agency. If I think something is wrong, I'm not keeping it to myself. That too is almost a form of therapy. It feels good to just be blunt and honest with everyone.
And this past Sunday, when the emotions were overflowing and I felt like I was going to burst...I said something to my pastor. He took my number and had another staff member call me this week. Just spewing the burden of the cherubs' story to a safe person was a healthy release for me. She prayed with me and I've got a plan to set up a time to get together after visits start. (Lord knows visits aren't going to be easy and I'm going to need some extra support!)
I don't have the time or the money right now to go get a massage. I don't have a local friend I can drop everything and go out to lunch with. And my days are busy enough with homeschool and appointments that having someone just "pop in" to say hi to me might be too overwhelming. Self care can be as simple as making more eye contact. Preparing dinner at 2:00pm instead of 5:00pm. Playing my favorite music while I clean. Paying my kids extra to clean for me. Little things can make a difference.
I'm trying to do those little things so that the big stuff doesn't keep me down.
The heaviness of this case will eventually lighten to a manageable load. (Thank God!)
But in the meantime, I've got to take care of myself.
We foster parents carry the burden of our cherubs' stories. We smile and love on these kids during their darkest hours. It's not easy work. My faith is my rock. But that still doesn't keep me from feeling the compassion fatigue.
Take care of yourself. Recognize that this isn't easy and be easy on yourself.
Because in the end, foster care sucks. We're just here to make it just a little bit better.