Appreciation

 

 

48765-love-bunch-of-flowers-heart-shaped   I have had one of those very strange weeks. The kind where one minute things are going well and you’re happy and positive and the next you feel flat and defeated.

When I think about my parenting, I actually don’t expect my children to be appreciative. Kids right across the board have very little appreciation for their parents until they are into their adult years. I remember the words so clearly of my then 21 year old as she left to spend her first year as a teacher in the country, winding down her car window she yelled out from across the road  ‘thanks for raising me…I love you.’ Those words were more than I ever expected, I didn’t raise her with the expectation of anything in return.

When I think about my fostering, I actually don’t expect any appreciation. Nearly 4 years ago a little person arrived in my home. This little person had been so badly abused in her early years that she had absolutely no idea how to play. Imagine that…a child who didn’t know how to play! As I watch her now engaging in playful activities I have all the thanks and appreciation I need.

In Australia it has been Foster and Kinship Carers Appreciation week. Due to this there have been several gatherings to show appreciation to carers. I found myself lamenting on more than one occasion during the week the fact that it would be really nice to be appreciated during the other 51 weeks of the year. As a foster carer, appreciation is one of the last things we receive and to be honest that actually doesn’t bother me….I don’t do what I do for the accolades. We do tend to find ourselves more on the side of being anything BUT appreciated. We often come under attack from people around us who misunderstand what therapeutic parenting and parenting children from trauma looks like, we find ourselves dealing with departments who don’t always support us and often times fight against us even though we are all supposed to be on the same team and we certainly spend day in day out with children who throw out some of the most complex behaviours, leaving us wondering what and why we are doing what we’re doing.

During this week I have been thinking a little more about the fact that sometimes everything we deal with as foster carers zaps the joy out of you and leaves you feeling jaded. I began to think about how, if appreciation was why we did this we would never even start. I know there are plenty of people doing it tough out there and in no way am I complaining about my lot in life….cause after all I chose to do this! (or did I?) It is very easy to become bogged down in behaviours, trauma, tantrums and negativity. As carers we don’t plan on ending up here…it just kind of happens because we have to ‘fight’ so hard for everything. We fight to get these children the services they require to help in their healing, we fight to make sense of the world they have come from and show them a better place, we fight to teach and educate others in a hope that they may catch the bug and choose to become part of the solution and we fight ourselves to keep going, to keep giving and to not just pack it all in and run away. But a lot of the time this fighting seems to be to no avail, we feel like year after year we are fighting the same battles and then begin to wonder if it really does matter, are we actually making a difference?

That’s exactly where I have been for the last few weeks….and then this week something happened. This week, being Carer appreciation week I walked back into a radio station and spent some time behind a microphone. For anyone who knows my past, you will be aware that somewhere way back when I was a lot younger I used to work on radio. There is something about radio that is a lot like fostering……once it’s in your blood you can’t get rid of it and the very thought of it makes you feel exhilarated. It has been a number of years since I have been behind a microphone but there was a part of me that was buzzing so much, that when I got home my kids were encouraging me to get back on air. What I found the most enjoyable about this weeks interview was that it took me to a place I needed to revisit. I was asked questions like, ‘why would you do this when your own kids are almost grown and off your hands,’ ‘what are the challenges’ and ‘how has this affected your bio kids’. This interview gave me the opportunity to go back to where we began, I tapped into that excitement and enthusiasm that we had at the start of our journey and I was also able to reflect on what it is that we HAVE achieved. I came away with a renewed sense of why what we do is so important and regardless of how many times we get knocked down we just need to keep getting up….because after all that is what I am trying to teach my little people…resilience.

So, I made a decision after my interview this week. I decided that I cannot prevent the stuff that goes on around me but I can certainly make sure that I don’t let it destroy me and cause me to forget why I came to fostering in the first place. I can try to focus on the gains and the positive moments…not saying that I can’t and won’t validate the negative, but just that I need to move through it and not let it drag me down. I also want to remind myself daily that I cannot be responsible for or change someone else’s behaviour I can however have control over how I respond to it.

 

 

 

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Breathing

We are a family that is not unaccustomed to saying goodbye…we have done it many times. But this week our goodbye was not one that we had ever imagined we would be making.

