Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Every time someone like Miley Cyrus gets it wrong the media go on about the importance of good role models. Who are the real role models for foster children?

Foster parents share a lot of that responsibility.

But here's the thing. Assuming a foster child goes to school, then during the week their time in care sees them spend about 5 or 6 hours a day awake in their foster home, and the same amount, if not a bit more, at school. Across a typical week the teachers in our foster children's school provide them with almost as much influence as role models as we can.

If you have a looked-after child at Primary school they are largely in the company of one adult - their class teacher - almost as much as they are with you, their foster carer. They get bits of other teachers too, but the Primary school child is very much under the wing of one adult teacher. She (for it is usually a she) better be good.

If your child is ill at ease with their class teacher, they've got a problem, and so have you. And foster children can often present a teacher with issues that can lead to complications. Your foster child might even transfer fear or hostility onto an unsuspecting teacher, no fault of the teacher.

See, we foster carers are trained to understand these things, teachers aren't. Teachers are up to their necks in academic requirements, they don't go to lectures about social problems in children, or have regular one-on-ones with social workers about individual children's needs.

We do.

The Head of our local Primary school says the biggest change in education over the last 20 years has been the arrival of social issues in the classroom which teachers aren't trained to understand or deal with.

Things improve at Secondary school from the standpoint of adult role models because the youngsters get a different teacher for every subject. This is where and how our young people discover that adults are all different. They learn by experience that adults can be nice or not nice, welcoming or remote, comfortable or brittle, positive or negative, likeable or dislikable. Most teachers are somewhere in the middle. A handful are out on the edge.

Children find out at secondary school how to spot adults who are on side with children and adults who are not on side. Some teachers walk into the class and light up. Other teachers march in making it clear they'd rather be somewhere else. Children learn about the different types of adult and how to manage their feelings about different adults. 

For my part, I have never forgiven a few teachers I had who made it clear they didn't like us even though we'd done nothing wrong. I can still see them in my mind's eye. I still want to ask them why.  At least they prepared us for the real world by showing us at an early age that there will be people who'll behave unfairly. For me, their misbehaviour was more a negative role model than Miley Cyrus at her daftest.

Most of us had our favourite teachers at school. They shape many people's lives. You meet adults who have ended up with a desk job handling spreadsheets because they liked their maths teacher best. Or university students who are studying for a geography degree and you ask them why geography and they say it's down to the fact that they "liked their geography teacher"

The other side of the coin are the young adults who didn't click with any teachers. They haven't read a book since they tried once when they were 15, because their English teacher was indifferent, or even discouraging. They have body image problems caused by their PE sessions.

I now realise that by watching teachers I learned that adults are all different. I learned to tell from the general behaviour of each of them which ones I could trust. Which ones I wanted to grow up to be like. I learned that important staff members namely the Head and her deputies acted remote. I noticed that younger, more confident teachers were often more at ease with us. I noticed that the caretaker and the dinner ladies didn't seem to like children much. They seemed to like the idea that we were one rung below them in the pecking order. 

I learned how to read adult's facial expressions, their tone of voice. I learned how to try to deal with them.

I could do you a list now of my favourite teachers in order, and if ever get therapy I bet I'd discover there are times when I act a bit like some of them. Trouble is there may be times when I also act a bit like some of the teachers I didn't like.

The collection of adults that our children meet in their school life are a miniature of the outside world that lies ahead. Not quite the full spectrum because adults in school are drawn into acting like each other (it's called "Role Engulfment". Guess where I learned about that? Yep Blue Sky training). 

I'm pretty sure teachers, helpers, classroom assistants, office staff and mealtime supervisors are vaguely aware of their role model responsibility, but are required from on high to be more focussed on success with professional targets than subsidiary social duties.

Just like Miley Cyrus really.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


It's not a self-satisfied person writing below, honest. I'm not even satisfied. I'll never be as good at fostering as I'd like, but with what I manage to do, I know fostering is the best thing. 

I. You have found your thing. Like many people I'd never found my niche in life. I had various jobs, but that's all they were, jobs. Nothing sang. My family was the one thing I felt driven from inside to try to get right. Then fostering came along; it was as if I'd been working towards it for years without realising. Now I do something worthwhile that suits me down to the ground. 

