With years of experience working with kids in group homes and residential care, Lynn and Jennie Owens felt prepared when they adopted a 6-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister from foster care. They even moved to Washington to be closer to their family support network. But nothing really prepared them for the day-to-day demands of parenting children with early childhood trauma.
And when they added to their family another 10-year-old boy just six months later their plate went from full to overflowing.
“It was way harder than we anticipated,” Jennie Owens said. “We really had all hell break loose.”
Now with her children ages 21, 20 and 18 (she also has a 3-year-old they adopted two years ago) Jennie said she feels like they’re finally on the other side of some of the struggles. Ultimately, recognizing the importance of self-care helped Jennie get through some of the most challenging times.
“I started taking better care of myself,” Owens said. “I switched my mindset and perspective and stopped taking everything so personally.”
Recognizing the lonely, difficult journey she’d been through she wanted to give something back to other foster moms who might be struggling as well. So, in 2016 she created Rejuvenate Retreats, hosting the first retreat just for foster moms in Washington.
“Parenting difficult children sucks the fun out of the family,” Owens said. “These moms are going through the same thing but they’re very isolated. We want them to realize what we’re experiencing is a normal reaction to an abnormal experience. These moms are giving, giving, giving to children who don’t know how to be loved.”
The retreat is typically launched with a comedy performance on Friday night and ends with a tea party where all the moms are given little gifts. A number of speakers come in to talk throughout the weekend about various aspects of the foster and adoption journey. While the retreat is faith-based, Owens said it’s open to anyone.
“We have people of all faiths that come,” Owens said. “There are certain parts that are more faith-based, but we let them know the weekend is about you.”
The attendees can participate in a number of activities from ziplining and horseback riding to crafting and painting. Massages, pedicures, manicures and other pampering activities are offered at the retreats, and really participants can do anything from chatting with other foster parents to taking long afternoon naps.
“We try to have it in a retreat center that is beautiful because beauty is healing,” Owens said. “A lot of moms walk away feeling they’re not the only ones.”
For Kimberly Taylor, the retreat sounded like a perfect opportunity to get away and relax after recently getting relicensed as a foster parent. She and her husband adopted three children from foster care after raising their adult biological children and Taylor was looking for a way to connect with others who really understood some of the challenges they were facing with their younger children.
“I really get to a certain point that stepping back from my family a little bit gives me clarity,” Taylor said.
In their 50s, Taylor said their friends are now empty nesters who are traveling and are just at a different place in their lives than where she and her husband are parenting pre-teens. Attending three retreats has given Taylor the opportunity to create new connections and try new things like ziplining and painting.
“I’ve enjoyed having that connection and engaging with that community and building that base of support,” Taylor said. “It’s been nice to be able to connect to other parents who are going through something similar.”
Foster and adoptive mom Melissa Martin was also looking for something new and different for her and her husband to participate in. She stumbled across information about Rejuvenate Retreats but noticed there weren’t any retreats listed for the East Coast. Wanting something closer to home, Martin reached out to Jennie about starting a retreat in her area. The first Pennsylvania retreat took place in 2017 and with more than 80 moms who attended, planning is already underway for a second retreat that will take place Oct. 19-21 at the Kenbrook Bible Camp.
Owens said she’s open to adding more retreats across the country but needs people on the ground in each location to help coordinate the event. Retreats typically cost $175 to $475 depending on the location and venue. In the past, a few scholarships have been offered, but Owens said those vary depending on how much money comes in to support an event.
Ultimately, Owens said she’d love to see Rejuvenate Retreats crop up across the country, giving more foster and adoptive moms the opportunity to get pampered and connect with other moms who understand what they’re going through.
“It’s a powerful tool for these moms,” Owens said.