Does anyone else feel they are walking on eggshells in their home a lot of the time? I can’t quite decide if it’s because I’m so bad at this fostering malarkey, that it makes me uncomfortable, or that I just care so much that I create an atmosphere for myself because I want things to be just right.
Either way, I have realised that day-to-day speech, activities and tasks seem to have a different meaning when thinking about our placement children. I have also noticed how the world just isn’t set up for children in care – displaced children, children whose lives have been quite literally been, torn apart…. For example, ‘Home Time’.
As a teacher, I have used this phrase, crumbs, maybe a million times. The end of the day is preparing for ‘Home Time’ and then finally, it is ‘Home Time’. Even as a teacher I didn’t think about the impact this phrase has on the children in my class who, indeed, were not, ‘going home’. It first hit me when I collected my two youngest placement children from school for the first time (not sure if anyone remembers, but they went to the key worker club during the lockdown throughout July). When I met them at the gate for the first time and instinctively said, ‘Come on, it’s home time’, I felt myself cringe from the soles of my feet to the tips of my fingers. I snuck a sideways glance and they hadn’t batted an eyelid. They simply came to the car and climbed in. It was from then that I became actively aware of what I said and when. Sometimes things slip out that you can’t help relating to ‘going home’ or even hiding shock about what they considered normal behaviour at home. I don’t want to upset or offend, and I try really hard to respect that this is, at the moment, their temporary home. But deep down we all know where they would rather be.
Nobody needs to explain that sense of loyalty and the need for familiarity to me. I was in an abusive relationship with my ex-husband for years. As an adult, I remained faithful and loyal to the point nobody even knew about my abuse. I believe, as adults, we all have relationships that we could all inspect a little closer and think, do we deserve to be treated like this? It could be with a partner, mother, father, sibling or even friend. And although we might not believe we are being talked to or acted upon with respect, we stick around. Most humans sit just behind mans-best-friend in the loyalty stakes. We want things to work and fundamentally, we want to be loved.
My biggest ‘breath-holding’ experience whilst having our placement children was bumping into a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while (global pandemic springs to mind). We were handing over our sons to their football manager one Tuesday evening, and I had the youngest two foster children with me. I introduced her and she greeted them with, ‘oh, I bet you love living with **** and ****?’ The nanosecond before anyone spoke again felt like a lifetime. If they hadn’t been there I would have told her that of course, they don’t like living with me. They miss their parents, their other sibling, their home, their schools and quite possibly every other aspect of their previous lives. I would have told her that despite anything that has happened, they would rather be at home. In a familiar setting. Not hauled up at my house in beds they didn’t know and other children they weren’t sure of.
Loyalty and love are intertwined, and children above all, have the purest hearts meaning that they love twice as hard and trust for twice as long. But instead of me giving her a frustrated lecture about sensitivity my youngest child spoke up, ‘yeah, it’s alright. We get to have ice cream’. And that was that. My heart started to beat again and my lungs filled with air. At that moment I realised that even though children love and trust twice as much, they are also twice as resilient; and for now, ice cream was making things bearable. We said goodbye and went….home….well, home for now at least.