This post is part of a series of guests posts about being a single foster parent. The first post was about what people wish they had known before becoming a single foster parent. The second one was about the benefits of being a single foster parent. Today they will be addressing the struggles of foster parenting without a spouse. I have such admiration for their dedication to the kids in their home and reading these stories makes me want to be more conscious of the single foster parents in my world who may need a “date night” to just go do something on their own or with friends. We need to be part of the support structure that makes this work.
(I have done some minor editing as needed, but I haven’t changed any of the content.)
What is the hardest part of being a single foster parent?
-I think the hardest part is bearing the weight of all the parenting decisions and having to deal with the struggles alone without a sounding board or a source of encouragement in the hard times.- Heather, Utah, 2 years, 1 child
-The hardest part is that there’s no second string! No one comes in at 6 pm to tag me out and give me a break. Every decision is mine alone, as is anything I worry about, am concerned about regarding a child. If there’s tension that builds up, an emotional situation or outburst, anger of any kind (the child’s OR mine) I can’t take a break and come back in fresh. It’s always me. So I have to stay present, think on my feet, and sneak in a breath to get me through the moment! And actually, maybe the hardest thing is that unless you’re doing this, you don’t understand. It takes another foster parent to know how fiercely protective we feel, how our hearts break for what our children have gone (are going) through, the terrible fear of what may lie ahead for them. No one loves the child/children in my life as I do. And in middle of the night– and when they leave my home– that is a painful loneliness. Until I found the online groups, there was never anyone to bounce anything off of– and still, it’s not the same as having another adult in my home. Another challenge is just getting out to do anything alone– socially, a meal out by myself, or even the grocery store. I’ve gone six months before without ever being away from my little ones. And even if I had had respite care available (and I did not), friends stop inviting you to things when you have little people attached to you! I found that one friend was actually turning down invitations for me without my knowledge– telling friends in common that I wouldn’t be able to attend, so I wasn’t even invited. It would have been nice to be invited even if I couldn’t attend!- Suzanne, Texas, 6 1/2 years, 11 children
-Balancing a schedule of work, visits, doctor’s appointments, social work home visits. The calendar fills up quick!- Kimberly, Pennsylvania, 4 years, 4 kids
-I don’t have much to compare it to because I’ve never been a married foster parent but hands down the hardest part is not having someone else to watch the kids whenever you need or split “sick days” or court hearings with you. My parents have been EXTREMELY supportive but they have their own lives to live (and currently still have kids they’re raising) so I always try to limit my “Me” time so my mom doesn’t babysit too often. There is always respite but a good respite provider is hard to come by, especially when I’m as picky as I am about who watches the kids.- Tara, New Mexico, 2 years, 4 kids
-The hardest part of being a single foster parent is pretty much the same as the biggest benefit. . . it’s all me, all the time. When a kid gets sick, it’s up to me to make arrangements to stay home. When I’m sick, I don’t have the option of staying in bed. If I want any alone time at all outside of the drive to and from work, it typically means paying a babysitter. There is almost never down time. When there’s a court hearing, I go alone. It’s up to me to pay the bills. When it’s time to have those hard conversations that are inevitable in foster care, I have no one to back me up or give moral support. It’s made me a stronger person for sure, but it’s tiring work.- Jennifer, Georgia, 1 year, 1 child
-I have a great family (and extended family) who are all very supportive of me doing foster care and help with anything I need, all I have to do is ask. Luckily, most of them live nearby. But there is something to be said for having another “adult” in the home for the day to day responsibilites. I’m the one who gets calls about sick kids, or issues at school. There isn’t anyone to “take the baton” to give me a break. I have to stay aware of how I’m handling things and be sure to sign up for respite care, or take an afternoon to go be by myself so I don’t get completely burnt out.- Tami, Nebraska, 4 years, 12 kids
-Doing it all by yourself. Trying to find some me-time.- Stephanie, Nebraska, 3 years, 3 kids
