This post is part of a series of guests posts about being a single foster parent. The rest of the series includes posts about what people wish they had known before becoming a single foster parent, the benefits of single foster parenting and the struggles of single foster parenting. Today we’re tackling one of the questions I most commonly hear from people considering foster parenting as a single person– what about my job? Reading these answers was enlightening for me. I didn’t realize how many people have made entire career changes in order to be a foster parent. It also made me want to hug a lot of employers who are supportive and accommodating to foster parents. It does take a community to make this work and gracious, compassionate employers can be an important part of that team.
(I have done some minor editing as needed, but I haven’t changed any of the content.)
How are you able to balance your job and the requirements of being a foster parent?
-Having to work and not being able to be as “present” as I’d like to be has been very hard. I have to set limits with my job regularly. They would keep me much busier than I am if I didn’t set my foot down all the time. I’ve also had to remind my foster daughter when she is upset at how my job impacts what she wants that all jobs have pros and cons. My job is flexible enough that I can be there when she’s ill or gets suspended but the trade off is that I usually have to bring work home. I’ve chosen a job with this level of flexibility precisely so I could do foster care.- Heather, Utah, 2 years, 1 child
-I’m fortunate that I was self supporting and have not had to work outside my home, which meant being able to take newborns and small children and be home with them. The biggest misconception, is that the general public believes that we (all of us, whether single or not) make a lot of money doing this. If there are people who do this for the money, I don’t know how! The basic rate per child is less than a dollar an hour. I just laugh and tell people I don’t know anyone willing to struggle with a toddler who won’t go to bed until midnight, get up twice to feed a newborn, and then get awakened by the toddler raring to go at 6:00 am for less than $1/hour! If you’re doing right by the kids, you’re not “making money.”- Suzanne, Texas, 6 1/2 years, 11 children
–I have so many thoughts on this, here are a few (in no particular order):
- Working part-time. I reduced my FTE to 80% (so work a 32 hour work week) when I started fostering. I’m also privileged to have an extremely flexible job – I can work from virtually anywhere and am not confined to a 9 to 5 work day. This gives me the flexibility to attend therapy sessions, placement planning meetings, leave early to pick up kids from visits, and stay home with sick kids without taking too much time off. I realize not everyone is in a position to go part-time or work from home, but these are the primary ways I’m able to balance it all.
- I’ve changed the way I work. I used to be much more of a control freak at work and had a hard time delegating. Now I delegate like crazy and, out of necessity, let go and give people the freedom to get the tasks done. I also used to work much harder to get things done very quickly. It’s not that I don’t work hard anymore, I just don’t have the choice to work all evening/weekend to complete a task now that I have kids. So things get done more slowly or they get picked up by other people. And, surprisingly to me, this slowdown has not impacted the pace of my career growth at all. It’s also likely helped my employer as my delegating helps train up other employees to take on more tasks and frees me up to do things that I can uniquely do. Another bonus – I enjoy my work so much more now that it doesn’t take over all of my time and energy.
- Strategically multi-task. For example, I sometimes fold laundry or load the dishwasher while listening to conference calls if I’m working from home. I also fold laundry while sitting next to my kids as they play or make a game out of scrubbing the floor with them. That way I am spending quality time with them but getting housework done at the same time.
- Online grocery shopping. Seriously, this is a game changer. The Wal-mart across from kid’s daycare now has free grocery pick-up (where you order online then they load your car with everything you ordered for free). Not only does it save time and money, it also saves the psychological stress of carting screaming children around the store. Sold.
- Built in respite. I have two days a week where other people watch the kids – Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons. On Wednesday evenings, a young couple in my church watch the kids and on Sunday afternoon, a fellow mom and her 10 year old son play with them. This gives me a break to knock something off the to do list if I need to, or on the good days, see friends or relax so I can have the restoration/rest I need to be a better mom. I’ve also found that it’s good for the kids to have other people who they’ve built good/trusting/consistent relationships with, including a young man who can play/rough house with my son in a different way than I do.
