For the tenth time this week Holly chose not to play with our youngest kid. She is always really happy to play with our older boy but when it comes to the other child excuses are made, effort drops off and our little girl is ignored and dismissed. It really, really winds us up.

Some of the reason it affects us badly is because it’s splitting our family. The rule in our house is that everyone is loved and accepted and all get to play. When someone decides against someone else it undermines that special cohesion that we have. Secondly, we know it is about laziness. Our youngest is not as funny or entertaining as our boy and so she is dismissed as irrelevant to Hollys need to be constantly entertained. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, it really hurts our little girl – she is confused by her brother being able to join in playing with her and she feels lonely and rejected. As parents, this is the outcome that really pushes our buttons!

When your buttons are pushed like this as carers it takes extra strength to step back and reflect. Of course there are ways that we can try to improve things, such as games which they both enjoy or deliberate times where we put them together and ask them to collaborate artistically or with lego. What you realise at times like this however is how easy it is to really dislike some of the kids that come into your care. Let’s be honest the word ‘grateful’ is hardly synonymous with fostering but when one of you hurts it’s amazing how fast your brain goes to that place of judgement over a child in care.

A while back I wrote about where love fits into the fostering world and I revisited it today as I was reminded that if we only looked after the kids we liked there would be a far worse shortage in foster carers than there is currently. That feeling that is beyond ‘like’ has to give you enough strength to keep going, has to give you enough grit to see through another day when you are sneered at or one of your loved ones is hurt. It has to remind you of the fact that all children deserve more of us and a model of relational resilience which they have not necessarily experienced before.

Oddly enough, our youngest kicked off tonight about something completely unrelated to Holly. As she was shouting and screaming and accusing us of all kinds of stuff it occurred to me that in that moment there was nothing in me that liked what was in front of me. Despite this I had a real peace as I knew it would blow over and normal service would be resumed before long. Love, I suppose, is the rich fuel to keep going with whomever is around you. Maybe you can identify with this, maybe not but I do think love is what separates out good carers from others and it is those children who journey with those carers who are affected long term.

James


I have this ongoing thing with Holly about learning independence. When we talk about money, jobs around the house, future work, school work etc. she thinks long and hard and places her hand on my shoulder. She then reassures me that when she is an adult she will definitely take all this stuff seriously. She then walks away. It’s hilarious as she really believes that is how life works.

Holly thinks she has these golden years or work being an ‘opt in or out’ situation and that fundamentally there are staff (parents/adults/teachers) who will do the mop up work of making sure that no wheels fall off and that a warm bed and dinner are served up at the correct time of day. It makes me laugh because she thinks that I have opted in to this kind of life but if I wish could opt out at any time as well and just like for her, the laundry would be folded and the bills would be paid. So when she says that she will be like me when she grows up I guess I should take it as a compliment as she assumed I have made an interesting life style choice.

Having grown up in a family where you might be expected to do certain things around the house, when it comes to adulthood you increase the chances of experiencing a ready transition into looking after yourself. I know that this is not the case for everyone as I remember a friend calling mum from university asking how to cook a lettuce. For kids in care though I wonder whether there is another dimension? Is it the case that the benefit system has provided a ground where if you don’t bother, actually things get done anyway? I don’t wish to get political however I do find Holly’s response to mucking in interesting. If she has grown up where people swarm when you don’t work what else could you deduce as a child?

Certainly a work ethic is not only an issue for kids in care as I can testify of my 10 year old however it must be even more difficult to be plugged into a new family who don’t talk about work as an option but rather a necessity for life and health. As with many things in this life it is a slow burn and I don’t think the worm will turn until she stands in her first flat and understands how to iron, cook and clean and realises that she has been practising for years.

How do you instigate a work ethic in your home? Do you provide reward or make it an expectation or maybe you just try to make life as easy as possible for your children as they have been through so much. It would be really interesting to hear from you!

James


“I couldn’t do what you do”, “how do you hand them back – doesn’t it break your heart?’, “aren’t you frightened of allegations?” – these are all phrases seasoned carers are used to. I have noticed that the longer that we care and the more people are aware of our situation and life style, the more likely people speak about you in a demi-god like way. For many of the right reasons foster carers are starting to take their place in society as robust change makers who are doing a hard job.

Of course we are happy to accept this praise! Who wouldn’t be. It is nice to be held in peoples esteem at this level. Who doesn’t like to feel that they are involved in a special work that has a legacy like few others. I do feel however that it is important that we out ourselves here though.

I have had moments of profound therapeutic influence which I have been really proud of but there have also been times where I have hit the absolute roof and shouted and screamed just like any parent. I have been calm as young people have unloaded on me and wondered about what’s going on for them and I have been on the verge of throttling them after more abuse at the end of a hard day at work.

Foster carers are not superheroes they are normal people who have decided to go the extra mile. We are fallible, just as likely to make rubbish decisions and can be triggered into the worst version of ourselves just like anyone else. The people who get better at this are the ones who reflect and analyse their behaviour – it’s that simple but there are plenty of falls, trip and encounters along the way that can make us embarrassed and feel like any other parent.

So don’t treat foster carers like saints but do treat them like human beings who are thinking about tomorrow. Support them, let them shout and scream, let them cry, let them laugh, let them be people. Any good carer knows that they are no different to anyone else so the phrases above will never hold water for them. There are no saints in my house, just people figuring it out along the way. The best people I have around me are the ones who know that I’m a goon but love me anyway and say things like “do you want the afternoon off?, “you’re looking tired, are you ok?” or “I know it’s hard but keep going you are making a difference, I can see it”. They are the people that foster carers need and those are the kind of comments that do us good!

James


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