2. The look on a little face. You only allow yourself to feel good in yourself when you know the child feels a bit better in him/herself. It's all about the child. In my earlier blog about the 10 Hardest Things I mentioned a weekend respite with a child who was the limit. He was a real handful. But in truth he wasn't the limit, because three months later we agreed to have him for respite again. When he arrived at the front door half hidden behind his regular foster mum's skirt, I saw this little smile, a very real one. He appreciated that he'd been asked back. Ordinary humanity is of immense value to children who need it.

3. You astound people. People who matter, who are worth astounding. Professionals. Life is messy, fostering can be uncertain. Are you doing the right things? Then your social worker visits. They can't fake it when they bow to your work. If your work needs a tweak they double chuff you by congratulating your will to succeed, for the child.

3a. You astound yourself. I have never met a foster carer who knew they had it in them.

4. When your foster children say nice things to you. 

"You're the first person who listened" 
"Maybe my mummy could come and live with me here"
"I've never seen so much food"
"Now I know what a mum should be like"
"How is my bed made every day?" 
"Can I come back if I want to?"

5. You have something to say. I used to be a bit invisible at weddings and christenings, parties and barbecues. Other people's husbands and wives would hold court about their jobs and the state of the country, their family news. Since I started fostering I have news and views. I don't wear a badge that says "Foster Parent". But if I hear someone talking guff about society or schooling or refugees or child-rearing they can pin back their ears because what I have to say I've seen with my own two eyes, not read about it in a red top.

5a. Fostering broadens the mind. Twice we've been asked to take refugee runaway children from Afghanistan. One child did not know how to tie his trainers, but knew how to renovate a Kalashnikov rifle. True.

6. And you get a cheque. Every fortnight. Tax free. Technically half is yours, half for the upkeep of the child; food clothing, gas and electricity, their contribution to Council tax. Basically you budget it yourself, with Blue Sky holding your hand. How does it feel to get money for fostering? It feels damn right. Surgeons get money for saving lives, it's the same thing. It means I can pay the car insurance up front instead of monthly, or if I prefer, buy a new bag and shoes. Ta da!

7. Passing the test. They test you, some foster children. They test to see if you can keep your equilibrium. One child, a big glum teenage girl, she tried it on one Saturday night, wanting to "Go and meet someone", we said no. Argument. She refused dinner. She stomped downstairs at 10.30pm and  announced she was starving. I asked what she wanted. "McDonalds".  As she had kept her half of the bargain and not gone out, I drove her to the nearest late night one. Nineteen miles away. She knew our local one closed at 10.30pm. She was testing. One the way back she suddenly said, through a mouthful of cheeseburger;  "Isn't it beautiful the way the headlights pick out the trees?"

8. You laugh a lot. The big girl I mentioned above was doing media studies. She came home one afternoon and said "What's the first thing a media studies graduate  says at work every morning?" I said "I don't know, what's the first thing a media studies graduate says at work every morning?" Answer "Do you want fries with that?"

9. People ask if they could foster. Often. About a third of people who find out you foster want to know if they can too. I had a cold phone call, a bod doing a "survey" wanting to sell me home insurance. I answered the question about who lives in our house and the survey stopped dead. "I've been wondering about becoming a foster carer" And off we went talking about it for twenty minutes.

10. It's the best thing you can do. Some people do nothing. Others tilt at windmills: world peace,  world hunger. Some people write a best-selling novel, or top the charts. If you foster you get to do something huge that has a real chance, makes a real difference. No offence to the United Nations, Band Aid, JK Rowling and Madonna. Foster parents are doing a real thing, perhaps the most valuable thing in the world.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


I do love fostering, but I wouldn't want anyone to think I just paint everything a rosy glow.

Here's are my ten hardest things about fostering.

1. They go. Your foster children, they go. Generally, the day a social worker arrives to take them away is the last you see or hear of them. Sometimes the going away is painful. Sometimes it's nice to get the house back for a while, until the next placement. But you find yourself getting little reminders of them; a TV show they liked to watch with you, a meal that was a particular favourite of theirs. And you wonder, you really do, how they are and what they are up to. Often. Very often.

