When the Royal family go on holiday my other half usually shouts at the telly: "Holiday? From what?"
He didn't used to like going on holiday; he wasn't one for getting a tan or picking at croissants for breakfast. He was only happy when there was sport on at the beach bar. One year we beat Australia at cricket, the matches lasted five days, started straight after breakfast and went on until early evening; he had to learn to sit in a pub all day, surrounded by taps and bottles, drinking coffee.
His attitude to holiday has changed since we started fostering.
When you foster they encourage you to have a holiday. Hang on, let me get the facts right; they PAY you to have a holiday. Without the children. Hang on again, let me get the facts totally correct, they don't pay, they provide a respite allowance. And they take the children off your hands, find a respite carer for them, while you go off for a break.
This is because of two really important facts about fostering:
One - it's hard work.
Two - they look after you.
Respite can be a Godsend for obvious reasons. There hasn't been a child born who never caused their parents a headache one way or another. Waking up ridiculously early, fighting against sleep, having bad dreams. Behavioural quirks; anger, anxiety, food fads, sibling rivalry, moods...with foster children, add at least ten per cent per child.
When the children are your own, you soldier on. Mind you, one time when ours were toddlers, my parents had them for a week and we went off to Portugal, and it was just about the best holiday we ever had. But I'll never forget looking down from our balcony one lunchtime to see what was taking Bill so long. He'd gone down for a dip in the sea, he said he just fancied washing off the sun cream in the briny. I went on up to our room and washed the sand off in a shower. We were heading for the little harbour restaurant we'd found for sardines.
Bill was down on the beach. On his hands and knees in the sand. Helping two small boys and their dad dig a deep hole about six feet from the incoming surf.
It's funny, we've never talked about this, him and me. In many ways it was a small thing, not worth the hot air. But now I'm fostering, and thinking about my holiday with just him and me, it's popped back into my mind.
He was missing our children. He was missing them so much he borrowed someone else's children.
But there's something else, something a bit darker which needs to come out and be said, because it affects us foster parents and we need to deal with it.
Helluva thing in the human condition, guilt. One of the first things they teach you all about when you sign up for fostering. How guilt eats into looked after children. How guilt makes them think it's their fault their family has floundered. How guilt makes them angry when they suddenly realise they've had a nice day in your care.
In our case, as adults, we feel guilt at leaving our own children and going off to re-charge our batteries, but we can overcome that with logic. We say to ourselves and each other "We've earned the chance to pamper ourselves and we'll be better parents for it".
If we beat ourselves up by saying that our children will feel rejected, well we've got some logic for that too; "They'll have a great time being spoiled by nana and grandad, I bet they won't want to come back."
But it all gets a bit more complicated when you pass your foster children over to another carer and go on holiday.
So much so that Blue Sky had to practically push us onto the plane the first time. And they were right.
With looked after children you worry that they'll get feeling they've been rejected, again. You worry that the respite carer won't know enough about their fads to keep them on an even keel. You even worry that they'll have such a good time with the respite carer you'll get nothing but bad reviews for weeks after.
Blue Sky dealt with all our reasons for not taking respite, and the thing was, they knew what they were talking about, from endless experience.
The bottom line argument for me was this (and it's brilliant). Looked-after children often need to learn to manage their own feelings starting with self-awareness. They will benefit from knowing that sometimes the world sucks because it does actually suck sometimes. And other times it seems to suck to them because they've been letting things get on top of them. If a looked-after child's carers can't manage their own feelings, and show how to do it, then the children have nothing to learn from them. Looked after children are usually aware that you're going the extra mile for them. They will accept that it drains your batteries. They'll get an important message; learn to look after the bit between your ears.
Oh and they'll also learn that you'll bring them back a holiday gift, obviously.
A guilt offering.