Foster Parenting and Stress

Reviewed Mar 15, 2021

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Summary

Foster parenting is a learn-as-you-go effort. No one can ready you for the stress level you are sure to experience.  

When you make a commitment to be a foster parent—whether formally through a child welfare agency or informally by taking in a family member’s child—you know up front that you and others in your household will be challenged in many ways. But no matter how much reading or training you do to prepare yourself and no matter how many veteran foster parents you speak with, foster parenting is a learn-as-you-go effort. No one can ready you for the stress level you are sure to experience.

Sources of foster parent stress

Stress caused by money issues, work issues, family issues and home-life issues exist for all families. But foster parents experience these stressors and more:

  • Just as every child is unique, so is every foster parenting situation, which makes “getting used to the job” nearly impossible. Even experienced foster parents often are surprised by feelings of inexperience and inadequacy that are introduced with the arrival of a new foster child. Plus, the adjustment involves everyone in the household, including your own children and other foster kids that may be living with you at the time. So the stress is multiplied among and felt by many people.
  • Foster children often have behavioral and/or health issues, learning disorders and/or emotional problems that can be draining on the care provider.
  • Dealing with the biological family, social workers, agency workers and health care providers can be helpful, yet at the same time can be another source of stress.
  • Bonds are created among foster children and foster families. Saying good-bye and the associated grief is another source of stress.
  • The added workload of a large family (more to cook, more to clean, more laundry, more schoolwork to monitor, more activities to attend) can zap your energy and resources.  

Why your stress level matters

By their nature, foster parents tend to be selfless, generous people. And with so many children in unstable and often dire situations, it may seem selfish to think of your own needs too. But you must, and this is why:

  • For the sake of your own health and psychological well-being, manage your stress levels. If you are not healthy, you may not be able to be a foster parent at all.
  • For the sake of your marriage. Remember that a stable home life is essential to be an effective foster parent. If your marriage is strained, this instability will spill over onto your own children and your foster children.
  • For the sake of your relationships with other family members, including your children, and friends.
  • For the sake of the foster children you are caring for. You cannot be an effective foster parent if you are exhausted and burned out. Stress may manifest itself in negative ways if healthy outlets are not identified.  

What you can do to relieve stress

Ways you can minimize stress and optimize your effectiveness as a foster parent include: 

  • Set a schedule and stick to it. Routine will help you keep up and provide consistency and stability in your household.
  • Don’t try to be a miracle worker. Remember your role is to provide a nurturing, loving and stable home environment that will allow your foster child an opportunity to heal and to succeed at school and in relationships. Focusing your attention on one or two issues at a time will keep you—and your foster child—from feeling overwhelmed and overtasked.
  • Divvy up household responsibilities so that you aren’t doing it all.
  • Take advantage of respite opportunities. If your agency-sponsored opportunities are too infrequent, insist on more. Trained respite workers can relieve you, or work out trades among other foster parents. If you are providing kinship care as an unlicensed foster care provider, seek help from other family members. Respite opportunities may not be ideal, but you need to use them to spend time with your spouse, with your friends and by yourself.
  • Make use of foster parent support groups to download and share concerns. Or perhaps you would get more out of a book club or running club that is completely separate and outside of your foster parenting world.
  • Find a stress-relieving technique that you can use almost anytime, anywhere, throughout the day.
  • Recognize burnout. Take time off from foster parenting.  
By Christine P. Martin

Summary

Foster parenting is a learn-as-you-go effort. No one can ready you for the stress level you are sure to experience.  

When you make a commitment to be a foster parent—whether formally through a child welfare agency or informally by taking in a family member’s child—you know up front that you and others in your household will be challenged in many ways. But no matter how much reading or training you do to prepare yourself and no matter how many veteran foster parents you speak with, foster parenting is a learn-as-you-go effort. No one can ready you for the stress level you are sure to experience.

Sources of foster parent stress

Stress caused by money issues, work issues, family issues and home-life issues exist for all families. But foster parents experience these stressors and more:

  • Just as every child is unique, so is every foster parenting situation, which makes “getting used to the job” nearly impossible. Even experienced foster parents often are surprised by feelings of inexperience and inadequacy that are introduced with the arrival of a new foster child. Plus, the adjustment involves everyone in the household, including your own children and other foster kids that may be living with you at the time. So the stress is multiplied among and felt by many people.
  • Foster children often have behavioral and/or health issues, learning disorders and/or emotional problems that can be draining on the care provider.
  • Dealing with the biological family, social workers, agency workers and health care providers can be helpful, yet at the same time can be another source of stress.
  • Bonds are created among foster children and foster families. Saying good-bye and the associated grief is another source of stress.
  • The added workload of a large family (more to cook, more to clean, more laundry, more schoolwork to monitor, more activities to attend) can zap your energy and resources.  