2. Your family worry about you. You have to be guarded about telling them entertaining tales of how challenging fostering can be, it's tempting to use all the colour and drama. Best not, keep it factual. Family don't need to know anything but the basics. The child has privacy. Your family are best off only knowing approximately half of what fostering is like.

3. Getting advice from people who've never fostered. Almost everybody has never fostered. Your mum, your best friend, your children. Amatuers. You only tell them things you're permitted to, but they like to give titbits of advice. Your social worker, your training officer, your review board. They are professional. They will give thought-out advice. Never fostered though. 

4.Worrying how something will look in your recorded diary. Everyday things, things that happen, you find yourself wondering how it would look if you had to write it into the diary we keep. We carers send Blue Sky a report on our foster children every so often. You get training in how to write reports. I had one kid who was good fun and a bit of a pain. One school morning I hammered on the bathroom door "Get your ass out of there". She shouted back "Did you say "arse"? And I found myself floundering, worrying I'd crossed a line. Foul language. I actually asked my Blue Sky social worker if I should report that I'd sworn at the child. I was told no way, but write it up as a fact if you want; spell "ass" as "ass". It's a donkey for heavens sake. My social worker advised me to watch less American TV.

5. Standing up to someone else's child when they try it on. Massive responsibility to get it right. The kid says "I'm going to my friends house tonight and I'm probably gonna stay" And just like with your own kids you have to say "You are not staying out at someone else's house tonight." Your own children might imply "What are you going to do about it?" and then what do you say? But in fostering you just say "I'll call Blue Sky's 24 hour service and report that you have missed the time you're supposed to come home and they'll deal with you." Actually, now I think of it, this is something that's easier than with your own children. Scrub this one.

6. Turning down a placement. Sometimes you have to. The profile you get on the case just doesn't fit with your family and what you can do. Blue Sky are totally understanding, it's your job to say "No". It's professional. Still hurts though. I remember a call asking "Would you accept a placement, a teenager who has just killed another young person. He's a good young man. It was an accident, but the prosecution have to consider a murder charge." We declined, but I regret that to this day, always will.

7. Wishing you were somewhere else. This is life, this one. I can't remember any time of my life, any circumstance I've ever had where sometimes I didn't sometimes wish I was somewhere else. Fostering is no different. Fostering sharpens things I find. The highs are much higher, and the lows can be lower. But when I've been low before in life, love and work, I was alone. In fostering I have people behind me going "You're great, rock on!"

8. Fostering can make you wonder about your fellow humans. Hell's teeth, some of the things I've learned about how our fellow humans can behave at the rock bottom end of being fellow people  has left me in danger of a new and harsh philosophy. The things that people can inflict on children, things I only read about and heard about before fostering, are now the truth for children I have in my home. I have to watch myself getting quite angry, even vindictive, even worse political. Then you say to yourself "Forget big solutions, there's a child upstairs who needs me, get stuck into that."

9. When the placement doesn't work. It happens, of course. For some carers: the child is not right. It can be for a thousand different reasons, but when it happens you get the full weight of support.   Blue Sky don't want you sad anymore than they want a child unhappy. It's always possible there's a solution, but if not the placement ends. This hasn't happened to me yet, although by God a child we had for a respite weekend was about the limit, so I can see that ending a placement is painful but if it's necessary it happens.

10. When you say yes to a placement and they don't come. What can happen is you get the phone call saying "Would you be willing to take..." and you listen to the details. You phone your other half at his work. You get the emailed extra information. You make up your mind and phone Blue Sky and say "Yes". You might get told "The local authority are reviewing the foster carers who are up for it, we'll get an answer in two or three hours". You read through the information. You see the list of favourite foods, so you nip out and get some in. You give the spare bedroom a final spruce, plus tweak a few things now you know the gender and age of the child. You know the name, you have formed a picture of the child. Then the phone rings again "Unfortunately..." The child has been placed elsewhere. It's happened to me several times now, it's due to things like geography (child needs to be the best distance from their real home, needs to attend same school, needs to be far enough away from a particular location or person). Maybe the child has particular problems another carer specialises in. Thing is; it's NOT a rejection. But it feels like one. 
Do you know a funny thing? You know my Number 1 at the top, about wondering about them, how it turned out for children I've had in the home? I even find myself wondering how things turned out for the foster children I nearly had.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


That TV show "Friends" was always going to go down well with young people, being about young friends.

