When the (Foster Care) Honeymoon Ends

Before

Before                                                         After

 

Like many new relationships, a new foster placement often comes with a “honeymoon period.”  Everyone is on their best behavior for a while – there is a lot to learn about new personalities, and everyone treads lightly as we figure each other out.  The honeymoon may last two hours.  It may last two days.  It may last two months.

But the honeymoon ends.

The first couple of weeks tend to come with a big adrenaline rush as well.  There is so much to do and arrange and coordinate during that early time – that extra energy boost is needed to carry foster parents through.  The adrenaline brings with it the stamina needed to get children acclimated to the routines and expectations of a new home, along with all of the new environments and people a child experiences (doctor, dentist, caseworkers, therapists, church, school, friends, extended family).

But the adrenaline fades.

Sadly, the adrenaline seems to fade right around the same time that the honeymoon does.  The stresses of being abruptly dropped into a completely new place with new people, new smells, new food, new routines (or their first routines ever!) takes a heavy toll on kids, and the stress begins to surface to the top, showing itself in challenging behaviors.

Our newest girls, a young toddler and an older toddler, have been in our home just over a month now.  And the honeymoon seems to be ending.  Challenging behaviors are appearing.  The adrenaline is gone, leaving behind post-adrenaline weariness.  The novelty of getting to know each other is wearing off.  Some hours are excruciatingly long as we wade our way through the beginnings of this next phase.

This is when screaming tantrums, defiance, sleep troubles, potty troubles, safety concerns, and food issues swirl in what may feel like a never-ending cycle.

This is where the rubber begins to meet the road of foster care.

This is when I find myself sometimes too tired in the moment to even remember to pray for wisdom.

It is a challenging time, and from experience, I know it can last a while.

This is when it’s time to circle back to the basics:

Sleep is the best new start.

Everything looks hopeless and overwhelming when you’re operating from a state of exhaustion.  And unfortunately, the reality of foster care is that you will often be exhausted.  If you know that little ones (or bigger ones) will be waking you in the night, do everything you can to get to bed early.  Guard your sleep – and theirs.  Stick to a routine – naps when applicable and a consistent bedtime.  Even a consistent wake-up time is important – I’m teaching our toddlers that when they wake early, they need to play until I am ready to start the day.  It is a lot of training and structure – but when sleep falls apart, for you or for them, everyone starts to sink.

Greet each day like the new day it is.

Wake up in the morning ready to let the day before stay in the past.  Try not to carry forward worries or resentments from a bad day.  Start the day by telling Jesus how very much you need Him for the day ahead of you.  And greet children (especially the ones who woke you seven times the night before and intentionally peed on the brand new carpet) with a smile and kind eyes.

Good enough parenting is often the best parenting.

Let your standards fall a bit.  It’s all temporary.  Live with dirty bathrooms, order pizza when you can afford it, email teachers to let them know that you might miss a few forms here and there.  Do what you need to get through each day – letting the important stay at the top of the list and the unimportant sink to the bottom.

Noise-canceling headphones are a miracle invention.

I finally ordered a pair.  I’m highly sensitive to noise, and I wear them when the kids are particularly loud or when I need to concentrate on something. I picked a pair that still allows me to “hear” but takes the edge off.  I’m not sure why I have gone through 18 years of parenting without finding a way to buffer this particular sensitivity.  Figure out what your sensitivities and triggers are, and see if there might be a creative solution to ease the way a bit.

Say no to extras.

Sometimes, after a few good days in a row with the littles, I start to think we’ve “arrived” and this will be the new normal.  Then something as simple as a short caseworker home visit (with conversation about parents, visits, etc.) can throw everything off track for days afterward.  Foster care inevitably has these sort of bumps in the road  – in fact, the bumps are the road – this sort of situation happens every few days!  The world is full of reminders to these children that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be.  They miss their parents terribly – even when they came out of desperate and frightening situations – and they are in a constant cycle of grief, confusion, and fear.  It is so important to keep margin in your own life in order to be able to absorb these ongoing bumps and adjustments.  It is ok – even imperative – to let this be the only “thing” you do.  Don’t take on extra ministry opportunities at church, don’t volunteer to host the end-of-the-year classroom party, and don’t become “the mom who is always willing to watch a couple extra kids!”

