Wednesday, January 29, 2014

No-one Asks If You Regret Having Children

I have two girlfriends who decided not to have children, they're late forties now. They're happy with the decision.
The first one wanted to concentrate on her career.  She worked funny hours and loved her work, and knew she'd have to give it up if she had children. Plus she went through several medium-term relationships in her twenties and thirties, and none of the relationships looked likely to last forever.

The second one wanted to concentrate on men, she socialised all hours and loved her fun, and knew she'd have to give it up if she had children. Plus she went through more relationships than you could shake a stick at, and none of them looked like they'd last the year.

I've asked both of them if they regret not having children, and they each pointed to their small dog (one has a Westie, the other a Jack Russel-Poodle cross) and said "George/Benji is quite enough for me thanks!"

I talked to them a bit deeper, and they each opened up about their life with no children; that they wondered about old age and being alone, that they also wondered what sort of mother they'd have been, that it must be great to see someone grow up. But they say they are happy, and they sure seem so. Respect, as they say.

Neither of them asked me if I regret having children.

I'm glad they didn't. Because I can't, in all honesty, say it's been without any (selfish) regret. There have been countless, literally innumerable moments, no not moments; hours, weeks, months when I've been knackered, terrified, and generally felt worthless despite my best efforts.

I'm not talking about those moments on a Sunday morning when you wanted to go back to sleep until the afternoon. I'm talking about things like when your children are frightened for their future, let down by love and friends and employers, and you wonder if it was right of you to decide they should come into the world.

Being a parent isn't a ticket to happiness, any more than not being a parent is. But now I'm getting on top of the constant struggle of parenting, I feel ready to recommend the third way. Fostering.

If you decide not to have children, that's final. If you decide to have children that's final too. If you foster, it's as final as you wish. If things crowd you down to the point where you have to throw in the towel, you can. Everyone understands it can be hard, some children can be really challenging. If it's getting too much, your social workers will work hard to get a good outcome, and if that outcome is that you step back for a while, or even for good, no problem, and everyone will respect the good that you did while you were there.

I think it's important people know this. 

If fostering turns out to be even better than you thought, and you can put in an extra bedroom somehow, and swell your house, well that's an option too. 

People do too. More often than people discover it's not for them, people discover it's right up their alley. 

I've had my moments in fostering so far, of course. But I'm here, loving it, and looking forward to our next placement.  


Thursday, January 23, 2014


One of the hardest things in parenting is sorting out disputes between your children. It follows that one of the hardest things in fostering is disputes between foster children. 

Even harder is a squabble between your own child and your foster child.

I've only ever seen courtroom judges on TV and in films, where they usually come across as being stuffy and quirky. They don't seem to do any judging either. The jury does the judging. The judge gets to say things like "Sustained!" when one of the lawyers goes "Objection your honour!", which is a judgement on a detail of procedure. The business of deciding whether a person did something criminal is down to the jury. Then there are magistrates who decide who's right and wrong in civil cases. Small claims courts settle minor financial disputes. 

Totally different  are TV judges like Judge Judy and Jeremy Kyle who get to see the domestic war recreated on camera for our entertainment, and then do a bit of hammed up deliberating to get the studio audience cheering.

The professional judges have it easy by comparison to us. Every dispute in court hinges on laws which have been made so anyone can get the appropriate book down from the shelf and look it up.

Same with the police. When they get called in they have to decide if they think a law might have been broken. In the "good old days" we like to tell each other, a bobby would use his common sense and knowledge of human nature to suss what was going on, give someone a clip round the ear and cycle off for his tea. 

Thankfully, squabbles between foster children are rare in my experience, but when they happen I find myself adjudicating like a cross between Judge Judy and one of those old-fashioned bobbies, except I can't cycle off for my tea, because most squabbles seem to break out around the house when I'm cooking tea.


 The Crown versus the Missing Lego Piece 
January 2014

PC Plod (Me): "Acting on the noise coming from the living room, I proceeded in a westerly direction from the kitchen, having turned down the pasta, and moved the saucepan to the back of the cooker for safety reasons, your honour. On arriving at the scene I ascertained that Spongebob was ended and that a dispute had begun about a Lego figure who was missing one of the lightning horns off his helmet."

Judge Judy (Me): "Whose Lego is this one anyway, they all look alike to me."

