Sunday, August 04, 2019


It was a red letter day in the Secret Foster Carer's kitchen this morning!

Something I have been working on for about 30 years finally fell into place; to perfection. Absolute perfection. A perfection that can only be reached with non-human affairs.

Human relationships never seem to fall exactly into place - especially within a family.

And that can go double within a fostering family.

Let's not beat about the bush; family affairs are very... how shall I put it? Let's try "uneven". You never know when you wake up every morning who is going to be up and who is going to be down, or why the downs are downs and what if anything can be done.

I have a friend who tragically lost a son. It was a while ago now, and she and her husband and remaining children are making the best of it. I drop in for a cup of something every so often and we talk. We talk all over the place, but almost always find a moment to talk about their loss.

Last time I was there she explained how her wider family (her parents, brothers and sisters) were having trouble with something, a syndrome that my friend heard about from her counsellor (she sees someone once a week, finds it very helpful).

The thing her family were having trouble with is called the Problem Hierarchy.

The Problem Hierarchy works like this; within a family group,  even if the members are scattered around the home, even if separated  by work or school or because they live apart, they are aware of their own personal selves and their own feelings, especially their fears and problems. More to the point they are aware of how their own personal problems square up against those of the other members of the group. Because humans are social animals we crave company, especially company which offers us sympathy and support. We learn from an early age that a great way of getting what we need is to let people who are close to us know that we have problems.  This understanding comes to us at a very early age when we discover that skinning a knee gets lots of sympathy.

I've been to Blue Sky training sessions where we discussed how it's a good idea to reward a child who has played happily by herself by approaching her and showing interest, otherwise the child will learn that the only way they get your attention is by initiating a problem and getting upset.

My friend told me that her family were becoming uneasy because there was no way any of them could go to her with their problems because the loss of a child is so high up the Problem Hierarchy they fear they would appear thoughtless.

All this leads me to how the Problem Hierarchy affects us in fostering.

It's simple; it's highly unlikely that anyone else under your roof will have day-to-day problems that outweigh those of any foster child in your care. So you have to manage things accordingly.  Perhaps the foster child is aware of this and takes comfort in knowing that they have the broadest back, and that nothing that is going to be discussed at the table will match what they're dealing with.

The permutations are endless, and as with most things in fostering the Carer simply has to be on her toes all the time. There are moments to let the foster child have centre stage, and moments to ask the foster child to advise your own husband on what he should do about the neighbour who works noisily on his car until eleven o'clock at night.

As I said earlier, human relations never fall exactly into place. You can measure a child's height, but their emotional disposition is not only impossible to gauge, but it can change dramatically. A foster child can be 9 foot tall one minute and 3 inches tall seconds later. Only there's no easy way of knowing their emotional size at any given moment especially as you haven't seen them develop from day one, a factor which helps spot the feelings within your own brood.

Problem Hierarchy is another giddy challenge for the Foster Carer, another reason why this job is so fascinating.

But back to my big news. What was the achievement of a lifetime in my kitchen this morning?

Well, I finally managed something I have been accidentally working towards ever since I first had a kitchen to call my own. What happened was;

On my supermarket run this morning I had bought some fresh ground coffee (one of my foster children's nurse is visiting later and she prefers proper coffee to instant, and I enjoy a hit of fresh caffeine now and then too.

When I got home I needed an airtight Tupperware container to put the coffee in and store in the fridge.

I went to the back of the cupboard where my Tupperware lurks, and there it was; piled and ready to reveal to me my shining achievement. Which is that... collection of assorted containers and lids (about 20 pieces in all) consisted of NOTHING but unmatchables.

Yep, every single container had lost its matching lid, and every single lid had lost its matching container.

I closed the foil coffee pack with a peg and as I put it in the fridge reflected on two of my human frailties. One; I will probably NEVER throw out the 20 useless pieces because a small voice tells me that maybe their partners will somehow turn up (stupid). Two; I felt a curious satisfaction that a measurable perfection in the world of objects, that could never be achieved in any human affairs, had at least come into my life this morning, namely that my Tupperware collection was 100% useless.

Not 50%, or even 90%. It was a watertight absolute.

And, thought I'm convinced there are no absolutes in human interaction, and in fostering you'll never play a perfect game, but I'm pretty much 100% certain that in fostering you're part of a perfect game.


  1. Great post, you had me laughing out loud with the Tupperware!
    I've just read "my name is Why"; it's very thought provoking, would be interested in your thoughts (if you get any time to read)!

  2. Thanks for your kind comment, I'll Google it and see if I can give it a go, thank you!