We argue at home about how to foster sometimes, the pair of us. Not often and not with daggers drawn. We argued about how to bring up our own children too. Isn't that normal parenting?
Normal parenting goes on all around us. We first see normal parenting from the moment we open our eyes after birth. We see it everywhere, not just in real life but as a theme in films and TV, books and plays.
In fostering your roles are less familiar, the ground is less well trodden. There are plenty of similarities with normal parenting, but plenty of stuff that's unique to fostering. We argued about how to bring up our own children, but found a way through every time, and ended up agreeing that most of our attitudes to parenting could be traced back to how we were parented. We were desperate for things to turn out alright for our own children, so the debates were sometimes passionate, although no crockery was lost or injured in the process.
I got talking to another foster carer at a recent Blue Sky event for children. She has a teenage foster child, a girl, who is leaving school and looking for work.
The girl has wanted to be a hairdresser for some time and the carer told me they have managed to get her a six week trial at a local salon, starting soon. She's excited about it, but very nervous. The foster carer I mean, not the girl.
The girl isn't fantastically academic, has had spates of trouble at school on and off all her life. She doesn't quite look the part yet, the carer said. She didn't mean this in an unkind way, just meant that the girl wasn't 100% the dash that hairdressers aim for; trim outline, crisp personality, bubbly and warm. Not straight away at any rate.
We agreed that fostered children are often so used to failure that they sometimes almost bring it on themselves to comply with their own life-script.
Foster children have often been given the role of being a nuisance, someone who gets things wrong. They've often been regarded within their family as a big reason why the family is struggling.
They end up playing a role to fail, maybe even make others fail too.
The foster carer, a lovely woman, is worried that the girl will be given jobs like sweeping up hair and making coffee all day and will end up bored and feeling irrelevant, or make a hash of things and be asked to leave. Or both.
The foster carer told me she's terrified this will happen. She knows the girl, she's familiar with her life-script.
But we agreed, this kind of parental worrying happens with all our children; we just want them to succeed.
But then there's the scissors thing.
The scissors thing is that before the girl came to this foster carer she was in a foster home where there was an incident in which she threatened to self-harm and that led to a big discussion involving two social workers and a psychotherapist plus the carers about whether she should be allowed to keep the scissors in her room she used to trim her own hair and nails. The girl's scissors weren't removed and she didn't self-harm. There's been no repeat, but the episode is on her record.
The foster carer disagrees with her husband about the hairdressers job. He thinks it's too risky because failure will knock the girl back. The carer thinks the girl should take the chance and get some experience. She and her husband have totally opposing views. They disagree about it. Often. You might think this is an unpleasant situation for the pair of them.
It's the opposite. It's actually great because the reason they argue is that they both are desperate for things to turn out alright for the child. This is to do with the skills and scope of normal parenting.
The scissors thing, and whether a foster chid who may or may not have had a scissors thing should be going into hairdressing...this is part of the the skills and scope of foster parenting.
I'll try and let you know how it turns out.