My Child: "It's my Klanggo, God mum, you bought it with me, it's the one I got with gran's money."

Foster Child: "Yeah but the head isn't, it's the head off Zendip, who you gave me when we swapped it for my mum's Wi control"

My Child: "It's not, his head didn't fit when we tried, nor does the flamethrower, does it mum?"

Foster Child: "If my mum was here she'd tell you."

PC Plod: "At this point your honour, I inferred that Defendant A (My Child) hoped that if he made enough of a song and dance of it, the judge would be bound to agree with Defendant A on the basis of family. Defendant B (Foster Child) hoped that you were bound to agree with him because he's had more than his share of troubles already and that if you didn't it would be because you're biased."

Judge Judy: "Okay everyone here's what I'm gonna do. First I'm gonna do denial over bias, and make out it's unthinkable because if I allow anyone to think there is any bias going on we're all losers. Secondly I'm gonna make out that there's a chance I can solve this one AND come up with a solution everyone likes, even though that's never happened once in the entire human history of children's squabbles. So each of you go and look in your bedrooms for the lightning thing while I finish the pasta. And if you find it you can both have a lolly after tea."

Verdict: Judge Judy decided that in future all swapping is completely banned and that both parties received a lolly after tea for trying hard to find the missing lightning horn of Klanggo, which never turned up. Her joke that it must have fallen through a rip in the space/time curtain bombed. She resolved in future to get tea on the table to coincide with the Spongebob end credits. 

Epilogue: As usual Judge Judy went back to the pasta full of self-doubt that she'd failed everyone; that both children were disappointed with the time honoured parent fudge verdict "You're both a bit right and both a bit wrong". She thanked her de-escalation training: you should calm tempers with distractions rather than confronting the problem, because the problem is usually deeper than the one you're presented with.

Mostly, she believes she is still one jump ahead of anyone thinking she has favourites. Which, being human, she has.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Sometimes you have to try to put yourself in the other person's shoes.

What's that joke by Ellen Degeneres? "If you don't like someone walk a mile in their shoes. Then at least you're a mile away. And you've got their shoes."

Hasn't she done well while we're on the subject? Seems like she's America's second biggest chat show host after Oprah Winfrey. Hasn't she done well too.

Sorry, I drifted off the subject.

Foster children have all got a massive past behind them, and one of the most rewarding things about fostering is helping them to deal with it.

I had a teenager stay with us for about 3 months while they tried to assess whether his mum could have him go back to her. She had some mental health issues. The lad had a lot of stored up feelings, partly because his mum had a speech difficulty and couldn't really manage a conversation. He could cuss alright, although interestingly he never swore in front of my own children. But he didn't know how to open up. Then one day, when it was just him and me in the house (I think he'd pulled a sickie and swung the day off school), the floodgates opened. 

What happened was this; I mentioned to him in passing that my husband's dad had been unkind to his children, which he had. The boy asked me in what way unkind. I said he'd always made them feel unwanted, a nuisance, used to humiliate them, knocked them about a bit. The boy respected Bill because Bill is very straightforward and although he's quite blokeish and strong he's also very gentle.

The boy said that his dad wasn't much good either. Then he was off on one. Talking ten to the dozen about his dad, the drink, the fights, his fears for his mum, his misery at school, why he ended up in a police cell, how he hated his brother, how he feared for his brother, and that he didn't think his life would ever be anything but grief.

He shed some tears, quiet ones trickling down both cheeks, I went and fetched the kitchen roll. He talked for about 15 minutes, that's a long time to talk non-stop. I just kept quiet and listened, and tried to imagine myself in his skin enduring so many troubles.

I know it did him good just to tell it like it was, and he definitely moved up onto a better plane afterwards. I'm not saying he turned the corner or anything miraculous, life's not like that. But he was calmer around the home, and he made me cups of tea and what have you, because he and I had shared, plus he knew I wasn't in any way trying to be better than his mum, I'd always made that clear: his mum was his only mum and nothing would ever change that.

Long story short, the boy wanted desperately to go home because he wanted to protect his mum and he had a point. She couldn't even use a phone. She could text, but when her top-up ran out she was out of contact and he panicked for her.

I can't go into much more detail about him because there are still issues, but he's back with her, and in some ways a wonderful son.

Looking back I think I moved up a plane too, just walking in his shoes for a bit.