I have come to discover that we like to live in a world of fairy tales and stories that have beautiful endings. In fact last night I watched a movie and felt empty at the end because there was no happy ending….it was sad and tragic, it wasn’t the ending I expected, it was in fact, reality. I think when it comes to fostering many like to believe that all one needs to do is open your door to these children, love them and everything will be ok. This is, after all, , what we see portrayed in movies like Matilda, Oliver, Annie and even Anne of Green Gables. Every one of these movies and many more follow the lives of children who have experienced early developmental trauma and yet every one of them in the course of around 90mins have their lives rescued by some wonderful adult and they go on to live happily ever after. If this really was reality I’m sure we would have a waiting list of people wanting to become foster carers.

Three and a half years ago we opened our doors to 2 precious little ones. We were not naïve, we had in fact experienced loss previously. This time though we believed we were saying yes to 2 who, although had suffered, had maybe not suffered so severely as some. Any of you who have followed my blogging and our story will know that this was so far from the truth…if you are a first time reader, welcome and maybe take the time to read some of my earlier writings to understand the journey we have been on.

When we said yes to these 2 it was our desire for that to be forever. We made that commitment and we were prepared for the job. We started to plan a future, we had dreams for these little ones and looked forward to watching them grow and slowly heal. We welcomed them in to our family and loved them. The last three and a half years have been some of the toughest of our lives, we have stared trauma in the face and will be forever changed. We have cried and despaired over the things that have been done to these children, we have fought and advocated for the needs of these 2, we have endured harsh judgement at the hands of others who have no idea what our daily lives are like, because to the outsider our little ones are a delight and ever so gorgeous and so so normal. Our lives have been completely changed, the lives of our birth children have been deeply impacted. We have teetered on the edge many times but something has always pulled us back, energised us and given us what we needed to continue.

This time has been very different. I want to share this part of our story because the last few weeks I have found myself in the positon of chatting with several other carers facing the same thing. I’ve become aware that this is an issue many carers face and it is one of the hardest to grapple with. So here goes.

As we have walked this three and a half years we have had ups and downs, steps forward and slides backwards. We have seen progress and regression. For one of our little ones we have seen steady progress and have been encouraged as we have watched her growth. For the other one the battle has been enormous, in the years since she moved in I can count on 1 hand the number of times I have seen her truly free and happy….unfortunately those times have been very short lived. At the beginning of this year I was feeling pretty distraught and struggling to see how we were ever going to breakthrough into the world of trauma that rules her life. I made a decision that we needed to put a time frame in place. In saying this, we were not looking for complete healing, we were not unrealistic, we were looking for some movement forward. With that in the back of our minds we set out to fight for the things she needed to give her any chance….we succeeded in having some assessments and some treatment began. Unfortunately nothing changed. During this last 6 months I have wrestled with so many emotions and thoughts. A lot of the time when I voiced my thoughts people would respond with ‘it’s tough but you will get through it, you can do this, etc’ all those encouraging words that people use when you are struggling. I eventually got to a place where I needed to shut those voices out….no one really understood what we lived with, no one fully comprehended the impact this was having on our family….well, actually apart from the members of our own family there were 2 people I respected who ‘got’ it, so their advice was helpful and they allowed me to process by listening ( I will be forever grateful for the support they have been).

Around 7 weeks ago we made the heart-breaking decision to ‘break placement’ as it is called. I will remember this moment forever, I had just put little ones to bed and was in the laundry when I said out loud ‘that’s it, we cannot do this any longer, we need to call it’.  What followed, was the feeling that a huge weight had been lifted. Next thing my phone was ringing….it was the Drs surgery confirming our apt for next week saying that after the tests we’d had today the Dr needed to see us. I hung up and felt confused. No, my mind was saying, we have decided to call this, what if now these tests have revealed something that means she’s in for the fight of her life, we can’t let her go through that alone (I wasn’t exaggerating I know the tests she had and what they suspected) . The following days were filled with uncertainty and questioning, most of that taking place in my head as I dialogued with myself. The conclusion I came to before attending that Drs appointment was this….if this appointment meant that life was about to change dramatically for this little one we would most certainly walk through this with her. We would not let her do this alone. I truly believe this was one of those moments I had to work through. As carers there is a term ‘compassion fatigue’ which is used to describe that place that carers often get to where we find it hard to care because we are so worn out or we are carrying too much secondary trauma as we have helped our children process. For me, this was very real questioning and my responses showed me that indeed I loved this little one and was not suffering compassion fatigue. What I WAS suffering was the inability to meet the needs of this rather complex human. By the way, all results were clear.

