Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fostering - The Importance of Being a 'Mum'

I mentioned to my own mum that I’m writing a Blog for Blue Sky about fostering. Mum says she gets cyber things like the internet and mobile phones, but, come on mum, if you’re reading this, you know it’s a bit of a mystery. 

I’M in a generation sandwich with technology. I have parents who don’t get it, and yet my kids think I don’t get it either.

MY kids tell me that not only is email dead, but Facebook is for losers, and as for Twitter, their generation never did it anyway. They are into the latest things whose names I’ve already forgotten, things which come as apps, which I don’t really get.

I remember when I was a teenager that anything about my world that my parents understood was no use to me because I wanted my own world. I hated it if my dad liked (or pretended he liked) bands I liked. If my mum approved of a new hair look I’d spent my pocket money on I was disappointed. I actually once went upstairs in a huff and ruffled up a style I’d spent ages on because my mum said it looked beautiful.

ANYWAY, I got the blog up on her PC for her, and she read some posts. She said some nice things, and a few criticisms like parents do. Parents criticise not because they don’t rate your efforts, but because they are desperate for you to be as good as you possibly could be at everything.

IF I was honest, I wanted mum to say “Wow, that’s fantastic, you’re a great blogger”. 

I wanted her to watch me write one, and be impressed. I even wanted her to say how amazing I am with computers, because computers are like magic to her. I’ll never forget the time she watched a fax come through on our fax machine, she almost ran out of the room spooked.

THING is, now that I’m a foster carer, bringing up children isn’t just a matter of being a mum, it’s my job. 

My vocation. I’m a professional mum. If you’re a foster carer the same applies to you. You’re a professional parent.

IF your child has a sore throat, you do a bit of mild medicalism; a spoonful of Calpol and feed them runny food. Then you get them to a doctor in case it’s tonsils or an infection, and let the professional take over.

OKAY a doctor trains for 7 years, whereas foster carers are assessed over 6-12 months, then do regular training sessions, but most of us have had our own kids, and that was a training session longer than seven years.

THE thing is that I was sitting next to my mum at her computer, watching her read my blogs, and I came over all childlike. I had a bit of what they call an epiphany. A moment. I learned something, something huge, that I now use with my fostering and I want to share. See if it makes sense to you.

WHAT it is is this; I wanted my mum’s endorsement of my blogs more than anything else. More than my husband, more than Blue Sky, more than anybody, I wanted MY MUM to say “Well done!”

NOW here’s the thing. When my own kids came out of school with a painting they’d done, I would gush how good it was. When they went to bed nicely I would tell them how good they were. When they played football or were in the school Nativity play I would tell them I was proud. 

THEIR reaction was always a warm glow at my engagement with their efforts.

SO far, so normal.

WHEN I started fostering, and a child did something clever on a skateboard or got a star for a piece of schoolwork I would do the obvious and act like I acted with my own kids, like it pleased me.

THERE was often a different reaction from the child. They might stop skateboarding and strop off indoors. I remember a nice painting being ripped up.

WHY? Because I was dumb enough to pretend to be their mum. It only reminded them that they’re being cared from away from their real mum. Maybe even reminded them that their own mum isn’t kind enough to watch them at play, or celebrate their successes. 

IF my mum had shown zero interest in my blogs, I’d have felt hollow inside. If I’d been told that another woman was going to stand in for my mum and be nice about my blog like a good mum should, I’d have been pretty poisonous about her efforts.

SO what I do now with this little corner of fostering, is to say to the looked after child, when they come and say they’ve broken their own record on Super Mario,  or they manage to eat some broccoli, or clean their teeth without being nagged is “Well done! We must remember to tell your mum at Contact”. Or something like that. Not every time, obviously, but often enough to make a subtle point.

I find you often get a peaceful reaction, as they envisage their real mum giving them a hug and saying how proud she is, and just for a moment, they have the mum of their dreams, literally, even if the reality a few days later, when they show mum their schoolwork, is a rude awakening.

PLUS I try to compliment their success by saying “Don’t let Bill have a go at that kerb trick with your skateboard he’ll break a leg” or having a go myself at Super Mario and crashing into the first cliff – not hard, that one.

Happy fostering.


  1. Do you find that some children you've fostered are more receptive to you playing the 'mum' role than others? And is it difficult to tell what reaction you're getting - genuine frustration that you're trying to play the role of 'mum' when they've already got their own, or confusion/insecurity/longing to be loved buried under a cover of toughness?

    1. I find every child has a different perspective on your role as their "mum". And every child's perspective changes depending on the moment. I suppose I try to stay alert to how they're feeling about me at any given moment and be "mum" or the au pair, or the taxi-driver, or the teacher or even the police officer.

  2. I've just started the process of becoming a foster parent and found your blog. It's great. There is so much to learn and be prepared for. THank you so much for taking the time to write about it.

    1. Thanks for that. Hope the process is going well. Let us know how it goes.