In the name of shortening the title of this post, and with the decision to make it a series since point #1 got way too wordy, I’ve produced an acronym that I doubt anyone’s ever used before or will ever again: TILFF/AP. Things I’ve Learned From Foster/Adoptive Parenting.
If you’re thinking of beginning a foster care or adoption journey, and think you don’t have much spare time in your life, make time now, before you get started.
How do you make more time? We all only get 24 hours in a day, and that’s not negotiable, so what gives? Find more time through better time management.
- Slow down your life. Reduce to the bare essentials and then selectively add in things that are worth it. Consider human need for downtime, and opportunities to fully connect with the family. If you say yes to something and regret it, give yourself freedom to quit midseason. On that note, become aware of what you’re currently spending time on – the next two points will help with this if you’re unsure where all the time in your day really goes.
- Get more organized. One of the ways my husband and I make space in our schedule is becoming really conscious of what’s going on and how long it takes, making sure we’re adding travel time, and looking at a holistic view of our week. Each Sunday night we sit down together while the kids have some alone time, and go over our weekly schedule. Here’s a link to the schedule I’ve created if you want to use it: schedule with our usual events or blank schedule. We sit down at the kitchen table (note that this time is on our schedule each week 🙂) with a printed copy of this schedule, then pencil in extra events, extracurricular activities, etc. Note that family time and time for each other are already on there. They don’t always happen as planned (date night, I’m looking at you!) but we do our best to make them a priority – especially special time with the kids. In the dinner square, we write the dinner plan for each night so the kids know what to expect. In the evening, we schedule 10 minutes with each of us with each kid, depending on the day’s activities. Sometimes 10 minutes with our teenager is a car ride to or from an extracurricular. When we’re done with the week’s schedule, we hang it on the frig. We use a magnetic frame we got on amazon so it doesn’t fall off the frig every time the door is opened or closed – check it out here. (affiliate link)
- Quit scrolling. Go take a minute to look at your phone’s screen time settings, and see how many minutes you’ve spent on LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Insta… whatever your social media of choice is. On both Android and iOS devices, you can set daily limits. I give myself 10 minutes a day on Facebook. This is enough to look up any info that can’t be accessed other places – small town restaurant menus, the time for a birthday party, finding a new dining table on marketplace, etc. – without being enough time to ‘deathscroll’, as my husband calls it. No judgement from us – we’ve had seasons of our life where we wasted far too much time on this – and have learned how great limiting social media is in all aspects of our lives – from mindful parenting to attention spans. If you need a tangible resource to limit screen time, having a dedicated phone basket where all phones go when everyone comes home, or using an Aro are great options.
- Change your career or get familiar with FMLA. I was recently at a conference where the speaker said “Something they don’t tell parents going into foster care/adoption is that you ideally need one parent who doesn’t work outside the home.” Most jobs don’t allow the level of time off you’ll need to parent a child with trauma. Let me be clear: this includes all children who have ever been removed from their biological home. More on this in the future. These children will often require more appointments than your average employer has PTO. Maybe not right away, but eventually. Of course there are exceptions, but be prepared for whatever could happen. Get your finances in order so that if one of you has to give up your career, you can still do this. You don’t want to add financial struggles to an already stressful situation. Aside from your normal medical, dental, and vision checkups, your child may need behavioral, speech, physical, and occupational therapists. They may need to see one or more specialists, maybe multiple times a year. One parent will need a nontraditional schedule, whether part time or not outside the home. Some families may be able to get by with FMLA. Get really, really familiar with FMLA. For many homes, a parent will always be on FMLA intermittently. You can file every 12 months with your employer, and 12 weeks of leave goes a long way when spread out over a year. You’ll probably need to leave early multiple times a week to take care of appointments. If you are a two parent home and both of you need to work to make ends meet, you may find it helpful to embrace the gig economy. Shipt, Doordash, substitute teaching… there are many options that don’t require a degree and can be a decent supplement to your income. Find something very flexible, where you can say yes or no every day depending upon your child’s needs.
- Adjust your expectations. You don’t have to spend hours with your child each day. That may be unrealistic for you. Spending just 10 minutes a day with each of your children will hugely improve your connection with them. Connected kids are the goal in foster/adoptive parenting. The 10 minute concept comes from Kim Seidel’s book ‘How to Love an Alien’ – and I can’t tell you how life changing the concepts in this book were for me. It was a quick read, just a couple hours, and I highly recommend it if you’re parenting any child with trauma.
The most important thing on this journey is to give yourself grace. You’ll see big wins when you find the technique that works for an extreme behavior. You’ll mess up and yell or holler. Apologize – I can’t stress this enough – normalize apologizing to your kids. Fail forward. Give yourself more grace. Find your people.
If you’re a foster or adoptive parent and would like to share things you’ve learned in the comments, I’d love to read them and I know others would love to hear!