So here we are, on Monday we said goodbye to our child, our precious darling child who came into our lives three and a half years ago. The grief for our family has been real. I have cried out to God and wondered why we didn’t have the strength or skills to carry her further. I have felt immense guilt as I have added another distrupted relationship to her history. I have felt weak as I have struggled with my own inability to give her what she needed to heal. But within all that is the absolute peace that to hold her close to us any longer was going to do damage to our family and our marriage. One of the hard things about fostering is this enormous burden we carry for these damaged children, we want to be the ones to help them, we want to show them how to love and laugh, we want to give them everything that has been stolen from them but I have come to realise that we are not necessarily going to be able to do everything. We have played a part in her journey, we had planned for a bigger part but God has chosen differently. Her time with us has not been in vain, we have taught her well, we have completed the part we needed to play, now we need to let her go and allow someone else to do the next part. In my previous post I wrote about my children being ‘mine’ on loan for a time…we have had the absolute privilege of this little one in our lives for three and a half years but she was never mine. Our joy will be watching her grow and develop and praying for her every single day.

I have been overwhelmed this week by the beautiful angels that God has sent our way to carry us. There will be people (and there have been some already) who do not understand our decision and question why we have done this but to them I need to say that at the end of the day until you have walked in our shoes you have no idea what our lives have been like and hopefully through this experience I will remember to be gentle with others. For me personally, this has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make, my decision does not just impact me it brings sadness and grief into the lives of those I love the most. No one can say anything that I have not already said to myself – I am my harshest critic.

Now as a family we will grieve, we will recover and we will move forward. Just today my 19 year old made comments about how the house feels so different, it is peaceful. He mentioned that when we would have a respite break (usually a weekend) it was like we were coming up for air to breath enough in and then going back underwater for 5 weeks until the next break….how right he is.

We are once again breathing.

 

Hugging tightly and holding lightly

In many parts of the world foster care is a ‘temporary’ situation, as many countries have a foster to adopt program. In South Australia (and my understanding is for most of Australia) this is not the case. Fostering is fostering and does not lead to adoption. In South Australia the step up from fostering is Other Person Guardianship (OPG) which hands more rights to the carers but is still not adoption. There is much discussion about foster/adopt programs and this has lead to some thinking for me.

When I gave birth to my first child 24 years ago I was very humbled that such a precious life would be mine. But was she really mine? I carried her for 9 months and endured many hours of labour to bring her into the world, she has carried looks and traits obtained from several generations and mixes of families, but is she really mine?           For me, each and every one of my children have been held ‘lightly’, of course they are mine biologically but I have always had a very deep sense from their first breaths that they have been on loan. An amazing gift given to me for an unknown period of time. I am not the holder of their destinies, I can help to shape and guide and mould but ultimately I have no say in their time on this earth.

We never like to think about children dying but it happens. For me ‘holding lightly’ to each of my children has kept my perspective in the right place. Enjoy moments with them, raise them, grow them, grow with them but never take for granted the gift that has been given and never believe that they’ll be here forever.

Hug them tightly but hold them lightly.

I can say without a doubt that this kind of thinking has not altered the way I have parented. I have not lived in fear that something might happen to them but there have been times I have been very aware that our lives may change forever when we have faced medical issues. Three are now adults and although they will always be mine they really are most definitely no longer mine.

In contemplating how this thinking has shaped the way I have viewed my biological children I have been faced with similar questions around fostering and adopting. If I could adopt this child would they be any more mine than they are now? Would I view them and treat them any differently to the way I do now? Are these children even mine at all….do I have any claim to them as they are ultimately biologically not mine. The answer to all of these questions is NO…but can I hug them tightly and hold them lightly, you bet I can. I have been given the unbelievable privilege of calling these children mine for as long as that will be. As with my own children I have no idea how long that will be. I can make plans and map futures, I can dream dreams for them and have great hopes but there is no guarantee that I will see all that through. If I sat and thought about all the possibilities I would possibly have never fostered, but then if I applied that same thinking to my own children I may have never embarked on parenthood.

