I’ve written about special occasion days several times in my blog, but like those special days, they come round every year to give a special gift of uncertainty, torn loyalties and guilt… amongst others. Unlike a lot of families who look forward to special days such as Christmas, birthdays and Mother’s Day, as foster carers we prime ourselves for potential meltdowns, the children being let down and possibly a crisis. Celebration days involving families are emotionally charged and we are all brainwashed by TV ads and supermarket campaigns to live in the perfect family as we make and share happy memories. For children in care, these days can be especially hard as it’s another reminder that they don’t live with their family and they carry around complex emotions including guilt, anger, regret and often a sense of confusion about why they are not with their mum, dad or both.
Looked After Children can be settled and calm, doing well at school then the lead up to Father’s Day or in particular a birthday or Christmas can throw their emotions into turmoil. Children often can’t express these complex emotions and fears so it can come out as ‘bad’ behaviour, being hyper vigilant or the opposite; seeing them withdraw from the foster family they are usually happy living with.
Mother’s Day is big issue for our household, worse than Christmas in my opinion. There is so much tension, things left unsaid and the children who are, in general happy and part of our family, scream at me ‘you can’t tell me what to do – you’re not my mum!’
However Father’s Day is completely different. I have 3 children who live with me and none of them have any contact with their fathers. Baby S has never met her dad or had contact and J’s father missed so many contact days, he gradually removed himself from his son’s life. Last Christmas was the first year that J had no card or present from Dad and he barely noticed. M’s relationship with her father was complex, but again over the years has drifted to no contact as he now lives miles away and makes no effort to visit or stay in touch. On Mother’s Day I help the children make or buy cards, plan gifts, drop off J to a contact centre and drop M at the bus stop while they visit their mums. This Mother’s Day was busy as I squeezed in a visit to Baby S’s mum a few days before, dropping off a little gift and card.
Where it gets tricky is the relationship all the children have with Hubby. Certainly in Baby S’s case, she has never known another father figure and she adores him, lighting up like a beacon when Hubby walks in the room. M is more reserved with her emotions and affections, but shows in little ways how much Hubby means to her. Of course she takes all the lifts, late night drop offs and searching the streets for granted, and assumes that Hubby can fix anything that breaks (which he can as a rule). He is not fazed by anything and can usually answer any question J asks him, or help with a complex math’s homework question. He’s always willing to play football in the back garden or park and can now even discuss Beyoncé or Ed Sheeran in a reasonably competent way!
I never suggest J or M get Hubby a card for Father’s Day as it could bring up difficult feelings of loyalty, but this year I am getting a card for him from Baby S. I won’t make a big deal out of it and I’ll give it to him quietly and without any pomp, but if Baby S could tell him, she would say he’s the best (temporary) daddy ever. We won’t display the card in a prominent place as I don’t want M or J to feel guilt or resentment or any other potentially confusing thoughts.
It will be a quiet day with me cooking for my parents and in laws, but feeling sad for M and J that there is yet another day that throws their differences in their face. If I could change one thing about these ‘special’ family days it would be the sugary sweet supermarket ads depicting the perfect family among children with perfect manners, sat around the table sharing fun times as a clutch of older relatives smile dreamily on.