And lastly,

Hold on to the lovable.

Some days, it is hard to see behind the behaviors and the rages to what is lovable. Seal those good moments in your mind (the crinkly-eyed smiles, the shared laughter, the successful moments) so you can focus on those when things are challenging.  Remember why you are a foster parent – you are doing the hard work of choosing to love vulnerable children through difficult times – times that sometimes make children behave in really unlovable ways.  Cling to what is good.

———

There is no doubt that foster care is a difficult calling.  There will certainly be times (many, many times) when you will wonder if you have made a mistake and whether you can really do this.

The honeymoon will end, the adrenaline will fade, and foster care will be hard.

So when that time comes and you are depleted, turn your weary heart toward the source of all compassion and comfort.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

with hope and gratitude,
Jennifer
Signature J and Jaso

If you’d like to read more about our family’s foster care experiences, try Ten Ways to Support Adoptive and Foster Families and Our Babies’ Mothers

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7 Comments

  1. Rin
    June 2, 2016

    Thank you! This hits home perfectly!

    Reply
  2. Joy Headrick
    June 2, 2016

    Explained so beautifully. Really helps in knowing how to pray. I already know to pray continually for you and Greg and the children. Now to pray intelligently!! Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Nicole
    June 2, 2016

    I could have written this, Jennifer (only not nearly as well as you did!). Amen to sleep! We taught our small children to stay in their beds and play quietly until we got them. I can’t believe it worked!!! And I can’t imagine what life would have been like if it hadn’t.

    Although it is excruciating, in some ways I welcome the honeymoon ending because it must be so difficult for our children to present as perfect for those early days and months. For us, it was as if one of our children was constantly measuring what he thought we would want from him and then doing exactly that. If the honeymoon had never ended, real relationships wouldn’t be possible. Trust wouldn’t be possible.

    Thank you for sharing this post.

    Reply
  4. Tristina Perkins
    June 6, 2016

    My husband and I just finished a four day respite placement with a four year old boy, we are still waiting for our home inspection from the state (our agency has been here over a dozen times) Anyway, you aren’t kidding about that honeymoon period, we thought with it only being 4 days we wouldn’t have to worry about that, but on the third day he crept into our room, gave me a big hug and told me he wet the bed, then a few hours later I went into the bathroom and he had peed in the trash can, then later that day he peed on the floor then finally in his pants. He yelled at us and grabbed things out of our hands, but by the next day he already knew that at 5 it was cool enough to play outside, then at 6 we had dinner, 7 is bath time and 8 is story time and bed. When he got inside from the yard he washed his hands and sat at the table..this was a fight the day before, then he told us that it was bath time and got his stories ready for bed. Everyday was completely different and it was really important for all of us that we treated it that way.

    Reply
  5. lindsey
    June 8, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this! We are on month 5 of our 1st long term placement and it’s very reassuring to hear that we aren’t the only ones struggling. I keep thinking we’ve reached a good place, “our new normal”, and then the difficult, defiant behaviors resurface, sometimes worse than before. It’s definitely challenging, but also rewarding. As a type A parent, I like what you said about perfect parenting. It’s forcing me to loosen my expectations and strive for good enough parenting vs perfect parenting.

    Reply
  6. A Friend
    June 8, 2016

    Out of curiosity, how long does your family stick to those guidelines? Particularly interested in how the “no extras” boundary works for you. I struggle with discernment in this area– when keeping to ourselves and focusing only/mainly on the needs of our (foster) family goes from necessity to simply the easier option when instead we should be stretching/extending ourselves out more towards others.

    Thank you for this post! I needed the reminder that tomorrow is a new day tonight.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Isaac
      June 9, 2016

      Such a good question! And of course, it depends completely on each situation and personality involved in a placement. For me, I tend to find that it’s a clear distinction from when I am in a place of overload (I’m having trouble sleeping, my breathing is shallow much of the time, I struggle to be patient with my husband and kids) and when there is a sense of margin again. Then, we have to prayerfully, as a couple, determine whether God is asking us to step out in some areas again (adding in ministry opportunities, etc.).

      Reply

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