Nothing takes up more time in young people's lives than their friends. Texting, Mssging, Facebook and all that. Looking back, my generation had to make do with talking to each other, but friends were still of A1 importance.

The first thing I learned at my first Blue Sky training session was about "attachment". Newborn babies, from the minute they exist, crave attachment with a caring parent. Attachment is a two-way feeling of understanding and care for someone. It's the love we feel for our family members. It starts before babies are born. As they grow and learn to walk and talk the attachment deepens. Babies develop attachment with their parents, then use the skills to make healthy relationships with other people.

Children who have fractured relationships with their parents have trouble making attachments. They don't get on with other people very well, and it can be the root cause of a whole range of social problems.

It's not only the children of socially deprived families that suffer. Rich still send their children off to boarding school, and the damage they can suffer is starting to be understood.

My own children all have a steady bunch of friends they are growing up with. They have been friends for a long time. There are arguments. New faces come and go occasionally. Changing schools from primary to secondary was a wrench, but with social media they've stuck together. Now that they are getting towards thinking about romance I guess the dynamic will shift a bit.

I notice it's not the same for many looked-after children. Yes they sometimes have friends, but I'd call them acquaintances rather than friendships. You see it in the playground, the foster child is often on his own. Not necessarily unhappy, almost as if they've pulled up the drawbridge on other people and don't want the risk/reward of trying to bond.

It's not always the case of course, and I've also noticed that the problem, if it is a problem, seems to right itself as they approach adulthood. They find themselves a buddy or two. Or as Bill puts it "An accomplice".

I don't know if what I've noticed about foster children struggling to make friends is true across the board, maybe it's just my brood. As to the cause; their damaged attachment? Their conscious reluctance to put themselves out there and maybe get emotionally hurt again?  Maybe they are simply short of the social skills you need to keep hold of playmates. Maybe other children sense that your looked-after child might be a bit more complicated than the rest and children are usually pretty astute at recognising the necessary similarities with themselves that make other children potential friends.

The thing is, what do we carers do to help? You can't teach a foster child "give-and-take". I tried once arranging a little tea-party of school mates at our house, but it didn't do the trick. The other children paired off and my looked-after ended up angry, confused and overdosed on sugar. He didn't end up with a buddy.

I guess the best we carers can do is be some kind of friend while they are with us.

As a p.s. Blue Sky organise a load of social events where all the children there are young people in care. They do seem to relax knowing that everyone is in the same boat, no worries about another child asking an awkward question or fear that others might be gossiping about them.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Now that I've had quite a number of foster children at our home, there's one big thing I've noticed about a high proportion of them. They often have a very keen set of eyes and ears, and are very attuned to an adult's tone of voice, demeanour and mood. They have advanced minds, in certain things.

They sometimes have a sophisticated insight into adults. We adults like to think we are one step ahead of children. We usually are with our own kids. But looked-after children are often on a different level than other children. 

At training we learned that many looked-after children had to develop these skills from an early age, as young as just a few weeks old.

They had to start thinking about what sort of behaviour would get what they needed and what would help them avoid things they didn't need. This is in a chaotic home shared with parents or other adults who might be struggling to keep on an even keel. These adults might be devious, selfish, unpredictable, unkind, even dangerous. In vulnerable children the part of the brain where individuals create strategies was wired up at a much earlier age than most children.

Survivalism honed their abilities to notice things in people and situations. Unfortunately they often have an average mental game for what to with their perceptions.

One child we had stay with us early in my fostering days noticed something on day two at our house; that I kept sharp knives in a cabinet high above the sink. He asked about it. I felt foolish, because I could tell he knew I didn't want knives to be available. The boy had no problem with knives, no violent record, he was good as gold. I'd started putting the knives out of reach before we had our first foster child arrive. When I mentioned it Blue Sky advised me it wasn't necessary, they'd tell me in advance if it was ever advisable. They never have. 