Why your stress level matters

By their nature, foster parents tend to be selfless, generous people. And with so many children in unstable and often dire situations, it may seem selfish to think of your own needs too. But you must, and this is why:

  • For the sake of your own health and psychological well-being, manage your stress levels. If you are not healthy, you may not be able to be a foster parent at all.
  • For the sake of your marriage. Remember that a stable home life is essential to be an effective foster parent. If your marriage is strained, this instability will spill over onto your own children and your foster children.
  • For the sake of your relationships with other family members, including your children, and friends.
  • For the sake of the foster children you are caring for. You cannot be an effective foster parent if you are exhausted and burned out. Stress may manifest itself in negative ways if healthy outlets are not identified.  

What you can do to relieve stress

Ways you can minimize stress and optimize your effectiveness as a foster parent include: 

  • Set a schedule and stick to it. Routine will help you keep up and provide consistency and stability in your household.
  • Don’t try to be a miracle worker. Remember your role is to provide a nurturing, loving and stable home environment that will allow your foster child an opportunity to heal and to succeed at school and in relationships. Focusing your attention on one or two issues at a time will keep you—and your foster child—from feeling overwhelmed and overtasked.
  • Divvy up household responsibilities so that you aren’t doing it all.
  • Take advantage of respite opportunities. If your agency-sponsored opportunities are too infrequent, insist on more. Trained respite workers can relieve you, or work out trades among other foster parents. If you are providing kinship care as an unlicensed foster care provider, seek help from other family members. Respite opportunities may not be ideal, but you need to use them to spend time with your spouse, with your friends and by yourself.
  • Make use of foster parent support groups to download and share concerns. Or perhaps you would get more out of a book club or running club that is completely separate and outside of your foster parenting world.
  • Find a stress-relieving technique that you can use almost anytime, anywhere, throughout the day.
  • Recognize burnout. Take time off from foster parenting.  
By Christine P. Martin

Summary

Foster parenting is a learn-as-you-go effort. No one can ready you for the stress level you are sure to experience.  

When you make a commitment to be a foster parent—whether formally through a child welfare agency or informally by taking in a family member’s child—you know up front that you and others in your household will be challenged in many ways. But no matter how much reading or training you do to prepare yourself and no matter how many veteran foster parents you speak with, foster parenting is a learn-as-you-go effort. No one can ready you for the stress level you are sure to experience.

Sources of foster parent stress

Stress caused by money issues, work issues, family issues and home-life issues exist for all families. But foster parents experience these stressors and more:

  • Just as every child is unique, so is every foster parenting situation, which makes “getting used to the job” nearly impossible. Even experienced foster parents often are surprised by feelings of inexperience and inadequacy that are introduced with the arrival of a new foster child. Plus, the adjustment involves everyone in the household, including your own children and other foster kids that may be living with you at the time. So the stress is multiplied among and felt by many people.
  • Foster children often have behavioral and/or health issues, learning disorders and/or emotional problems that can be draining on the care provider.
  • Dealing with the biological family, social workers, agency workers and health care providers can be helpful, yet at the same time can be another source of stress.
  • Bonds are created among foster children and foster families. Saying good-bye and the associated grief is another source of stress.
  • The added workload of a large family (more to cook, more to clean, more laundry, more schoolwork to monitor, more activities to attend) can zap your energy and resources.  

Why your stress level matters

By their nature, foster parents tend to be selfless, generous people. And with so many children in unstable and often dire situations, it may seem selfish to think of your own needs too. But you must, and this is why:

  • For the sake of your own health and psychological well-being, manage your stress levels. If you are not healthy, you may not be able to be a foster parent at all.
  • For the sake of your marriage. Remember that a stable home life is essential to be an effective foster parent. If your marriage is strained, this instability will spill over onto your own children and your foster children.
  • For the sake of your relationships with other family members, including your children, and friends.
  • For the sake of the foster children you are caring for. You cannot be an effective foster parent if you are exhausted and burned out. Stress may manifest itself in negative ways if healthy outlets are not identified.  

What you can do to relieve stress

Ways you can minimize stress and optimize your effectiveness as a foster parent include: 

  • Set a schedule and stick to it. Routine will help you keep up and provide consistency and stability in your household.
  • Don’t try to be a miracle worker. Remember your role is to provide a nurturing, loving and stable home environment that will allow your foster child an opportunity to heal and to succeed at school and in relationships. Focusing your attention on one or two issues at a time will keep you—and your foster child—from feeling overwhelmed and overtasked.
  • Divvy up household responsibilities so that you aren’t doing it all.
  • Take advantage of respite opportunities. If your agency-sponsored opportunities are too infrequent, insist on more. Trained respite workers can relieve you, or work out trades among other foster parents. If you are providing kinship care as an unlicensed foster care provider, seek help from other family members. Respite opportunities may not be ideal, but you need to use them to spend time with your spouse, with your friends and by yourself.
  • Make use of foster parent support groups to download and share concerns. Or perhaps you would get more out of a book club or running club that is completely separate and outside of your foster parenting world.
  • Find a stress-relieving technique that you can use almost anytime, anywhere, throughout the day.
  • Recognize burnout. Take time off from foster parenting.  
By Christine P. Martin

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