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Shannon Casas: Respite is vital, but it's over. So now what?
Shannon Casas high res

When we finally get the kids to bed at night, it’s often the first time I’ve really looked at my husband that day. 

He leaves the house as I’m waking up. And while I see him in the evenings, that time is spent feeding little ones, answering their 20 questions, getting them bathed, dressed in pajamas and their teeth brushed and reading to them. 

Often that time also includes waiting out a screaming fit that can last as long as 30 minutes and possibly involve thrown toys or dumped out trash cans and a lot of accusations, misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  

Often that time also includes sitting by a bedside for an hour or more waiting out a child who should be tired but just doesn’t seem to ever go to sleep. Ever.

So when, or maybe the right word is if, we get the kids to bed, we’re lucky if there’s an hour left in the day that we can spend together.

When we get a respite from those demands, it feels a lot like coming up for air— like we didn’t realize we were holding our breath, but now that we can exhale, our bodies relax a bit and our minds can focus on things beyond the immediate needs of these little ones.

Respite care is a fancy phrase in the foster care world that basically means the children placed in our home go visit another family for a while so we can come up for air. Respite families have all the same training as a foster family and the kids can stay there for a weekend, a week or even longer.

My husband and I have used respite care on numerous occasions, thanks to the work of our private foster care agency and some great families in this area.

We always take at least one week of vacation for just the two of us. And sometimes we take a weekend here and there, as well. It’s vital time for us to focus on each other without little ones at our feet demanding our attention. 

When I was little, my parents didn’t have “respite care,” but we had two sets of grandparents nearby in South Carolina. At least one week and usually more was spent at their homes. There were four of us, and we’d usually be split into pairs with each set of grandparents. I’m sure it was a respite for our parents; it was also a respite for us. I never wondered why we’d been sent there, but instead always looked forward to it as part of summer vacation.

Though I know my husband and I have some special reasons to need respite, I think all parents need it. Pour all you want into your kids, but if you don’t pour into your marriage, the whole thing falls apart. 

For some of us, summer provided that respite. Now, the hustle and bustle and daily demands of the school year have arrived, much like a stampeding herd of (insert your school mascot here).

In the first three days of the school year, my family has risen earlier to catch the bus and so far succeeded. We’ve tried to get to bed earlier but mostly failed. 

We’ve chosen one extracurricular activity in addition to church, and I can’t fathom how we’ll fit it in to our packed days.

I’ve tried to leave the office after just eight hours of work and found that the only time I succeeded was the time I forgot we all had a 5 p.m. appointment. We were late.

So, while I’d like to advise parents to take some respite and grandparents to offer it, I’m at a loss as to how to balance the day to day. Maybe after a few weeks of school, I’ll have it figured out. But I’m guessing not. So, if you’ve got any advice for me, I could use it.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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