You’re scrolling social media and see yet another 20-something telling you how to get fit, be disciplined, and live your healthiest life. What they don’t know is that you’ve just cleaned up a broken dish that was thrown by one of your kids during a fit of rage. And that the tension had been building to that moment for days, so you were already tired from trying all the tips you’ve gotten in trauma training but seeing those efforts fail. Meanwhile, your other children have been exhibiting multiple signs of their own PTSD “flares,” and it’s taken every ounce of your energy to just get kids where they need to go, feed them, and keep your own thoughts and feelings in check.
…but seeing that post by 20-something, chiseled-abs, perfect-life so-and-so still made you feel inadequate, guilty, and even annoyed.
Self-Care for Foster Parents
Let’s talk about self-care for foster parents, shall we? It’s a hot topic that is beautiful and necessary in theory and often feels impossible in practice. When each day is unpredictable, especially as many of our children deal with night terrors and other nighttime disturbances, how do we find the time and mental, physical, and emotional space to take care of ourselves?
I’m a foster and adoptive mama who is passionate about this topic and has “failed forward” many times to prioritize my health while caring for my kids and working. I know from my own research and from attending occupational therapy and therapy with my kids that movement helps promote healing on every level (physical, mental, emotional). My kids are told to get exercise to help improve anxiety, sleep, depression, and other effects of PTSD. If they need it, so do I! We need self-care/health/exercise, AND we deserve it. The first step to making health happen is believing that! The amazing other benefit is that we are role modeling this for our kids, and as we know, they will do as we do way more than they will do as we say.
Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
- Nutrition: Keep it simple – drink more water, eat more veggies, and eat well-rounded meals. I like to develop catchphrases to keep from eating my feelings, especially because I know my feelings are temporarily soothed by bread and sweets! I say things like, “Healthy body, mind, and mama!” or ask “Will this give me the right energy?” Sometimes small catchphrase help us think before we eat, and maybe we make a different choice.
My other rule of thumb is that I don’t buy anything at the store that I will need to exercise constraint over because eventually, willpower will fail. Even if you eliminate one of your go-to junk foods from your pantry, that’s a great start! There are exceptions – for example, a “junk food” item we keep around is Ramen Noodles because it’s important to two of our kids. Your kids will likely have a food from their past that brings feelings of comfort or safety. I used to try to fight these usually unnourishing foods, but now I accept it and keep it around until my kiddos understand they’re safe and food will not run out (but it doesn’t mean I need to eat it).
- Exercise 30-45 minutes a day: Don’t overcomplicate it, just take this time for yourself. You can walk or do at-home workouts where you don’t need to worry about childcare or gym hours. Though it’s nice to do it alone, if the kids wake up, invite them into exercise with you. One of my favorite foster care moments is when I was doing a workout that included weighted squats. My 21-month-old foster daughter kept crying at my feet, so I dropped the weights and used her as a weight instead. She and I were both giggling! Invest in bikes/outdoor games/etc. Keep the whole family active, and remember it starts with us.
Pro tip: Scheduling exercise in as if it’s a mandatory meeting actually works! Figure out what time of day works, even if it’s a different time each day, and schedule it in!
- Sleep/Rest: This is often most difficult for many of us! Those with littles who still wake up at night (or those whose kids have sleep disturbances) are definitely sleep deprived. We can’t guarantee how much sleep we will get, but we can do small things to help ourselves. For one, limit screen time and rest instead. Take naps if possible. I recommend 6-8 hours of sleep every 24 hours. This does not have to happen consecutively! I can usually get 5-6 hours at night and maybe a small period of rest or sleep sometime in the day. As a huge go-getter and antsy person, this does not come easily, nor is it consistent. We must understand the importance of sleep, though, and do our best to get enough. How do your kids act when they don’t sleep well? Let’s just say we aren’t so different.
- Mind your emotional and mental health: There’s more here than I am qualified to say. I will just leave a list of what I know helps based on research and experience. Please consult a professional for more specific help. What helps us? Exercise, friendships (This is a hard one in foster care! Go to support groups and find understanding friends there!), counseling, taking a break from screens, Vitamin D, outdoors, journaling/connecting with self, setting boundaries with commitments/saying no more often.
- Nurture your spiritual health. This part of well-being is often overlooked. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves. Connect often through prayer, affirmations, journaling, meditation, or whatever method you choose to find hope, healing, and feel grounded. Seek a supportive community and stay involved in some capacity (religious services, care groups, etc.). Find time to connect with yourself and others. Ask for support. Learn to be still. None of this is easy all the time, but it is essential for peace and growth on this journey. I know you may be thinking this is all overwhelming or difficult, perhaps not even practical. Start with one small thing – just one. Then keep going. Whenever I’m tempted to let go of my health, I remember who’s watching … and I know we all want children in our care to live healthy, full, and vibrant lives. Let’s model that for them.
This blog article was contributed by Cherie Johnson, Nexus-Kindred Foster/Adoptive Parent
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org