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Maintaining a strong relationship when fostering

Heart shape created by man and woman's hands.

In this guest post, a mother who has been fostering for more than three decades describes the ways that she and her husband have worked hard to remain good friends and partners who “love each other, like each other, and respect each other.”

Don’t ignore your relationship to be the perfect parent

If your relationship is stressed, it will be exacerbated by the trauma kids bring into home. Randy and I are big fans of John Gottman’s advice to watch for signs of “the four horsemen of the apocalypse” in your interactions with each other: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. We’ve been guilty of some of them over the years, and it’s taken deep conversations and sometimes intervention from loved ones to recognize and work through it.

Accept bids of affection

No matter how busy you are, you have multiple opportunities every day to connect with your partner. It can be as simple as a squeeze of hand, a kiss on cheek, a simple question like, “Hey, how was your day?” Don’t ignore or deflect your partner’s overture. Be willing to put the phone away and spend time together.

Identify each partner’s strengths

In the beginning, sit down and talk about each of your strengths and weaknesses and who is going to handle what. In our house, I am the bureaucrat! I schedule appointments, manage paperwork, etc. Randy takes care of repairs and handles the process of paying our bills. I am the nurturer and primary disciplinarian, while Randy is the director of fun! He gets the kids motivated and lifts everyone up when he comes home at the end of his workday. But sometimes, we are tired! Or tired of our role. And when that happens, the other one fills in.

Don’t allow a child to pit one parent against the other

Be sure that they always hear the exact same thing from both of you. Never correct each other. Be a unified front. Don’t let a child triangulate you. When we need to talk with each other about how to respond to a child, we step out onto the porch or save the conversation for later when we are alone. Our general rule of thumb is that when we disagree about how to respond to a child’s behavior, the person who is landing on the side of the harder consequence wins.

Be comfortable letting go of control

No matter how much you are in agreement, each partner will have a different parenting style. And when one is away, the household will run a bit differently. I travel for work, and when I was away, I used to call every night asking for details of the day: Did the chores get done? Did a consequence that I imposed get carried out? Now all I need to know is the big picture—Randy and the kids are OK.

Make time for yourselves every day—and protect it fiercely

We have a 7:30 p.m. bedtime for our kids. Starting about that time they go hang out in their room, or go to a friend’s or sibling’s house. That means that almost every night, Randy and I enjoy peace and quiet and have time to talk through any issues that came up during the day—from about 8 p.m. until we pass out!

Make fun happen!

Find things that you enjoy doing together—and make time to do them. It doesn’t have to be a big production—you don’t even have to leave the house. Randy and I both like spy movies, so we’ll plan an at-home date of dinner and some favorite films.

Know that your children can—and must—function without you

This point goes back to control. You are not your child’s entire world. We had a child with serious attachment issues who would scream every time we left her with her siblings. But we knew she was safe, so we left. I can’t be everything to all of my children. I can love them as much as possible. I am kind to them. But I’m still going to do what I need to do to stay sane and healthy. Otherwise, what good am I to them?