Taking Time: The Right to Respite for Foster Families

Everyone Deserves a Peaceful Rest

By: Courtney Edge-Mattos

“Mommy Wine Time” seems an increasingly common piece of our culture.  Memes about the frustrations of parenting populate social media.  Mom's Night Out Groups are popping up.  Man Caves are a thing.  Parents are tired.  Parents are venting. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that.  It is a pressure release valve and we all need that.

Recognizing when you need a break, recognizing when things are hard, recognizing when you may LOVE the little people you are parenting but not always LIKE the little people you are parenting is all honest.  Feeling torn between wanting nothing else in life but to be connected to your children and also wanting to escape to a tropical island and nap in a hammock is okay.  That parents have a medium to express these feelings is important.

And yet…

It is Different For Foster Parents

If a foster parent vents, the response is different.  Heads snap on swivel at any expression of discontent, frustration, being overwhelmed, wishing they were on vacation.  Eyes narrow and judgments are immediately made. 

“That’s what all foster parents are like, they are in this for the money.”

“See, she doesn’t even care about the kids.”

“How dare you not love that child??? Do you know what he has been through?”

“Then I guess you shouldn’t be a foster parent.”

It.Is.So.Hard.  Foster parents are on edge all the time, not just because of the system, the child they are parenting, or the child’s family with whom they are attempting to build a relationship, but because every word could be misconstrued.  Every comment carries weight and the weight is a pressure parents feel quite acutely. 

Obviously, there are limits (as with parents who are not foster parents) about what one can say and how to vent within the confines of social grace.  But when a parent from a non-foster family says “We’re taking the weekend for ourselves.  The kids are going to my sister’s house and she is only going to call if there is a trip to the emergency room.  We are getting a hotel room, going out to eat every meal, and spoiling ourselves!” they are congratulated.  “Good job taking care of yourself.  You need to recharge your batteries.”  When a foster parents says they are taking a weekend off and the children will be in respite care, they often feel guilty.  “But the kids have gone through so much change already, so much bouncing around…You are only adding to it, you know.”  Oof, that is a tough sentence to metabolize. 

Foster Parents are PARENTS. 

Foster parents are HUMAN.  They need time to unplug, disconnect from the parent part of their identity and reconnect with the other parts of their identity. That might mean going on a cruise, going to New York to take in a show, or just turning off the phone, watching bad ‘80’s movies, and soaking in a tub.  When parents of all kinds get burned out, then their reserves are depleted, they are not their best selves.  They know it.  Agencies know it.  The kids know it.

Parents are responsible for teaching children how to be responsible.   Isn’t one of the most important lessons in responsibility learning to monitor yourself?  Learning when you need a break, a breath, an adult time out?

How Do We Help?

One of the most valuable changes we have made in our program has been the addition of respite homes.  These homes do not take children for long-term care.  They may not be able to commit to that, for one reason or another, but they can provide short-term care.  They become the aunts and uncles, grandparents and family friends, to whom foster parents can turn when they need to rest.  It is a placement-saving, grace-giving service that respite parents provide.  The kids go there and have a great time.  Parents take that time for self-care, whatever that might mean to them.  Respite parents are crucial.

Not everyone meets the qualification to be a respite parent, but there are still ways to support.  The first is the simplest: Just listen to your friend who is a foster parent and when he/she expresses needing a break, support that.  The second could be a little more difficult, but is still pretty reasonable: Agree to having a CORI check completed on you and see if you can be a visiting resource/support person for your foster parenting pal.  That means you are approved to babysit their foster children (in their house, not yours- your house is another ball of wax entirely), could pick them up from school or get them off the bus, and could take them out if needed.  Maybe your foster parenting friend just needs to go get her toes done at the salon and sit in Panera Bread reading a magazine for a few hours.  If you are an approved person for her home, you can give her the gift of that time to herself.  You can include a child your friend is parenting through foster care on a trip to the zoo with your own kiddos, or help watch them while she attends an important meeting about the child’s future.  These acts make a huge difference in the life of a foster parent.

Giving Grace

Every parent needs a break.  Every parent needs to vent.  Every parent deserves a village of people around them who respect that, hear that, and support that.  Instead of saying “Maybe foster parenting isn’t for you after all,” maybe you could say “How can I help?”

Together, we can all make this journey a little bit kinder, a little bit easier, a little less lonely.


If you are interested in being a foster parent, a respite foster parent, or supporting a foster parent, please reach out today.  #FosterHopeFosterCare

Complete our Inquiry Form: https://family.binti.com/users/signup/jri-foster

Email the Homefinding Team: homefinding@jri.org

Call Us: 508-821-7774


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Rachel has been a part of the JRI team since January, 2000. For over 20 years, Rachel has been working in the field of human services assisting families with accessing and navigating services. Rachel received her Bachelors degree in psychology and Masters Degree in Public Administration from Bridgewater State University. She was promoted in July 2005 to Family Networks Program Director where she closely worked with the Department of Children Families for 10 years ensuring that children and families received the highest quality of individualized services ranging from community based through residential care. Rachel is very dedicated to helping the individuals she works with and is committed to improving the lives of children and families. Rachel’s passion for creative service programming inspires her in her role as JRI Service Navigator.