Handling a Pandemic as a Foster Parent: I Just Left the Grocery Store in Tears

I need to stay connected with other people. As an extreme extrovert, it’s always been a huge part of who I am and how I function. Connections became even more important when I became a mother, then increased tenfold when I became a foster parent. No one better understands the phrase It Takes a Village than parents in the fostering community.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I’ve made an effort to stay connected with friends and family through phone calls, texts, and even enjoyed a long walk through the neighborhood with my sister last weekend. I’ve delivered and picked up items from friends’ porches (sanitizing wipe in hand), and on the rare occasions I’ve been able to see a friend’s face, that quick bit of human interaction has made my day (despite the fact that it merely involves a wave and a quick ‘Hello, how are you?’ from a safe distance of more than 6 feet away).

Hopefully a silver lining to this pandemic will be closer connections we make within our own families

It’s shocking how quickly we all had to adjust to a new normal. I’ve never been so eager for a conference call! For book club this week, we met through Zoom. And I learned that weekly #ShareFostering video chats are being planned (hurray!) so soon I’ll be able to see faces and share coping skills and laugh and cry and allow other foster parents to fill my bucket with their love and support, while I try to fill theirs.

I feel addicted to Facebook right now, eager to read posts and comments from other foster parents. I have this insatiable need to hear that other families are doing okay, and read tips on how they are maintaining safety and sanity.

When asked how I’m doing, I’ve told several friends this week, “We’re doing great!” Indeed, I believed it to be true. I recognize that our family life took a 180-degree turn when schools closed, but as a stay-at-home mom, we didn’t have the complete 360 that most families experienced this month. As middle schoolers, my bio kids are used to doing schoolwork electronically so their transition to distance learning wasn’t as drastic as other kids had to face. They are completing their work independently, so the amount of ‘homeschooling’ required of me is similar to the occasional help with homework that they needed in the past. My husband is still going into the office every day as usual. (Don’t judge! He’s now the only one working in his building, and he’s responsible for the workflow and computer network that allows all other employees to work from home right now.)

Over the past few days, I’ve read several blog posts about increased anxiety caused by this pandemic, and I’ve had a few friends tell me they are struggling to cope with their personal anxieties. To be honest, my immediate reaction has been, “I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with THAT!” 

And then I went to the grocery store this morning, and realized I was walking the aisles with tears streaming down my face. [In hindsight, I should have seen it coming when my daughter entered the kitchen last night to find me shoveling huge bites of chocolate pie straight out of the pan — stressed is desserts spelled backward, correct?]

I haven’t been in denial about the reality of this pandemic and the enormous impact it is having on our families, children in foster care, our communities, our kids’ education, and the state of our country’s economy (not mention other impacts felt around the globe). I see reminders every time I check my email inbox, which is filled with sales pitches for coronavirus protective gear, local businesses trying desperately to stay in business, new corporate policies, and the latest school news.

However, nothing forces you to face a new reality quite like wearing protective gloves into a grocery store to buy your baby some milk.

I stopped first at the customer service desk hoping they had some baby-safe sanitizing wipes (alas, no). I walked the aisles on high alert: who is coughing? Does anyone look sick? Why are some employees wearing gloves and others aren’t? My heart hurt watching elderly people shop, knowing the paralyzing fear they must face with every outing.

It caused me stress to maintain a safe social distance from other shoppers, workers, and vendors stocking shelves. Trying to understand my tears, I realized it was the social distancing – the lack of carefree human interaction – that affected me so strongly. I was offering a closed-mouth, tight-lipped smile to everyone I passed, feeling desperate for a positive interaction of any kind. Some were avoiding eye contact altogether. Others returned my this-is-surreal-but-we’re-in-it-together smile. I needed more. I needed to be able to strike up a casual conversation with the mom next to me picking out fruit. I needed to say more to the workers than just my quick “thank you for being here for us.” I needed eye contact and hugs and reassurance that others are doing okay. If I can’t have that right now, then I need to figure out how to meet my social needs in other ways. I can hug my kids more, and make sure I’m maximizing eye contact with my husband when we’re together. I can FaceTime friends instead of a simple phone call or text. I can take advantage of every video conference offered to me. As parents, we must pay close attention to our emotional and mental health. Let’s lean on one another and dry each other’s tears. Right now, more than ever, children in foster care need us to bring our A game and dig deep to offer the best parenting skills we have.

Sara quickly filled the cart with essentials: milk and wipes for her foster baby; gum and fruit for her big kids; chips for hubby; along with Clorox, carbs and wine for herself.

As I’m typing this article, I just received a Zoom invitation to join a few foster mom friends this Saturday for a video conference – I will cherish those opportunities until we can once again meet face to face.

I can’t wait to connect with other parents in the fostering community, and I hope you’ll make plans to join us in this new (and temporary!) online realm of virtual hugs and digital high fives.

What are you doing to stay connected? How is your community coming together to show love and support for foster families or children in care during these unusual circumstances? What is it that you need the most right now? Share your stories with us! Comment below or email us at Care2Foster@fgi4kids.org

Sara has been a foster parent since 2018. She and her husband have biological twin daughters, as well as a son who was born prematurely and died as an infant. She is a proud fundraiser for the March of Dimes and an active volunteer for the local, state and national organizations of parents of multiple birth children. In addition to caring for foster children in her home, Sara also is passionate about recruiting new foster parents and increasing public awareness about issues related to foster care in South Carolina.

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