People often comment that they couldn’t foster because they would be worried that they might get too attached and then the child may be moved, and it would break their hearts. What they are ultimately saying is that they cannot bear the thought of being vulnerable and opening their hearts and then having to deal with the heart ‘hurt’. But here is my challenge, is this a fear of losing a child or is this a fear of the hurt that follows loss after loving deeply. If I’m afraid of this hurt why did I take the risk in having my own babies. There are no guarantees, not with my biological children or my foster children.

For me, adopting, fostering, OPG or biological there is no difference. I am privileged to be able to love and because I never know when I may have to let go I need to constantly remember to hug tightly and hold lightly.

 

I am THAT mum

You have seen me, you know me, you wonder about my children and you often wonder about me.

I’m the mum who does things a little differently to the norm.                                                I’m the mum who sends her children to school in their uniform on a casual clothes day.    I’m the mum who has children who dig in the bin looking for food.                                       I’m the mum who has a child who is disruptive in class, is often in trouble and no matter how hard the teacher tries this child refuses to work.                                                                I’m the mum of the child who is adorable and ever so cute.                                                       I’m the mum of that same cute child who often wears a grumpy frowny face when in my presence.                                                                                                                                                I’m the mum who often seems mean and stressed.

I’m THAT mum, the one you judge and come to conclusions that you are nothing like me and would never have children like that and I must be doing something wrong in my parenting for my children to behave in such a manner.

I’m THAT mum who having raised 4 children of her own has now decided to open wide the doors of her home and welcome in trauma.                                                              I’m that mum, the one who has had to sit and listen to a small child tell of the most horrific things…things no child should even know about, let alone have to endure.         I’m that mum who sends her children in their uniform because to wear casual clothes right now is so much out of their routine that it will cause them anxiety.                           I’m that mum who wishes I could wrap myself around my child at school so that they wouldn’t feel scared and unsafe and then they may actually feel happy and relaxed enough to play rather than dig in the bin.                                                                                    I’m that mum who no matter how many times I tell you that I feed them well you think their actions are an indication of the opposite.                                                                             I’m that mum who wishes my child would stop taking up so much of the teachers time with her irregular behaviours.                                                                                               I’m that mum whose child actually is adorable and cute….to everyone else. And every time I see ‘that’ child my heart breaks into a thousand pieces all over again because they feel so vulnerable every time I try to connect and they don’t quite trust me yet. They are beginning to think I might be alright but their trauma reminds them that big people have only ever hurt and abused them. Why would I be any different.                                I’m that mum who is not mean but is trying to teach natural consequences and boundaries and routines and good ways of living, to a child who has never known these things. A child who may be 8 but on the inside more like a 3 year old…but you will never see that.                                                                                                                                               I’m that mum who IS stressed a lot of the time. Stressed because I live day in and day out with a child who through no fault of mine has suffered early developmental trauma.        I’m that mum who will not tell you most of these things because my child deserves the same privacy as anybody else and she deserves to belong somewhere and not just be ‘THAT’  child.                                                                                                                                          I could draw your sympathy and maybe you’d look at me differently but I’m NOT that mum.

I’m that mum who has chosen to fight for this child and most of the time that fight is exhausting – exhausting because of people who judge, exhausting because I have to work with a broken child in a broken system, exhausting because even though you can remove the child from the trauma you can never fully remove the trauma from the child.

 

                                                                                                                      

   

NOT Happy Birthday

Birthdays are a time of celebration and joy, a time to reflect on the blessings of the year past and the adventure that lies ahead in the coming year. For many, as we age, birthdays seem to creep up too quickly and the years rapidly speed by.

I have always loved birthday celebrating with my children. Over the years we have had small family celebrations and big parties with friends! There have been cakes…oh so many cakes….crocodile, helicopter, castles, hearts, ice cream, pavlova, swimming pool, caterpillar and piñata are some of my most memorable ones. We’ve been bowling, arcade gaming and jumping castle-ing….we’ve had art parties, garden tea parties and science parties!

