Monday, August 27, 2012

Propped up in bed typing this, 9.30pm. House quiet. Being a Bank Holiday we visited my mum today (100 mile round trip). Me, my partner and our current youngest fostered child to meet my mum for the first time. Seeing my own mum with a fostered child...

Fostering other people's troubled children, you don't get much chance to think about the minute-by-minute detail of your parenting.

So a lot of it is instinctive. But where does the instinct come from?

I remember loads of times, with my own kids, I'd react instinctively. I lost count of the number of times I found myself saying something to them - especially when they were being a pain - then thinking; "That was my own mum/dad talking just then, not me!"

The funny thing is, it's the bad bits of parenting I've inherited from my own childhood that I notice. Not the good bits. Perhaps this is because as children we can spot the moments when parents aren't being entirely fair, patient or kind. So when we reproduce those moments of exasperation we're not only cross with ourselves but find ourselves experiencing a reminder of the pain of being badly parented.

My dad was the youngest of eight, he ran away from home aged fourteen because he was bullied, and, probably, unloved. He ended up living in an older sister's house, about thirty miles from his home. He never went back. He never talked to us about the bullying, or his father's alcoholism and violence. I heard snippets after he died. 

When I was small, my father would occasionally be sudden. He'd get cross at small things  but you never knew when he was going to kick off. If I'm tired, or pre-occupied with some minor domestic crisis and a child has a wobbly, that's when I might react badly, and I'll hear my dad's rebukes coming out of my mouth.

So now I know, my dad's bad moments were quite predictable; they happened when he was a bit stressed or tired. Or maybe even a bit frightened.

He mellowed as he grew older, and he and I finished up very close.

We foster carers have all been round the block - not just in parenting, but in life. We've been parented, and most of us have been parents as well.

And I don't think I'm the only foster carer who would love it if our hard-earned experience were enough to do the job.

It's not, though. The thing I find many of us have to overcome (I know this is true for me), is pride. We all believe we did a mostly perfect job with our own children, just as our parents did with us. All we have to do is reproduce that level and we'll be fine. 

But fostering is a step up.

Blue Sky has teams of people whose job is to bring new ideas and insights to what we do. They have to find out who we are, what help we need, and how we can be the best we can be. And help us get beyond the ghosts that might make us keep repeating some of our parent's mistakes.

I must admit there are times when I fume inside when anyone offers me advice about fostering. How can anyone - especially someone who's never fostered - possibly know more than I know? Jeez it's going to be hard work for me to fit new ideas into an already complicated and well stocked brain. Then I think about my dad again, who started out from a bad place, but towards the end of his life he had become more thoughtful, calmer and generous.

My dad came on, he improved himself.

Improvement is what we want for our looked-after children.

Why shouldn't we want it for ourselves?

The Secret Foster Carer


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