How to Maintain Friendships When Caring for Challenging Children

By Rachael Walker

Even while a full-time mother to her teenage son and foster children, this mother finds time to make her friendships a priority. Her are her tips for staying connected.

18 months ago, my husband and I made the decision to become foster carers and we’ve never looked back.

We went through all the training and felt fully prepared for the challenge ahead. But after saying goodbye to our first placement a few months ago, the one thing we weren’t prepared for—however na├»ve of us that may be—was how difficult it would be to keep up with our social calendar.

A Not-So-Social Butterfly
Don’t get me wrong; I knew we’d have to sacrifice some of the freedom we won back when our son hit his teens. But I didn’t think that we’d struggle to maintain some of our friendships, especially when caring for a challenging child.

We also underestimated the family impact of fostering too, sometimes forgetting that we needed to make time for each other as well.

But 18 months into our fostering journey, I think we’ve finally found our feet and have managed to strike the perfect balance between caring for children of all ages, and maintaining our friendships. I don’t claim to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but here are my top tips for how you can do the same—whether you foster, or all just a full-time mother.

1. Make the Most of Social Media
I’ll be honest; in my pre-mommy life I worked in marketing so have always considered myself to be pretty tech savvy, and have never been afraid of embracing new technologies. That said, a lot of my other mommy friend were terrified of the thought of social media.

But why?

It’s one the best—not to mention the quickest and easiest—ways I have found for staying in touch with my friends. While I might not always have the time to check my Facebook page, I know I can reply to messages and see what my friends have been doing when I do get 5 minutes to myself.

2. Pencil it in
When we have a child placed with us, it can be particularly difficult to find the time to see all of our friends. I had to give up my job to foster, but that doesn’t mean I sit at home all day. I attend support and training groups, meet with my social worker, and have to find time to do all of my other jobs.

Things do get hectic, but it’s the same for all parents and caregivers. You just have to change the way you plan, and accept that spontaneity is a trait best left to those with no responsibilities.

That’s why we pencil in dates into the calendar weeks in advance. This gives us the chance to find babysitters, and gives us something to look forward to. You should also try penciling in long phone calls to catch up as this is a great alternative when you just can’t find time to grab a coffee together.

3. Join a Group
Have you always wanted to learn to paint? Shift a few extra pounds? Join a book club? Either way, joining a club—or starting your own—is a great way to maintain your friendships. Meeting in a group gives you a chance to socialize with loads of different people on a regular basis. I have also found it easier to maintain friendships when you have several friends in common.

4. Do What Makes You Happy
As we get older, we often find ourselves doing things we don’t enjoy just to please others.

It’s a habit we picked up when we were young and impressionable, lost when we were independent and “grown up,” and find again when we want an easy life. But the truth is, we all prefer to socialize in different ways and we shouldn’t just do things to please others.

By making an effort to do activities that everyone likes, you will find that it is much easier to maintain your old friendships, and strengthen new ones.

5. Be Realistic
Be honest with yourself.

As a parent—and particularly when you foster challenging kids—your priorities change and not everything is perfect. Despite your best efforts, you can’t do everything at once and you can’t always please everyone.

By accepting that it doesn’t matter if you leave the dishes and head out to have coffee with an old friend, you will find it much easier to maintain your friendships. Sure, things have been tough for me when I’ve had a difficult placement. But at least I know there are always those friends I can rely on—day or night.

What are your top tips for maintaining friendships as a parent? Have you had an experience with foster care? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Rachael Walker is a full-time mother to her teenage son and foster children. She lives in Birmingham, UK with her husband Tim, and regularly blogs about her family and fostering journey. You can find out more on her blog: RachaelWrites

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