It will surely come as no surprise that when you become a foster parent, your time ends up being split even more than ever. And so, you have to be careful in guarding your own time and the time of your family; to assist with that, you’ll need to set (or learn to set) healthy, realistic boundaries.
The foster parents I spoke to had a few things to say on this topic. Three of them did, in fact. So even though I often only quote one parent per topic, this time I have quoted three, as their points are valid and they speak from positions of experience:
“Make sure that your ‘No’ means no when it comes to your schedule and visit times. Advocate for your family time and protect it! No one in ‘the system’ will come in to put your family back together so you have to make your family a priority.”
“It’s okay to advocate for your own family’s schedule and needs…. it’s okay to say that something will not work or you need a different time.”
“I wish I’d known about the flexibility you need with your schedule…I wasn’t prepared to have so many people in and out of my home…and many of whom (especially with our first couple cases) didn’t seem to have much respect for our time or schedule.”
All that said, the point of these quotes is this: Make sure you give priority to your own family when you can. And we will all freely admit: It’s really hard to find that balance, especially at the beginning of a placement; but you do have to advocate for yourself on some level.
Now you might be asking yourself: why are these families making such a big deal about priorities? Aren’t we just trying to help the children? Why do we have to make our family a priority?
Well, unfortunately, there seemingly is often little to no priority of your family, on the part of DCS, visit supervisors, transporters or anyone else. Understandably, priority is given to the biological parents, and the kids and their care, which makes sense. They are the responsibility of DCS (and subsequently that of the contractors: visit supervisors, therapists, transporters, etc).
And, of course, the foster kids are your responsibility (as foster parents) as well…but so is your own family and that is OK. I don’t know exactly why this is, but sometimes the social workers involved in the case will make you feel like it’s not OK to prioritize your family, but it is.
I’m giving you permission to prioritize your family, just in case you needed someone to say that.
Now…not always TOP priority…but at least allow your own family to make the LIST of priorities. That’s not to say you should be difficult or hard-nosed when the visit supervisor tries to make a change to the schedule, or if DCS wants to add visits or something else. If you can step back and mentally assess whether or not what they’re asking is a big deal, you might realize that it’s not a problem to accommodate it. And every once in a while, the change actually improves the schedule for the foster home as well.
Over time and with experience, you’ll learn to choose your battles and know when to say no, when to roll with it, and when to give grace. Sometimes it’s really not convenient to have an extra visit scheduled in, or a visit time changed…but when it’s something like Mother’s Day, or Christmas, I encourage you to try to remember it’s not just about you. And when possible, bend.
When you get into foster care, you have to understand that everyone involved (you, the child, the biological parents, DCS, and everyone else) is probably going go to have to “bend”; rarely will anyone get things exactly as they’d like. And admittedly, the foster parents will often have to bend the most. But that does not mean you can’t stand up for yourself. You might not (probably won’t) get all of what you’re asking, but you should not allow yourself to be a doormat of sorts. You can stand your ground on certain things, especially when it comes to maintaining a healthy family.