When this heading popped into my thoughts, I knew immediately it was important for me to really reflect on what I am trying to say, what this means to me (personally) and then the broader foster caring community.
I think having a good pros and cons list for whether to do (or not to do) something is a useful process for unpacking your own thinking and also to differentiate between your own views, different people’s views and acknowledge potentially some of our own fears or bias that may get in the way of decision making.
My personal benefits:
- First and foremost, I learn from both of my daughters all the time.
Even though I have now been parenting for 10 years, I feel like their ages/stages of development help me to see the world differently and provide a better parenting response than I often received.
In terms of parenting CC (my foster daughter), I am always getting better at seeing what is behind any behaviour to ensure my support is appropriate. I am also getting better at learning what her ‘sweet spot range’ is in terms of helping her understand impact/consequences due to her own behaviour but also not to overwhelm her with compliments etc as this can have an adverse effect.
2. Actively learning about parenting. Personally, even though I consciously waited until I was older to become a ‘mum’, I did not have much more than my own childhood to guide me. I really have stretched my understanding of the role of parent to ensure I parent each of my children appropriately and fairly. This means I do parent differently at times to ensure CC can heal from her past and that my birth daughter does not get lost in that process.
For children with trauma, it is really important to learn parenting styles that hold them safely (particularly when they are not at their best) and help them to heal, trust and have a more normal childhood experience. As a foster mum I really had to commit to this and it continues to pay off as CC grows up.
3. My decision to be a foster carer definitely aligns to my values. For nearly two decades I have worked in social justice roles (human rights, environment, community development and child welfare) so the idea of fostering was a good fit.
4. Asking for help when I need it. This is a learning curve for me as I have really been living independently since a young age. I personally have developed a strong sense of sorting things out myself (at times due to necessity) but now I am much better at asking for help when needed.
5. Building new friendships – becoming a foster carer gives you opportunities to tap into new networks of friendship and support. I have made friends and met many lovely people because of my foster care journey. The people I admire are not super-heroes, they are simply people that have acknowledged they have space in their lives to provide additional support to vulnerable children who are in need of support.
6. Making more of an effort to be present with my children. I am the first to acknowledge I am the type of person who enjoys keeping busy (I guess doing this as a side project as well as full-time working and full-time parenting may allude to this!). When I started out as a foster carer I was taught about the importance of ‘special time’. During this time (approx. 10 minutes per day), I would sit with CC, be present and follow her lead. This would include playing with dolls for 10 minutes, drawing, playing a game – but the key was just to let CC be the boss of that time. It was a beautiful way to learn commitment to having time where I am present. I do not think I have nailed this, but I do strive to have quality time with both of my daughters (these days I have to be more creative about how we do this) to ensure they feel valued, heard, seen in the busy-ness of life.
7. Watching CC heal, grow and thrive. I am intentionally ending with the most important aspect of fostering. The reason I have put this last is because it takes time and commitment. In my case, CC has now been part of our family for close to 8 years. To be blunt, there have been some periods where I have really questioned if things would get better for her and at times for our family. For someone like me who is very solutions focused, I have had to learn to sit in a space of extreme patience and trust at times that things would get better. CC has gone from being behind on every developmental milestone and having some significant behavioural challenges at an old school (note- school decisions are incredibly important and I will blog about this when I eventually get to ‘E’ for education). Now CC is in every way ‘in range’, has great friendships, is doing really well in her school subjects and more importantly loves learning and school, has a great sister relationship with my other daughter and can identify her own feelings, behaviours etc. I truly smile so often as I listen to CC chatting away, singing to herself, playing with my other daughter and generally being a happy little 9 year old girl.
If you are already a foster or relative/kin carer, I would love to hear your thoughts about what you see as the benefits.
Free Tool Available – if you are contemplating becoming a foster carer, I have developed a short tool (series of questions) to help you with your thinking. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org