But 3 years ago we started a journey that has had more downs than ups and trauma has changed so much of how we now live and celebrate and birthdays are NO exception. I am beginning to see that I have been naïve at times with my understanding of why and how severe trauma changes a brain to a point where happiness is so hard to find. Unfortunately for us our year seems to roll from one ‘trauma memory’ time to the next with little down time in between! We are just catching our breath from Christmas and now birthdays are upon us….in fact the day after Christmas the anxiety started to build with anticipation of the impending birthday.

This year we had talked about how we might make this time different to the past so as to avoid the pitfalls of last year that saw the entire day spent screaming, crying and our little miss spending the day being rocked like a baby. This year we talked about moving the celebration to a completely different day later in the year, but as the actual birthday started to approach I found myself wondering if this was just delaying the difficulty of the day given that all the anxiety was still evident. We removed calendars and reminders of dates throughout the house in a bid to ‘forget’ the date but I hadn’t banked on highly intelligent, hyper vigilant kids who have an innate way of knowing everything and only discovered the flaw in my plan  when miss 6 announced one morning that it was 11 sleeps until her birthday!

We seem to have hit the jackpot in having to celebrate not 1 but 2 trauma birthdays within a very short space of time….our little ones birthdays are a few days apart. This year we feel like we have had one win and one fail!

Birthday 1 went like this. The day started like any other, just an ordinary day. We got up and the little people headed to vacation care for the day – there was an excursion planned and we decided that this would help to take the mind off the day and past memories. I must admit, I struggled a bit with my own feelings of ‘but this isn’t how to celebrate a birthday’. The day went well and even though I had expected a phone call to say the wheels had fallen off, it didn’t come! The plan was to pickup, bring little people home for showers and then ‘spring’ the birthday dinner as a surprise….mind you, a very calm surprise, family dinner, presents and a very simple understated cake!  At this point I can hear some of my fellow carers saying ‘NO’ surprises don’t work, these kids need lots of warning BUT let me clarify this by saying that for our little ones we have learnt  that they operate much better under ‘the less notice the better’ theory! Too much notice for them is too much time for their overactive brains to contemplate every possible problem. My plan was going well, we had kept the celebrations hidden as a plan to get through showers etc without incident….. and then it happened! Miss 8 was digging in about something and I said ‘come on we just need to do this and then we can have dinner and celebrate your birthday’…..as I saw the reaction to those words I was trying desperately to pull them back into my mouth. The anger and tears started, then the violence, then the shut down! I tried talking, empathising and calming but the mere mention of the word birthday was enough to destroy the rest of the evening. I went to bed feeling defeated and saddened that presents still sat unwrapped and cake uneaten. I was angry that the day that is your one special day had again been stolen from my precious little girl.

Birthday 2 was for the child that has been a little less reactionary but this year had displayed great levels of anxious behaviour in the lead up to her birthday. We kept her day very low key and managed to open presents, have family dinner and eat cake….WIN! The biggest problem on this day was with birthday 1 child trying to destroy every ounce of happiness for birthday 2 child! She was jealous and unhappy that her sister should celebrate and have some joy. Again we empathised with her and named her feelings, telling her we got that she was jealous that her sister was getting the attention and was actually enjoying her day. We gave her the option to join in or opt out…mostly she opted out.

The birthdays are now over and done with for yet another year but I have been left saddened that our little ones who have missed out on so much continue to do so. I struggle with feelings of anger that trauma is the big stealer for our children. They deal initially with the physical aspect of living in an environment that is not ideal for them and once they are removed many people believe that they will be ok, they are with a loving family and they can get on with living life normally. But talk to anyone who has lived with children who have suffered early childhood trauma and we will tell stories of trauma impact years and years later…no matter how much work we do.

I now have another whole year to contemplate how we may celebrate next year and find some happiness in that celebration.

A life interrupted

Let me start with a hearty wish of a Happy New Year!