The knives went back in the kitchen drawer. But I realised the child was taking everything in, trying to work out where he stood with us at every given moment, in everything we said and did.

Foster children notice things, perceive things. They are especially vigilant on one's tone of voice and facial expressions. Mind, they don't always come to the right conclusion.

At one training session the Blue Sky psychotherapist told us about a foster carer who looked out of the window one morning and realised it was wheelie bin day and the truck was almost at her front gate. She ran out in the rain and hauled the bin up the path, and came back panting and cross with herself for forgetting. Whereupon her foster child became upset. The child was frightened because he perceived her mental state but associated it with danger for himself. He got a picture of her emotions, but wrongly thought it meant trouble for him.

One child we had will make a fantastic lawyer if he gets an education, so agile was he about our house rules and how they are observed. He could turn everything into a clever argument. Bedtime, for example. He was only seven, but he ran rings around us on the question of whether bedtime at 8.00pm meant going upstairs at 8.00pm and getting pyjamas on, then cleaning teeth followed by a glass of milk then me reading him a chapter of Winnie The Pooh before lights out at about half past eight, in which case bedtime wasn't 8.00pm it was about 8.30pm, OR if bedtime was actually 8.00pm didn't that mean going upstairs at roughly half past seven and going through the pre-lights out jobs so that it was lights out at 8.00pm on the dot. He could have resolved the age-old riddle of how many angels can dance on a pinhead, but he couldn't hardly read or add up.

Another child was brilliant at feigning she didn't understand or didn't remember any arrangements that didn't suit her. Her catchphrase was "I'm confused" which roughly translated meant "Change the deal again, so it suits me better or else I won't keep my half of the bargain because like I said, I don't understand".

We often hear on the media of people complaining that children don't have a proper childhood anymore, sometimes I think that's true and sad. 

Most children are desperate to grow up. Ask a child how old she is the day after her ninth birthday and she'll say "I'm nearly ten!" It's our job as parents to try to give them a childhood even if they want to be grown up.

It can be painful how little of a childhood our foster children have had. They've gone straight from being able to walk to being world-weary enough to refuse to vote. They are aged seven going on thirty seven. No in-between. No wide-eyed wonder at Santa or mud-pies in the rain. No skipping until after dark. No tooth fairy. No bedtime story reading, no nursery rhymes. 

Once innocence is lost I guess it's gone for good. But we can give them glimpses of how it should be, so that even if the scales don't fall from their own eyes they'll be better parents to their own children.

We had a parent and child placement, the parent was 19 years old, I had to teach her nursery rhymes to sing to her baby, she had never heard a nursery rhyme in her whole life.
Never put on a Sooty Show for mummy and daddy. Never played french cricket in the garden. Never cried when the budgie died, never looked forward to meeting the budgie again in heaven.

She lived in a town 5 minutes from the sea, but she'd never paddled in the surf. We took her to the beach with her baby and ended up treating her like a happy infant, all sand-in-the-toes and candy floss. You could see in her eyes that child-like contentment maybe for the first time.

She felt a bit of the relaxation of knowing that there is a big grown-up or two who want them to feel at peace and are protecting them from the world's burdens for all the years that they are children.

This is why fostering is the biggest and the best job in the world.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


When you foster a child, the deal is that right from the start you are working towards getting them back together with their real parents, unless that's impossible, which is sometimes the case.

The easy part of this arrangement is that it's what the children want. The parents say it's what they want too, most often. Both sets of social workers (the child's and the foster carer's - in my case Blue Sky) want it too. It's the foster carers and the social workers who do the work towards this. I'm not cynical but the real parents never seem willing or able to put themselves out much.

Modern life has identified a new type of parent, the "Sandwich Generation"; people who are looking after their children and their parents.

Modern foster carers are the "Club Sandwich Generation." We're looking after our children and maybe our parents and someone else's children. And someone else's parents.

It doesn't say it on the tin, but foster carers have to do what you  might call distance-caring of the real parents.

