We stood on opposite ends of our kitchen staring at one another, tired, defeated, and barely awake. The sad part? It was 8pm on a Saturday. We weren’t this tired because we were well into our 30’s. We could have made a great case for ourselves if so. No, this was the work of parenting.
But not any parenting. Foster parenting. It had all but taken the life out of us. At the time, we were caring for a sibling group with major medical needs. We weren’t a therapeutic home, nor were we equipped to care for children who had medical special needs. But, as any of you who are foster parents know, the system is lacking homes like this, so they were desperate when they called us. We said yes, because, really, how could we say no? Our marriage soon began to pay the price!
A well-meaning friend at church suggested that we just start going out each week so we could get some time for us. Easy for you to say with your normal family, and fairly normal kids, we thought. Truth is, she was right, even if she basically thought we could snap our fingers and make this happen. Our marriage was suffering because all of our time and energy was spent caring for these two precious babies. Rightfully so, but we needed some “us time.”
Maybe you’re in the same boat. Maybe the health of your marriage has plummeted since you became foster parents. We know exactly how that is. Here are some reasons this happens…
- It takes all of your time. You will spend an enormous amount of time on foster care. In fact, there’s really no way to avoid this. You will have case conferences, visitations, placement hearings (that are often continued), doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, the list goes on. By the end of the day, your time is spent and you have little to none left for each other!
- It steals all of your emotion. You two probably joined the ranks of foster care because you have hearts as big as the Grand Canyon. It’s a given that when those first few placements came into your home, you were gone as far as your heart was concerned. Foster parenting does that to you. It pulls all of your emotion in and leaves little to none for anything or anyone else, including one another.
- It piles on added stress. I don’t have to go into great detail on this point. Foster care is stressful on so many levels. The more stress, the more the constant things in your life take a backseat- hobbies, friendships, even marriage.
- It pits you against one another. This hasn’t always been the case for us, but it has happened over the years. It’s not that we even disagreed with a parenting principle or a decision with our children. It’s a combination of lack of sleep, drained emotion, and total defeat that causes you and your spouse to start fighting more than you did before you became foster parents.
- It sucks up all of your energy. Look, I’m just going to say what we’re all thinking- you need energy to have sex. You need energy to be intimate. Heck, you need energy to even think about doing all of those things. But your energy is often victimized by the very thing you thought would bring the most joy. Foster care is a constant uphill climb.
Changing the game.
So what can you do to protect yourself against this, or at least change your current circumstances, especially if you see yourself and your spouse going down this road? Here are a few things we suggest…
- Be planned. So maybe you and your spouse just can’t “go out” at the drop of a hat due to the details of your placements, but you can put a plan together to make this happen. Often, we allow the defeat of our situation to convince us that we have no ability to change our circumstances. Not true. The two of you need to sit down and put a plan in place on how you’re going to continue to invest in the most important relationship you have- your marriage.
- Be intentional. After the two of you have put a plan together, be intentional about seeing it through. In other words, take action and seek out respite. Pick up your phone and call for help. Vocalize your need to your case manager. Circle your date night or weekend get-away on the calendar and guard it fiercely. Being intentional is the only way your plans will succeed.
- Be strategic. By strategic, I mean, use the resources that you have available. Respite often feels like a lofty dream, but it’s a resource that is available. When we finally started using respite our lives changed. We in-turn, became respite providers for other foster parents in our area. It has become a beautiful trade-off.
- Be consistent. We’ve often said here on this blog, or at the conferences we’ve spoken at, that consistency wins. Being consistent overcomes so many trials in foster care. But consistency also pays off in enrichment of your marriage. A one and done date night, or lunch date during the work and school day, doesn’t cut it. If you want the health of your marriage to improve, in the midst of the challenges of foster parenting, you must consistently invest in it.
The health of your marriage matters! The future of your family depends on the health of your marriage. To improve it, as with anything else, direction is key. In-spite of the trials you are facing, you and your spouse must carve out time to move in a healthy direction together. It’s not easy! I’ll just be honest here. But anything worth fighting for is. This is a tension to manage, it’s not a problem you can solve. When we finally started to work on the health of our marriage, a few years into our 9-year foster care journey, things started changing. It was a process, but we could see health returning. The same can happen for you if you begin moving forward today.
Has your marriage suffered since you became foster parents? Share your story with us.