I’ve been sitting here having my own little pity party over the last month or so. The end of the school year is always particularly difficult for our trauma kids and this year was no exception. There is a little too much disruption and lack of routine, there are things to stress and worry about…like ‘who will be my teacher next year’, ‘will I have friends in my class’ and then of course there’s the parties and endless supply of sugary candy cane treats from friends. Then comes the lead up to Christmas where the trauma brain goes into overdrive and little people start reflecting on Christmases past which were not pleasant.

For us this year we had an extra burden in the form of a very unsettled 7 year old convinced that she was no longer going to live with us because ‘she doesn’t like being told what to do’ and she’d decided that she’d had enough and was leaving. She’s been here before but this time went a step further by telling other people that she was leaving us and totally disengaged from our family!

Christmas is always a very busy stressful time anyway and this year I found myself dragging my feet complaining about the burden I have been given to carry. I found myself restlessly wishing that I could have my ‘old’ life back and was even heard to say that ‘our family has lost all its joy’. I found myself wallowing in how I have had everything joyful stolen from my life and wondered how we ever arrived in this place. I even had a few moments of thinking I’d turned into the Grinch!

I used to love Christmas….it was a season of great traditions and joyfulness when our kids were little. Each of them had their particular requests during this period…shortbread, mince tarts and a fresh Christmas tree were just a few. The advent calendar was always celebrated more for the chocolate it yielded than the other treats found inside. Even now my adult children will say ‘I’m ready for my advent chocolate now’ as soon as the calendar goes up! Many of these things have become a chore in the last 3 years as we struggle to juggle all the extra trauma stress, and instead of finding myself looking forward to the season I often feel full of dread! For the first time ever I also found myself struggling with the actual purchasing of presents for people….I couldn’t justify buying presents just to have something under the tree when there are so many people struggling in the world to just achieve the very basics.

I think this year it all caught up with me and messed with MY brain! I struggled to find joy anywhere and found myself just wishing the time away in a hope that better times would lay ahead. Post Christmas I found Facebook full of photos of people celebrating and relaxing….meanwhile I found myself feeling resentful as we were stuck at home trying to keep things calm and routine in a hope of staying off the impending stress of January birthdays….which this year seems more heightened than usual.

I found myself alone in my pity party and wondered if anyone else could feel my pain. Then came my wake up call! A fellow carer posted a comment in a group asking other carers ‘how long did it take them to stop wishing for their old life back and feeling guilty for having such feelings’…I read comment after comment from people just like me, feeling the burden of the Christmas season and all that brings into your family when you open the door to trauma! Upon reading I started to see that what I was feeling wasn’t just unique to me, which then allowed me to accept and validate how I was feeling and that it was ok to feel like that, because at the end of the day I have suffered loss!

My next wakeup call came at church on New Years day. (I’d like to make a note here that I have never hidden the fact that I’m a Christian but have also been very careful not to offend others in what I write. This may seem a bit spiritual but I guess it’s where I am at the moment.) I was reminded that what I am experiencing is really ‘a light and momentary trouble, which is achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all’ 2 Corinthians 4:17. What I have been called to do whilst on this earth is not going to be easy, it’s going to challenge me to refine me and make me more like Jesus who has suffered more than I will ever experience. My hankering for the old life is really nothing more than me selfishly wishing for easier things so I don’t feel so uncomfortable. But the last 3 years have also brought about in me some of the most significant and intense personal growth and although tough, in reality I wouldn’t change it for the easy path. I was also very clearly reminded that my JOY should be found in the relationship as a Christian that I share with Christ, my joy should be found in what he did for me and not anything that is on this earth. That doesn’t mean I can’t gain joy from things on earth, for me it just means that my joy does not come from these things, there is a deeper soul felt joy that should permeate my life.

I have been reminded that becoming a foster family is something that we have been called to do. It is the work that we are here to do at this moment in time, it will be hard, it will be challenging and it will definitely change us as a family and as individuals. We may never again be able to undertake many of the things that have made up our Christmases past but hopefully in years to come we will be able to look back and see new traditions that have emerged.

 

Broken

I was about to start this post with the words ‘this week has been a really tough one’ but then I considered that MOST weeks are really tough for those of us who have taken up the call to become involved in the foster care system. I feel however, that this week (or maybe I should be saying, this year) has been one of those that will impact and change the way I approach this system.

