This week has been a slow build up to a showdown with both M and J, which is unusual as its normally one or the other, however with the double goodie bag of both contact with family and Father’s day, a blow up was inevitable. Both M and J have difficult and complicated relationships with their birth parents and whilst M accepts she is in care long term, she knows she has a family she can dip into if she wants, whilst J is still trying to understand what, in his eyes, he did wrong. The confusion and rejection come to the surface with every impending contact arrangement, especially since they are frequently cancelled at the last minute.
Both the children in my care are settled and enjoy the routine that works for our family. Mornings are messy, noisy and have to run to military precision to get everybody out on time. The rest of the day follows a predictable pattern; we have dinner at the table, M will contribute to the conversation if she’s talking to me at that moment and all J wants to talk about is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or whatever superhero film is currently in the cinema. In other words, everyday life is like any ‘normal’ family. However, any anniversary, special occasion, national celebration such as Christmas, Mother’s Day or in this case, Father’s Day reminds them both that they are ‘different’ and that’s when ‘normal’ breaks down and life is lived on eggshells. J becomes subdued and withdrawn around these special days and this week it’s even more noticeable as he has contact with family. He doesn’t like to talk about it before or after but as the day gets closer, his behaviour becomes more challenging and the best way to deal with it is to remain calm and not rise to his hostility which is just a mask for his fear of rejection and the uncertainty of what will happen.
M struggles with Father’s Day as she does with any reminder of her family and like J, she withdraws but added to the normal teenage dramas and moods, is difficult to suck down and not respond, but we try. Hubby has found that football is the best way to regulate J’s emotions and the daily kick about in our back garden or the park is the perfect way to allow him to work out his anger and frustrations. Unfortunately M thinks she’s allergic to exercise and feels the need for a medal if she’s had to walk to the bus stop 100 yards from our house, so doesn’t get the same release of tension. M and J are also reacting to each other’s stress so when Father’s Day came and went without the need for armour plating, Hubby and I considered it a success.
This week I’ve also had to remind M of the social media house rules as she has been trying to manipulate her agreed time and consequently between Instagram and her upcoming birthday party which is thankfully now booked, she has struggled to make any room in her head for school. I had her form tutor on the ‘phone this week expressing exasperation at her deteriorating interest and behaviour and I checked her logged hours online and decided to enforce our agreed rules. However, what did surprise me was MY hours online! I was shocked how many hours a week/day I was clocking up online and even worse, how many hours I used my Facebook app. This equated to many, many lost hours trawling though my friend’s food porn photos and pictures of their night outs, cute children and funny pets. I’m lucky enough to work from home and spend a lot of time online researching for my job but staring back at me from my laptop was just how much time I was wasting. I used the example of my own social media stats to try to convince M to buy into my new rules but she wasn’t going to so easily won over and indulged in dramatic door slamming and shouting. Her favourite line this week is most definitely ‘It’s not fair!’. However it didn’t last long and she adjusted remarkably quickly, quicker in fact than I am. I’m missing Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but Facebook most of all and it’s been a valuable lesson in double standards and productivity. Not only that, I’ve found time to sort out my summer wardrobe and have started to redecorate the bathroom. I don’t want to delete my social media accounts, but I am going to try very hard not to let the minutes creep into hours again.
The other thing that has had a big impact on our household this week is the Euro 16 football tournament, which seems to be either on TV all the time or being talked about all the time. I’m a big football fan and we’ve seen a lot of benefit of being season ticket holders to our local team with various foster children in our care, particularly J. However, it’s turned our normal smooth routine upside down and meal times have been disturbed. We’ve eaten meals on our laps so we could watch games and I’ve never eaten so many takeaways in one short space of time! Routines may not be sexy or be the latest thing in psychology buzzwords, but they work for us. M is a typical teenager with mood swings and daily dramas, but responds so well to the steady monotony of everyday life; and J needs even more structure to feel comfortable and secure. So whilst I’m pleased we have made it through to the knock out stages, I feel the need to be the bad guy and get back to as much of a routine as possible. Hubby looked appalled when I suggested we eat at the table tonight as it doesn’t offer the best view of the TV, but he’s a foster carer first and it didn’t take much of a hard stare to make him realise he had to compromise. He came up with the perfect solution; a short term rearrangement of furniture so we could eat, talk and watch at the same time. If only everything was so simple!