It’s been an emotionally intense and physically exhausting couple of months around here as we adjust to life with our two foster toddlers. In order to have any restful time with our older kids this summer, we recognized that we needed to put together a plan for respite – for us as parents and for the other kids to have parents who aren’t depleted.
Thanks to our respite providers, we were able to get away to the mountains with our older kids twice – and then because we were so well rested, I even managed to join forces with a friend and take all of our kids (hers, mine, and a couple more – 12 in all!) camping. So as summer draws to a close, we feel that we used respite wisely and that it truly benefited our family.
As much as respite has benefited our family this summer, it is not easy to access, and often the difficulties seem to outweigh the benefit.
For foster care, we are limited to using only other foster families, there is additional paperwork involved, we have to pay the provider, there is packing and unpacking, it can be more difficult to find families who are able to take medically fragile children for respite, and of course there is the need to prepare the kids ahead of time for another transition and then the bumps that inevitably come afterward as they work through the anxiety of what has felt to them like another “move.”
We have made attempts in the past toward setting up regularly scheduled respite, but things always seem to “settle” enough that the energy it takes to make respite happen doesn’t seem worth it anymore. However, nearly ten years into this, I am realizing that having a plan already in place even when it seems not needed is really, really necessary for when we hit those times when we do need it.
I have been doing a bit of research on how different communities and groups of parents and individual families create respite options. I found this paragraph in some of my reading this weekend:
“Children who have spent time in foster care often learn at a young age that adults are not trustworthy. Brenda McCreight, author of Parenting Your Older Adopted Child, says many of these children learn to survive on their own and develop a trust in their aloneness. As much as these children may want to become part of a loving family, they are also afraid to let go of their aloneness because it helped them survive. Expressing love, allowing themselves to be loved, and entrusting their life to a family can feel dangerous.
Helping children heal from this kind of trauma is a full-time responsibility; while rewarding and fulfilling, it is also a slow process that includes setbacks. Without respite, the daily demands of monitoring and managing difficult behaviors and psychological problems can deplete caregivers of energy and cause them to lose their focus, patience, and sometimes doubt their ability to successfully parent their vulnerable children.”
True. True. True.
The paragraph mentions foster children. And in our family, that is the case right now. It doesn’t mention internationally adopted children. But many families I know are parents of internationally adopted children, and our kids have experienced many of the very same things that children in foster care have experienced – and the outcomes are the same. Except somehow there isn’t as wide of a recognition of the need these families have for respite care; and therefore, there aren’t programs and resources readily available.
But it’s a desperate need. And often by the time a family realizes how desperately they need it, they no longer have the energy to find or organize it. We ourselves have needed it desperately in the past and have pieced together options. This has ranged from an after-school program to spending several weeks with another adoptive family in the summer. Neither is an option we need at this point, but we desperately needed them at the time in order to keep our family functioning.
But if we needed it again right now, I’m not sure where I would turn. As a foster parent, there are systems in place that offer our family one night of respite each month (often for us, this is used to provide care for our foster children while I am at the hospital with our daughter for procedures). But as adoptive parents, our respite options are much more limited and elusive.
I don’t know what the answers are. I imagine the answers grow best out of community and connection (as they have for us in the past – most often, another mom hears my desperation and offers wisdom and resource).
I would love to hear from parents who have found ways to make respite an option in their family and in their community. It’s something that so many of us need, and my guess is that there are some successful stories out there. If you would like to share your experience, please use our contact form. Let’s get a respite conversation going!
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