Monday, March 04, 2019

AT THE TABLE

Life is hard in many ways. Parenting, to name but one aspect of life, is no bed of roses.

Hang on. Wouldn't a bed of roses be a nightmare...?

I'm sidetracked.

Life = hard. In fostering our foster parenting comes with its share of unique challenges, big and small. However unlike ordinary parents I have access to Blue Sky support and Social Worker back-up and solutions.

For example; in fostering Contact can be a big issue. Contact is where Foster Carers bring their foster children to meet the child's family and it can upset them. Our Social Workers work with us to fix.

Foster Carers also face the same challenges of ordinary parents, such as mobile phones and when and how they are used. That question gets more than enough media attention, and occupies the minds of parents and teachers the world over.

In our house we don't allow phones at the meal table, which leads me to one of the smaller challenges in fostering (and parenting in general) which gets no attention.

Don't laugh, please. I'm totally serious here.

The problem is...

                            ...what to talk about at the meal table.

At the heart of the problem is our hope that the conversation will be inclusive and everyone joins in for an equal amount of time and everyone enjoys everyone's contribution whether it's informative, funny, thoughtful, personal or universal.

But blimey, I'd guess that 99 mealtimes out of 100 the conversations in our house stop-start and zig-zag out of control like a supermarket trolly with a wonky wheel.

Obviously our difficulties are exaggerated because at our meal-table there are several distinctly different sets of people. There are at least three different sets of adults in one pair alone; my partner and myself. Our sets are a) the real parents of two siblings b) the foster parents of three unrelated children, and c) two adults who are adult partners of each other.

So I might start off the conversation on a practical topic, one which I need to discuss such as asking my partner if the car is still making that noise. That's an adult/adult conversation that excludes all the children who don't give a monkeys about car maintenance.

Or I might start off with our own children and raise a family matters such as "Your nephew Michael has got engaged to Caroline". Which will interest one of our real children a lot, the other hardly at all, and be of minor interest to the one foster child who has met Michael and Caroline and of zero interest to the other two who don't know them from Adam.

Or I might start off with one of our foster children, perhaps; "Oh, Ryder, guess what? Your Social Worker rang to say it's cool for you to go shopping with your sister on Saturday." This sort of chat I try to get going from time to time so that everyone - family members and foster children - can share things about themselves and have a chance to offer advice and support to the other people at the table.

In a fostering home there are more sets of very differently connected people than the average household. In our house right now our own children have their time-honoured roles and they have learned to interact appropriately with everyone else depending on who they are talking with. As for the foster children; one of the older ones has not been with us anywhere near as long as one of the younger ones, so there's the unusual complication of which is the senior.

No matter how I try, I always feel I've ended up with a table of people who aren't sufficiently included or have opted out or plain don't care.

One thing I've noticed is that if a child doesn't say anything towards the start of the meal they somehow shrink into themselves and become timid of their own voice.

I try to remember that their school days are long and tiring and they may just want to eat in peace. But for some reason I can't resist trying to get a friendly, cheerful discussion going.

To be fair we've had some good ones;

There was the evening meal when earlier that day on the school run I nearly ran over a cat. I had two foster children in the back of the car and how they howled with laughter telling and re-telling the table of my panic and anguish.  For weeks afterwards if anybody had a hard time at school or any reason to feel sorry for themselves someone would chime in with "That wasn't as bad as the day of the cat!" and everyone would roll around re-living it over again.

Tales of woe can go down well, but you have to be careful for obvious reasons. I was more than once tempted to play the game they play at the dinner table in the film "Notting Hill"; the game where the person who can recount that their life is the most miserable gets the last Brownie. The moment has never seemed right, and in any case we'd be pretty sure who the winners would be...

I have found some things that work quite well sometimes.

If I kick the conversation off by mentioning a current band and do my children the service of getting something wrong, such as "Oooh, that Brandon whats-his-name from Panic in the Disco is a bit obvious." Everyone can join in by ridiculing my ignorance, then everyone's entitled to their say on the band.  The same goes with films and TV. It goes especially with computer games. But if I overdo it the youngsters can spot it, and they feel patronised - which is a conversation killer and a half.

What I'm aiming for is conversations about themselves. I want to talk about their school day, hear their thoughts about family life, their views on the world.

One neato I've done is to adapt a trick my other half picked up at work at an out-of-town meeting he attended.

At the start of the meeting of about 20 people they were asked to introduce themselves and tell everyone two things about themselves. One of the things had to be true and the other false and everyone had to guess which was which.

So what I do (sometimes, not every day) is say;

"Okay, let's play "Two Things"! How about we do two things that happened to this week..."

And from the kids you get stuff like "Number one; someone saw my science teacher in Homebase with a stud in his nose and Number two; our Art teacher's first name is Meredith."

So to start a a ball rolling I'll leave you with two things about me, one of which is true the other is false.

1) I once was so tired I slept for 33 hours.

2) My favourite artist is Dusty Springfield.















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