As fresh faced carers we enter into fostering full of enthusiasm and a drive to help those vulnerable little people. We hear the stories of others and wonder how they have become so jaded, we don’t want to believe that their stories and experiences are real. We are ready to jump in boots and all and we have to believe that everyone working in this system has the same goal…..best outcomes for little people, child focussed care! We also believe there will be people around us who will support what we’re doing and understand how tough some days can be. But the reality is the system is broken, a broken system working with broken people.

I have alluded in a previous post about the traumatic events we have endured this year that almost saw our family ripped apart. In this situation the system protected us, the system knew that we had integrity and that we would never commit the things we had been accused of, the system fought for us and ultimately won. Although we have suffered consequences as a result of malicious actions we are slowly rebuilding….I can’t help but wonder though the number of man hours spent investigating innocent people whilst real perpetrators go undetected.

Another story this week of a carer friend being put under immense pressure as decisions were made that she had no control over, was not consulted about and has left her family shattered.

I turn to a facebook page of a person claiming to be a carer then posting videos of themselves doing questionable things.

I attend an appointment only to be given information for the very first time about a child in my care….information that may have been really nice to have known almost 3 years ago. Information that I thought would spur this professional into action to help but unfortunately did not.

I come across people keen to become foster carers and I find myself wanting to tell them not to do it…it will cause you heartache and grief. You will work hard for very little reward and, in fact you may just lose more than you gain!

The last few weeks I have struggled as  I have lost hope! Lost hope that these little people will ever heal, that this system will make decisions that will help and not hinder them, lost hope that a system that requires so much of me and knows everything about me can be so secretive and not trust me with information or decision making authority.

In this state we are in a period of change. A Royal Commission has been handed down with recommendations, people working in the system and using the system have been consulted about what needs to be done. Everyone is feeling hopeful that the future will be more positive but from where I’m sitting it’s hard to feel positive. The system is broken.

So how do I find hope in something that seems SO messy and hopeless. For me, some of that hope has come in a set of tiny feet that came through my door this week. These tiny feet are smaller than my thumb and as I look at this tiny human my fight has returned. I will get up and keep fighting, I will fight where I can to make change….real change, change that will mean a better future for these little feet, change that may be too late for my little people but change that will help make a better future for the ones coming. These children did not ask to be born into the mess they find themselves, my tiny one has no idea what the road ahead is going to be like for him, he is unable to do anything for himself right now….but whilst he is under my watch it is my job to fight, to advocate and notch up the wins for him.

Many of these battles I will lose but if I can win one then there is purpose for the fight. If even the smallest of my fights means that another carer doesn’t need to suffer some of what I have then it’s worth it. If another child gets early diagnosis or access to supports because mine didn’t then I’ll fight. I will fight for my little ones because there is no one else to do it for them, I will keep on fighting for them until I have taught them how to fight for themselves and my hope is that they will grow and find the strength to also fight for those who cannot.

 

Stealing

There has been something rotating around in my head of late. This seems to be how my brain works….something gets trapped inside and I keep processing until I’m able to get some clarity and then usually I share it. This is where I’ve been the last few months and I think now I get it.

My little poppets steal!

This is not an uncommon behaviour in children who have suffered neglect and trauma. The simple professional opinion is that it is a result of severe neglect where a child feels compelled to look after themselves and make sure that they have enough food.

This behaviour has been one of the hardest for me to accept and come to terms with and I now understand why. Firstly, it goes against everything within me, stealing is wrong and I’m the kind of person who will never steal even if there is a chance I could get away with it. So imagine if you will how this sends triggers through me when this is something I am faced with every single day. Secondly, I have come to understand something about myself, as a mum one of things I see as important in my role is to provide food for my family. I spend a bulk amount of time every week providing food….shopping and cooking, packing lunches and finding nutritious recipes. So when my little people steal I feel like I have failed to meet their needs and that I haven’t done my job well…..what’s more when my children throw out the food I have prepared for them and steal other food I feel even more inadequate. It was these things that were actually causing me so much stress over the last few years. Just recently I have had some time to stop and reflect and really think about what is going on for me.

