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How do you do it?

Cherub Mama recently posted about juggling a crazy schedule when both foster parents are working after a reader posed the question to her. I was honored to be included in a list of bloggers to check out.

The reader asked "Can it be done?" The simplest answer is yes. Yes, it can be done. It is done every day.  But I think what she was really getting at was how can it be done? How with a full work schedule and all the responsibilities of adulthood and the responsibilities of a relationship could we fit in children, doctors, caseworkers, licensing workers, family visits, sibling visits, school, etc. Its a great question and one I get asked constantly. (I'm not going to touch on therapeutic needs or disability in this post.  That's another piece of the puzzle left for a different day.)

I get asked the question "How do you do it?" every time someone finds out I'm a foster parent. Then I get the shock when they find out both Hubby and I work full time (and lately more than full time) while parenting 4 older foster children.  The kids are currently in grades 7th, 5th , 3rd  and kindergarten. This would be hectic enough if the kids were not in care.  But they are and so that makes our lives 100 times more hectic and complicated. 

The first thing I had to learn when we took this on, was that I needed to give myself a break. The idea that I would be the perfect mother with a gourmet meal on the table and kids who were impeccably dressed with darling hair and a floor you could eat off of had to go right out the window. 

Then I had to get organized. I am still no where near where I need to be as evidenced by the nearly missed field trip to the state capital last week, the storage boxes of holiday decorations sitting next to me and the fact that my Mom spent the last week re-arranging my stuff. I devour the tips in the magazines each month on "organizing and decluttering  your life".  With 4 kids, 2 adults and a 60lbs dog in a 2 bedroom loft townhouse there aren't enough tips for us!

We have cubbies by the door with a spot for shoes and a spot for backpacks.  We have a coat rack labeled with everyone's names. We have a rack for keys. We  have a central calendar on our garage door where I keep notes about school information and the kids keep their "bonus bucks" that they earn. When the kids first moved in we color coded them. Each picked their favorite color and that was what I used to determine who's toothbrush, towel, washcloth, etc was not where it was supposed to me.  Now that they are a bit older and have lived with us for so long this isn't as necessary but it avoided a lot of confusion in the beginning.  (It also gave them a sense of "this is mine" which I believe helped them heal and bond.)

My life is in my planner which is called a Momagenda.  I looked and looked and looked for a planner that could fit all of our stuff and this one does. It has a spot for each child and for dinner.  It also shows the week Monday to Sunday. And the pockets and calendars are great.  I keep a copy of the kids medical cards, business cards of providers and update my notes section at each meeting.  I've even used it to document behavior for each child which allows me to also see what their visit schedule was like that week.

The schedule is tough. We have a serious lack of communication and since there are so many providers we are often left out of the loop.  (I know backwards! I have the most people to get to where they need to go and the most schedules to consider but after complaining for nearly 2 years about it I'm not sure how else to get it across to everyone.) I always feel guilty when the pediatrician asks me about sports for the kids. Sports? I wish. Tuesday and Wednesday there is therapy. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday there are bio Mom visits. Add homework and activities: ice skating, band, art club, science club, scrapbook club, student council and then the monthly case worker and psychiatrist appointments not to mention court (every 3 months in this case), family meetings (every other month), administrative case review (ACR) and finally school meetings there is little left in the way of down time.

Its a lot.  The first step to being able to handle it is admit it and try to unschedule whatever you can.  I try to have appointments on the same day.  For instance both therapists for the kids come on Tuesday and whenever possible the case worker comes that day too.  Thankfully our pediatrician and psychiatrist have Saturday appointments so those go there.  If I can't make the meeting I request it to be a conference call. Family meetings and ACR are usually this way.  I also fight for down time for the kids. I resisted Saturdays for as long as possible so that the kids had a break. We also get away a few times a year as a family which has helped us break out of the "foster care routine. We have also been assigned a provider to help us manage the stress. The kid's therapists were assigned as a resource to prevent another disruption of the kids. (They have lived with 7 other families between them before coming all together in our home.)

The next step is to divide an conquer.  If I do drop off Hubby does pick up. Each child gets a chore. If he needs support Monday then I get support Tuesday. Errands need to be run - you take two kids, I take two kids. It helps that both of our employers are extremely flexible but this also means often taking work home or staying late. 

I also recommend a back up.  My Mom fills this role as she is currently not working. I'm not sure we would be able to manage without her. She does pick up for activities, watched kids when they are sick, and has picked them up after being sent home for bad behavior.  We also have some amazing friends and other family members who check in and pray for us.  And a few fantastic babysitters to call when we need a few hours of peace or adult beverages.

Logistics can be figured out. And if you had kids naturally it often would have followed a progression and wouldn't seem like such a shock. With foster care its different. Its "Hey I'd like to become a Mom" on Tuesday and Friday "Great! here are your grade school aged children and a tween. We are closed for the weekend. Good luck." In my opinion, The biggest obstacle is handling everything emotionally.

Like I said earlier, I had to learn to give myself a break. This means saying no to events and people as well. (I even said no to the two oldest girls coming to live in our home the first time we were asked.)  Saying no is hard. Especially for a Type A person like me.  It is also hard for others to hear and understand "no". It was hard to cancel plans last minute when something went haywire and big feelings needed to be dealt with.  The simplest thing was to just say no up front. This has caused issues with family and friends. They were hurt we declined. We were hurt they couldn't or didn't want to try and understand.  Learning to let go has helped us accomplish the big task at hand.  Adjusting my expectations of the kids and others has also gone a long way to helping us with the "how".  It's kind of a "good enough" attitude.  And while that makes me sad sometimes it goes along with the "it is what it is" mentality we have had to adopt. 

Many foster and adoptive parents participate in their own therapy. Many are on anti-depressants. I myself take an anti-anxiety pill when I get super stressed.  Self-care is super important. If you aren't cared for you can't care for anyone else. Making time for hobbies and downtime is also important.  This is something Hubby is very good at but I am not.  I'm working on this part especially.

I am not perfect.  I write here so that I don't go bonkers. What works for me may not work for you.  And my ability to manage this level of crazy took a lot of trial and error. A lot of yelling and tears.  There are days that I'm not sure I would sign up for this life again. There are days where I know it was totally worth every frustration. Its why I often answer the question "How do you do it?" with "It's not for everyone." Because it isn't. Nor is every child for every family.  I wouldn't recommend this level of crazy to my worst enemy. (Although I would love for some people in our lives to spend a day doing it so that they could understand it better.)  Living in limbo for nearly 2 years is crazy. Even crazier is that we expect the kids to do so and keep getting up every day.  This brings me to the last piece of my "how".  I remind myself that if they can do it, so can I.
 

Comments

  1. Amazing post! I've read about your schedule before but to see it all spelled out??? Wow! Just...wow!

    When I had all six and was juggling the special needs of Pumpkin I felt pretty much like I was always on the run. Just about every day I thanked God I am able to work from home with extreme amounts of flexibility. I'm not sure I could manage all the craziness that is your schedule. God bless you for taking it on though and sticking with it through all the garbage they've thrown your way. Therapy two days a week and visits three days a week??? That would be enough to put me in the looney bin!

    But you're right - it is possible. And knowing that somehow you're helping the kids...it is worth it all!

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