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Trauma-Induced Laundry

Laundry: one of the unending struggles of parenthood. All parents have pondered the mystery of how such small people can produce so much laundry. Much to my surprise, even something as commonplace laundry can be more challenging for foster families.



Most recently, I rediscovered this fact when we were doing respite care for two young boys. I expected to have increased laundry with the increased number of children, but figured I would only have to do a few more loads while they were with us.

What ended up happening was that every night I had to do laundry, because the boys kept having bathroom accidents and I find same-day laundering the best strategy to combat stains and stink from number two accidents. The boys are potty trained, but being in an unfamiliar environment and away from their foster Mom caused quite a bit of regression in this area.


Any child may have accidents in an unfamiliar setting, but the patterns we saw really showed that they were tied to their emotional distress and trauma. The accidents also increased during and after family visits. Regardless of the relationship with their parents, visits often bring up many distressing emotions and this was clearly the case for the boys.


This is not the first time I realized that laundry could be a result of a child’s reaction to trauma. One of our previous foster children had GI (gastrointestinal) issues. Because of this, he threw up more easily than most children and whenever he would get really upset, he would throw up. He also had a speech delay and this resulted in frequent bouts of frustration because of his inability to communicate his desires and feelings. In spite of our best efforts to help him keep calm, he still vomited frequently, especially when he was emotionally distressed. I definitely had a constant flow of foul-smelling laundry during the whole time he was with us.


Frequent vomiting and toilet accidents are unfortunately not uncommon among children in foster care. Strategies for laundry and cleaning as a result of these issues are definitely a more frequent topic of conversation in foster care circles than I would have anticipated. Honestly, it’s been a relief to find people who can relate and are not squeamish, as these challenges can become a part of daily life (for a short or long time) with some kids.


Though daily stinky laundry is not something I enjoy, the hardest part is knowing that each soiled garment represents the emotional struggles of a child who is stuck in a system of perpetual upheaval and uncertainty.


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