Now I'm back thinking about Ellen Degeneres. I wonder if the difficult things she's dealt with in her life have made her a better person? Stronger maybe. Same with Oprah Winfrey, she was born to an unmarried teenager and brought up rough wasn't she?

Some people definitely go on to have fine lives BECAUSE of the trouble they've dealt with, not IN SPITE of it.

That's our job as foster carers, to try and make that happen.

Best job ever, BTW.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


There’s no doubt in my mind that the internet is going to become the biggest bugbear in fostering any day now, maybe it already is.
Not long ago I would have bet that nothing could come along to knock Contact off the Number One spot.
The thing about both these challenges is there’s lots of positives to be had from each of them, but plenty of negatives too and we’re the ones who have to manage them.
When I say “Contact”, in case you’re new to fostering, I’m talking about the arrangement whereby your foster child is taken to meet their “significant others”, generally once a week. The child often gets their hopes up that each Contact will accelerate the arrival of better times. And to be fair, Contact does help towards reconciling the family. The immediate aftermath, when the child comes back to your home with you, instead of going back to their real home with mum and dad, is usually a sad child.
My predecessor as Secret Foster Carer won me over when she blogged about how Contact could be made a better experience, by delaying the first Contact until the child is settled, by tailoring the meeting to suit the family’s problems, by coaching the parents in what the child needs. But as far as the authorities are concerned their spirit is willing but the wallet is weak. Everything costs money, and until the good times are back local authorities have to watch the pennies, and foster carers must make the best of what we’re given. The saving grace of Contact, the reason we carers can get on top of it, is because once you get to know the child the parents and the routine, you can do damage limitation.
Unlike the internet. The internet has changed in the time you’ve been reading from the top of this blog. I saw a programme about the internet in which an executive from one of the high tech companies told the interviewer “Every day is Day Zero”. Everything that’s gone before in internet history is, well, history.
Take email. For hundreds of years people used hand-written letters to correspond. Suddenly letter writing was a dead duck (“Snail mail”). Email had arrived.  Guess what; email’s dead. There are young people who turn up for work on their first day and have to be taught how to do it by the office dinosaurs (people aged thirty-plus). The young have even moved on from Facebook, Skype, Twitter and text messaging. They are now using other things.
To be totally honest I never really got into a stride with any of those new ways of communicating, if I want to say something to somebody I pick up the phone and talk. Blogging is about as clever as I can get.
When I started fostering, which wasn’t very long ago, there was one golden rule; foster children were not allowed to have their laptops upstairs.
Oh happy days. Laptops are easy to patrol. A young person couldn’t slip a laptop into their pocket and sneak it into the bathroom. They couldn’t log on the internet on the school bus or in the playground. I learned how to ensure Parental Controls were switched on, and how to use “History” to see what the laptop had been used for (under supervision from Blue Sky and my social worker).
But that was yesterday.
Today mobile phones are computers. Anyone can get onto the internet anywhere, anytime, provided they have a phone which is internet-enabled. And I’m told that nobody would dare show their face if they had a phone that wasn’t.
They can roam and surf any of the estimated 649 million websites out there. They can theoretically communicate with any of the 2,480 million people who are internet users. (I just Googled those facts 10 minutes ago, so remember they are already out of date).
Our worry, of course, as foster carers, is that our foster children stay safe.
That they aren’t bullied or learn to bully. That they are only communicating with appropriate people. That they don’t look at inappropriate material.
You hear about kids arrested for plotting terrorism, other kids who disappear. Extreme cases, yes, but they usually seem to have their origins in social media and individuals they meet on the internet.
What do we foster carers do? At Blue Sky there are staff who are assigned to the problem, and not surprisingly they always seem to be updating their advice. There are regular training sessions on the latest things, what to look out for, and what to do.
Bill and I agree we both stay alert to any changes in mood among our placements. We try to make sure they know we are alert to any misuse of their phone, and most important, that the reason we are alert is we have their own welfare and happiness at the front of our thinking.
We don’t allow mobile phones at the meal table, but we do allow them downstairs in the living room (we can monitor how much time is spent on them). We try to ensure that bedtime means lights out and no phone, and yes we have confiscated phones until morning in spite of the aggro it causes.
Phones do tend to cause differences of opinion, but In fostering you can’t always push all the right buttons.
Incidentally, did you know that you can tell how old a person is by how they ring your doorbell? People of my generation use their forefinger. Young people, brought up on mass-texting, use their thumbs.
That’s if they need to ring, half of them are texting they are “just coming up the path c u in 10 secs”.