When we get our file on why the child has been removed it's natural to feel negative about the real parents. That's human, and you can't be a foster carer if you're not human.

But the job is to get the child home, and that means we have to find it in ourselves to get a positive attitude towards the real parents and their family arrangements. This is especially hard because, unfortunately, the real parents don't often have a positive attitude towards the foster carer.

Understandable really, because the situation is loaded with implications that we're better parents than they are.

Sometimes the real parents have already begun some negativity towards us before the child is removed; telling the child scary stories about what happens to children who are taken into care. Foster children are often told by the real parents that foster carers are "only in it for the money".

Sometimes the real parents continue the campaign at Contact. If you turn up with your foster child and the weather is remotely changeable the real parent might greet you with "Why hasn't he got a coat, he'll freeze". I remember the first time I took a child to Contact the mother was waiting in the car park. She seemed to sense I was feeling my way and kept rolling her eyes at my wet-behind-the-ears rookie approach; "You can't hand him over to me outside until there's a social worker present." She reeled off as much expertise as she knew "He shouldn't have had his tea because at Contact we're expected to give them tea." "You have to be waiting right at the door afterwards for the social worker to bring him to you." "You should wait in the car the whole time in case he flips and Contact has to end early".

It's easy to feel sympathy for a looked-after child. Carers get a full report on what has happened to them. It's harder to feel sympathy for the real parents. We don't know enough about how and why they've ended up having their children removed. Occasionally we get some titbits of background about the parents. "Her mother was in and out of care herself" or "His stepfather used to put out cigarettes on his arm".

I guess there are data protection reasons or human rights privacy issues. Or maybe it's just that it's no-one's job to dig into the parents background. Or maybe the parents just blank any attempt to get their story.  If we had that information would make it easier to do our job? If we can't find it in us to care for the real parents, what are we doing working towards sending their children back to them?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


Until a few years ago, people had to get a licence to own a dog. Back then good parents used to reflect that you needed a licence to drive a car, or go fishing, you even needed a licence to own a dog. But any damn fool could have a child.

I had a social worker a while back, a brilliant girl, who said she thought that if a person had a second child taken away from her (we'd been talking about a mother of ten children, each of whom had been taken into care) then that person should be prevented from having more children. There are ways.

I was thinking about all of this driving home from the morning school run the other day, because one of the other mums had been talking about her parenting.

Her story of the way we regard our pets versus our parenting gets a neat twist from this mum.

She is a charming lady, quite well-heeled, her husband is a company director so she doesn't need to work, they have three children, one of whom is a "problem" child. The problem child is always being discussed by the mother with other mums, it's as if she wants everyone to realise that just because she's middle class and well-to-do doesn't mean she's in clover.

What's the "problem"? The problem is the child doesn't like school. The child is highly academic, reads books day and night, is very popular with friends. But the mother tells anyone who'll listen that the child is reduced to tears of misery about having to go to school. And the mother quite understands this because after all, they have a lovely loving home and the mother is a wonderful mother, so the child's reluctance to leave home every morning is proof that wonderful parenting is going on.

This has been going on ever since I started taking one of our brood to this school, nearly three years. The "problem" is getting worse for the mother and the child. She tells us the school is failing her child in every way because they don't have the facilities in place to help her child with the "problem", and that individual teachers are particularly hostile to her child's "problem" and to her, the mother.

I've heard the mother say to the child on a Friday afternoon "Well done, you've made it through another week".

This week, the mother told us that she'd started bribing the child to go to school: the going rate seems to be material goods, toys and presents to the value of around £20-£30  a week.

So am I the only parent who can see what might be going on here? The training you get at Blue Sky about child psychology doesn't make you an expert, but it does give you an edge over most ordinary parents. I've suggested a couple of times to the mother that since the situation is bringing her family down she might consider talking to someone professionally. Anyone can get counselling either on the NHS, or privately. This family could afford Sigmund Freud himself.

But no. Definitely not. Idea completely laughed off. Why? Well not the expense. Not even the stigma (not that there is any stigma in reality, but some people still think there is). I think the reason the mother won't take any kind of professional advice or support is because, like parents everywhere, she thinks she knows everything you need to know to be a parent; she was born with it, and her natural world experience only enhances her inborn skills.