-I think the hardest part is feeling alone in caring for your children. When my son was first placed with me, we bonded very quickly and within a week I loved him as any parent (foster or bio) would love their child. He’s such an amazing kid and I was (and am) just crazy about him. Of course he was hurting and missing his dad terribly and it was so hard/sad to try to comfort him. I was also a new mom worrying over every little thing he did. Although I have a ton of social support, I didn’t have another person who was always there and knew and loved my son the way I did. No one else to delight in him dancing around the living room in my boots, to cry with after he cried himself to sleep missing his dad again, or to worry whether that bm was normal or not. It’s not about having another pair of hands to get things done (though that’s hard too), the hardest thing is feeling alone in loving and knowing the child. For me, this problem has been mitigated by having my mother around quite a bit. She came to stay with us for a few weeks in the beginning and has visited several times, and of course she fell for both kids immediately too. It’s not quite the same as having a partner, but at least there’s someone else who doesn’t get tired of all of my pictures and stories of what the kids did and said today.- Heather, North Carolina, 1 year, 2 kids
-The hardest part of being a single foster parent is riding the emotional roller coaster alone! While I have a supportive community, no one person was with me through the court dates, FST meetings, parent visits, etc. There is little time to process because there is nobody to “tag in” when you get home.- Rene, Missouri, 4 years, 5 kids
-The most difficult thing for me—something I didn’t expect—is the burden of knowledge. I know really hard things about my son. I know hard things about his family. It’s a heavy burden. And it’s a burden I’m not allowed to share. When some new difficult detail comes out at bedtime or I read more about his background in his case file or I see something heartbreaking from his family on Facebook, I don’t get to go share that knowledge and heartbreak with a spouse. I hold that weight alone.- Faith, Georgia, 1 year, 1 child
-The struggle I would say of all single parents is loneliness and isolation. Long nights of withdrawls and no one else to help rock a baby. Hard stories of their past and no one to process them with. Intense battle of wills and no one to tap in. The adjustment of becoming parent overnight, while your social circle lives move on.- Jules, Iowa, 3 years, 10 kids
-People not understanding that when you parent a kid with trauma, you can’t treat them like bio kids. I have to be confident that I parent in a way that allows them to heal. It can be an isolating experience, and people love to give unsolicited advice. Even well-meaning friends and family don’t understand some of the unique challenges we face, and can say hurtful things. Being friends with other foster parents has been a life-saver for me.- Holly, Missouri, 1 year, 3 kids
-You aren’t their parent you are a glorified babysitter. You can’t treat them as your own but are expected to do so.- Dave, California, 5 years, 12 kids
-Given the confidentiality surrounding the case, it is difficult to not have someone to process openly the frustrations, joys, set-backs, progresses made in the case. There are days I need someone to tell me to stop over analyzing every detail, and days I need a listening ear to hear where I am at and provide encouragement to continue in this journey and remind me why I was called to this.- Jami, Nebraska, 4 years, 6 kids
-The hardest part of single + foster is being the only witness to heartbreaking stories which makes the burden heavier (well they also all got emailed to the case worker, but that’s not emotional support for me). It’s harder to process without someone to share that new information with and discuss how that may be related to their behaviors and how we can use it to adjust how we help them.
Lots of the other hard things are just the hard things about being a single parent. You’re the only option when your child cries if left alone in a room for any length of time because she’s spent too many hours alone in her life (who knew I’d feel so guilty peeing in the middle of the day). You can’t tap out after a long day when she’s pressing all your buttons and you just need 20 minutes to regroup, because there’s no one else there. If work asks if you want to go on a really cool but last minute trip, you have to call your agency and wait to see if they can find respite before you can say yes to the opportunity.- Laura, Washington, 1 year, 1 child
-Hardest part of being a single foster parent? EVERYTHING. You don’t have anyone to share and help with the burdens and struggles. You are good cop/bad cop all rolled into one. At the end of the day you don’t have that companion to go over feelings, excitement, disappointment. It can be very lonely at times just because of the stress of the system and what your child is going through. You are on your own for getting to all appointments, court dates, therapies, school and anything else your child needs or is involved it. It’s mentally and physically exhausting as a single parent.- Linda, Illinois, 4 years, 2 placements
-A lack of personal support and feeling like neither your single friends, nor your friends who are married with kids understand what you are going through.- Adria, California, 2 years, 8 kids
-Hardest part is not having anyone to turn to that loves them as much as I do. Friends can offer advice but they don’t feel like I do.- Anne, New York, 15 years, 30 kids