- Buying out my time (i.e. not doing it all). I use a house cleaning service on a regular basis, which, like online grocery shopping, is a game changer. I also sometimes will pay more for prepared food (either from a grocery store or eating out) to save time on cooking. I’ve also found it freeing to relax my standards on how clean my house needs to be every day.- Heather, North Carolina, 1 year, 2 kids
-It is difficult to blance work and fostering but I work for a very understanding company. My boss knew the situation and allowed me to miss work and or work from home when I needed to. It was challenging to attend family meetings though. Navigating the daycare and school world was a challenge but as long as I asked questions when I had them I found people were more than happy to explain things to me.- Becky, Nebraska, 5 years, 6 kids
-I only work 4 days a week, 10 hour shifts so it helps to have a day off during the week. I speak up and ask for help when I need, whether it is transporting to a visit, changing a doctor appointment that was made for when you work, whatever it may be.- Kimberly, Pennsylvania, 4 years, 4 kids
-I have been extremely blessed with a great employer who is flexible with me so that is HUGE! I also use a wonderful daycare that loves my kids like I do, so I completely trust them and am not worried about them throughout the day. My #1 priority is my kids so I go straight to pick them up after work and we go home and spend the evening together. Balancing a job AND single parenting (especially with traumatized children) is difficult and there are sacrifices that have to be made but they are 100% worth it!- Tara, New Mexico, 2 years, 4 kids
-I’m blessed to have a job that allows me some flexibility. I can typically scoot out at any time during the day for appointments, etc. My hours are not set in stone. I have the option of bringing my kids to the office for short periods if needed. My boss is incredibly understanding, and even though my pay isn’t much, I’ve stayed because I know that in some environments (such as my previous job working in public schools) I wouldn’t have those same choices. Unless you’ve had a placement for awhile and know there won’t be any surprises, I almost think you’d have to have a job with flexibility in order to do this as a single parent.- Jennifer, Georgia, 1 year, 1 child
-When I started foster care I was working fulltime, in a job that wasn’t very “family friendly”. I also had a very high needs kiddo. This was a struggle at times and I realized it very quickly. I had to evalute the situation and decide where my heart was. The choice was easy to make. I am passionate about foster care and realize that not just anyone can do what I do. Anyone could step in and do my “job”. So I now have a different job with part time hours (30 hours a week), and they are very flexible and understanding when things come up. I am able to be home more now during the day and can also plan team meetings and doctors appointments around my schedule. Another huge support is working with an agency who can have your back at meetings you may not be able to attend, or help with transporting kiddos who have many many court ordered appointments.- Tami, Nebraska, 4 years, 12 kids
-Having an AMAZING foster care agency and support team. I absolutely could not of done it without them.- Stephanie, Nebraska, 3 years, 3 kids
-I changed jobs because my first job in a school district was not at all accommodating to the needs of a single foster parent. I am so blessed now to have a job where I can schedule my own caseload around appointments. This has been a LIFE-SAVER! I also reduced my hours at work when I had multiple kids. I find it almost impossible to work a full-time job and make it to appointments for multiple children in foster care.- Rene, Missouri, 4 years, 5 kids
-I ended up changing jobs to be able to foster parent. The career I had before, a career I loved, was my life, not my job. I’m now working at a nonprofit that not only understand my ministry, they also understand the why behind it, and they’re extremely supportive of me. And I use my vacation days on court dates a lot more than I use them on actual vacation.- Faith, Georgia, 1 year, 1 child
-The foster care monthly stipend allowed me to step back from a full time job to about 30 hours a week allowing me to be the one who drops off and picks up at school, the mom who is home on weekends and day offs.- Jules, Iowa, 3 years, 10 kids
-Thankfully, I have a flexible work schedule, and an employer that is understanding if I need to take off for appointments or court dates. In my state, daycare is paid for, so my foster children are in daycare while I work.- Holly, Missouri, 1 year, 3 kids
-You just have to try. I lost a job for taking FMLA leave for foster placement.- Dave, California, 5 years, 12 kids
-My family provides a lot of support, since they have been on this journey with me for the last 4 years, they know a lot of the uncertainty involved, that solidarity helps tremendously. My employer is also supportive of my passion to be a foster parent and accommodates as they are able.- Jami, Nebraska, 4 years, 6 kids
-Very supportive boss and team at work. I would never have attempted to do this if I hadn’t been here for a few years and had their full support. It also took sacrifices in what used to be my “me time” in order to get my work done later after bedtime. And then for the first time in a long time I wasn’t the best at work. I had to put a lot of work into adjusting my own self-identity here.- Laura, Washington, 1 year, 1 child
-I barely can balance work and family. Really tough having 3 special needs kiddos. They each have at least 5 specialists they see every few months, therapy etc. Had to take FMLA last Dec for 9 weeks do to my son’s mental health.- Anne, New York, 15 years, 30 kids
-Luckily I have a great job and boss that was excited for me to start this journey and has a lot of patience of my needing time off. My family and friends help as well and I have a great community support team. So many people make it possible so I can stay and work full time and know my kids are taken care off, and offer to watch them when I need to take classes for my license. A support team makes things so much better in so many ways!!- Linda, Illinois, 4 years, 2 kids
-I am a special education teacher, so having school-aged kids is pretty easy for me, with the help of daycare and after school programs (and you can get free or reduced rates for private daycare providers through the county childcare council!). The foster agency helps with getting to kids during appointments.- Adria, California, 2 years, 8 kids