Just like the parents in dysfunctional families whose children end up with us in foster care.

Here's the little twist; a few months ago they bought a dog, this family. Not any old mutt, a pedigree thing whose name I've forgotten. Turns out the dog is a bit scatty, doesn't do everything it should.

So the other day, the mother was telling us, she signed up with a dog whisperer person. This person comes to the house, for about £40 a time and "works" with the dog and with the mother to help develop understanding and promote a healthy functioning relationship for all concerned.

Nuff said?

Saturday, July 05, 2014


Before fostering I had a job which meant I shared an office with 3 women all of whom had grown-up children. Every Monday morning they all tried to make out to each other they'd had the best weekend. The minute you walked in, before you'd hung up your coat you'd get asked "Did you have a nice weekend?". Sounds like a harmless question I know, but actually it meant "Ask me about my weekend" and off they'd go.

None of them spent a moment from Friday evening to Monday morning doing anything mundane like cleaning the toilet or finishing last night's leftovers for lunch. Oh no. Their weekends were end-to-end swanky things like being in the audience for "An Evening With Cilla", or having their very successful son and his wife over for dinner where the canapés matched the wine.

It wasn't as if their telling of the story of their weekend was any good.

They seemed to think they had to list every little detail in order that they happened. 

They didn't seem to know the difference between something interesting and something uninteresting. So you had to listen to;

"Well on Sunday afternoon we drove down to the National Trust Bird Sanctuary next to Lady Whatmore's estate, the car park was only 45p for two hours which is very reasonable these days and we went for a lovely walk; we saw a cormorant which was amazing and then we managed to get a harbour-side table at the thatched pub right on the estuary, it was so lovely we shared a crab salad and watched the sun go down, the crab salad was served with crusty white bread rather than slices of brown which actually worked quite well and it was only £5.99 I had a glass of wine with it and we forgot the time and our ticket had nearly run out but we wouldn't have got a fine because everyone was more bothered about the man they pulled out of the water who needed mouth-to-mouth, and we got home just in time for Downton Abbey."

Yawn. None of the other women ever listened anyway, they were busy mentally rehearsing their story.

I used to stay out of it, this competition to see who had the swankiest weekend. After all, how would I win with this:

"Bill took our eldest to his school football match, I had to stay home because our youngest is refusing to come out of her bedroom because someone is picking on her at school. The football went badly so Bill treated him to a new Man U shirt on the way home which only upset youngest when she she found out he'd had a treat and they had a big argument and Bill and I nearly had an argument because I said you can't treat one and not the other, but by this time youngest was milking it and refusing being taken to the cinema because she was happy being the victim. Bill yanked the fridge door too hard and it came off meaning more expense and a fridgeful of milk going off..."

But as time went by I began to realise that the office women weren't having much of a weekend. What was actually going on was that their children had left home and everything was empty. Their home, their weekends, their whole lives. For twenty years their lives had been a rush of children. Suddenly they're idling round the supermarket with a small trolley instead of the family size one. They have to get to know the stranger on the sofa they share a house with. They feel like they must have earned some selfish pleasures. They figure that going to the New Forest and hiring two bikes or going up to town to ride the London Eye before seeing a show must be rewarding, it's what people do in magazines.

One day our children will be other people, that's life. 

But Bill and I have agreed we will stay in fostering. Not for us the lying in bed on a Saturday morning  in a silent house racking our brains to find ways to fill the void. You'll never find us dressing up in hired costumes for a steam train ride with a hundred other lost souls. Nope.

Fostering has taught us the difference between interesting and uninteresting, that's for sure.

In fostering you end up with hundreds of stories to tell, but you only tell them to your social worker. You share the experience with your partner, it strengthens the bonds. 

Are there times when I wish I could turn over and go back to sleep? Or better still, wake up in a 5 star hotel in St Moritz? Yes, obviously, that's normal. 

I'm not going to beat about the bush; fostering gives your life a whole lot more meaning than anything I can think of.