C U soon. LOL.


Thursday, January 09, 2014

Our family were all very interested when they found out we were becoming foster carers. We didn’t send out the news to all four corners, nor tried to keep it secret.

Part of the process of becoming approved as a carer is having Blue Sky go and meet some people who are close to you. In my case they visited my mum and one of my best friends. After the meeting my mum phoned, said nice things about the young lady, and how interesting it was to have a long chat about things that are dear to her, such as our children and what we’re like as parents. She also asked if she could tell her sister, as she was going to be seeing her soon. From that point it’s top family news, right up there with who’s having a baby and why a cousin is getting divorced.

When you start fostering, and the placements arrive, the family stays interested, and the tricky bit is choosing which relatives to tell what information about the child. The child’s right to privacy is paramount. It’s not right to tell even your mum anything about what happened to the child before they came to live with you. It’s hard, because you sometimes feel that you’re suggesting that your own flesh and blood can’t be trusted. It’s hard because you crave an outlet for some of the harsh realities of fostering. You can, and should, pass on healthy stuff about how your foster children are getting on as part of your family, things like how much they are fascinated by your tropical fish, how you’ve persuaded them to eat peas.

Christmas has just come and gone, and that meant meeting up with family, at your house or theirs. For the child, a bewildering bunch of strangers; something they may find alarming – strangers in the house. You tell them in advance what it’s going to be like, who will be there, and that they are allowed to go off and be with the other children and play.

The gathering will all be aware of all sorts of changes to the family make-up over the previous 12 months, the cousin’s absent husband and ...the foster children.  So, when asked (usually in a whisper) you say they are doing great, and have brought a great deal of pleasure to the family, which has plenty enough truth about it to remind you that you’re doing okay.

Most of our extended family are brilliant with our placements. They behave as if the foster children are family children, ask us on the phone about whether to give the child a present, compliment the child on their skill on X Box or how well they’ve built their Lego Friends house, ask if they want another glass of juice when they’re doing a drinks run, and so on.

But, there’s always one adult or two perhaps, who struggle a bit. A family member much loved, but whose social skills are well, not world class. Or maybe one of those people who simply don’t get the world of children, astonishing because they were once a child themselves, have they no memories? Have they shut out their childhood? They're harmless, of course, just a bit clumsy chatting with other people's children.

Annoyingly, they will “make an effort” with your children, including your foster child, and you can hear the unmistakeable sound of toes curling all around the room as they;

·         Ask a streetwise twelve year old who is in the process of giving up smoking and already has a tattoo; “What did Father Christmas bring you this year?”

·         Tell the child what Christmas was like in 1953

·         Tell the foster child how lucky they are

·         Talk in front of the children about sensitive things like why Twerking is disgusting and why a cousin is getting divorced

·         “Joking” that if the children eat chocolate their teeth will fall out or they’ll get fat

·         Asking a child which football team they support, then getting stuck in because they have a problemt with Man Utd


This year, to his enormous credit, our foster child actually fought back. A married couple, family member’s of Bill, asked the boy what he’d got for Christmas, so he went and fetched his main present to show them. They looked at it for one and a half seconds, said something like “Oh, isn’t that lovely” without the slightest understanding of what it was. Nor did they care; they were much more interested in adult gossiping. The child started to explain how the toy functioned when they both turned away to continue discussing Arsenal and why a cousin is getting divorced. The child threw the toy to the floor. I asked if he was okay. He announced in a loud clear voice, that he had been asked what he’d got for Christmas, then when he showed them they all started talking. Cue slightly embarrassed silence. Excellent. Out of the mouths of babes etc.

Bill and I have talked about whether we deal with the problem in advance, by speaking to the family and advising them how to behave. Or by staying on full alert throughout the gathering, and talking to the children afterwards to make sure it’s a positive experience. For us, it’s the latter every time.

We believe that part of the process of childhood is the child discovering for themselves that there are adults in the world you like, because they have time for you, and respect your world, and adults who just don’t. They discover this is true at school, because they have teachers they look forward to and others they don’t. We are happy to share with them that my gran is a hoot and has a heart of gold. And yes, cousin Victor (not real name obviously), is a bit of a misery guts when it comes to children. But we love him too.