In recognising the above I have now come to a place where I can reconcile this within me, but this has also led me to realise that I am not ever responsible for someone else’s behaviour. As parents we seem, to cop all the blame for the way our children behave…or don’t behave. When we see a toddler  having a tantrum we are quick to judge the parents. I have written before about how fostering has taught me that I don’t have the information ever to judge someone’s parenting and I just shouldn’t do it. But this behaviour has had me judging myself….’why can’t I help this child to stop this behaviour’, ‘what will other people think of me or my child’ and ‘I mustn’t be doing my job well enough if I can’t help this child’. So much of this blog has been about ‘me’ and how I feel! BUT my little people don’t steal because of me. My little people steal for a variety of reasons, severe past neglect, attention and because they get a buzz from it. Miss 6 recently told her principal that she didn’t think she would ever be able to stop stealing because she liked doing it too much!

This has led me to wonder if stealing for them is a little bit like drugs or alcohol to an addict! I’m going to try to explain this as simply as possible….and given that I’m not a scientist or a psychologist it will be very simple. This is what I know….cortisol levels in children who have experienced trauma sit at a resting rate way higher than for those who have no trauma experience. They get used to this cortisol being high…this is a ‘safe’ feeling for them because it is what they know as normal. If I were to go to a bag that didn’t belong to me and steal a muesli bar my heart would start pumping faster and my cortisol would rise to a level that would cause me to be anxious and scared that I would get caught. For my trauma children this rise in cortisol feels ‘normal’ so they actually feel calmer…these words actually came from one of my little ones last year after she had stolen a juice box…..’I was feeling scared, so I took the juice and it helped me to feel calm’.  When they moved in with us their living conditions changed considerably, over the last few years they have been learning that there are different calmer ways to do life, slowly we are helping their cortisol ‘normal’ level to become lower! (none of this thinking of mine has been scientifically proven and I could be completely off the mark…but in thinking this through this makes sense to me).

No matter what’s going on for them what I have learnt is that the stealing is not going away anytime soon and the best thing I can do is not blame myself but just patiently give them time. Yes, we’ll still keep talking about it and reminding them that they have plenty now and that they live with a family who love them and I’ll keep working on my internal responses so that I don’t react poorly! As we continue through this journey I am learning more and more that it is time that they need….unfortunately for me I’m not very patient and  I want it now!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carried inside my heart

These are the precious hands and feet that we kissed for the last time and sent on their way just 2 days ago.bubba-c We will probably never see these little ones again. We will never get to see them take their first steps or catch their first ball.

Since taking on emergency babies I have had comments like ‘I would have to adopt them, I couldn’t send them back'(rarely happens in this state) ‘I couldn’t do emergency I’d want to keep them long term’ (not always possible) or the most regular ‘I could never do that because it would break my heart having to move them on’. I always find these comments confronting because we DO take in emergency bubbas and we DO hand them back and it isn’t easy but one thing I know is that it DOESN’T break your heart. In fact it does the opposite….each one of these precious little ones finds a special place inside our hearts.

WE are the blessed ones. This is what emergency care looks like. You’ll be going about your business and then the phone rings and you are asked if you can take a placement. For our family there is no consultation that needs to take place we believe that each child sent our way is sent for a purpose, when that call comes we are ready to receive whoever arrives at our door. You hang up the phone and go into a little bit of a tailspin, notifying family members who are not home of the impending arrival and then quickly preparing bedding, appropriate sized clothing and any other necessary items. Usually within a few hours you are answering your door to a social worker or two and your new visitor. Information (sometimes a little, sometimes a little bit more) is exchanged and then they leave…..and there you are with this new little person now depending on you. To be honest, it is one of the weirdest feelings I have ever experienced….a baby arrives at your house….you have not anticipated this delivery, you have not spent months carrying this child, you have not suffered any of the effects of pregnancy or birth but here is this precious human entrusted to you….what an absolute privilege. There is this instant response that fires inside…protect, nurture and love this little one, don’t hold back, don’t think about when you have to say goodbye…just give them all of you right now, because that is what they need.

What generally happens next is that this child will take over your life. They will have regular access to keep their families connected, they may need Dr’s appointments and health clinic visits. There will be calls with their social worker and discussions around what their particular journey is going to look like and how long can you keep them. Sometimes there will be clear cut direction and other times not. Then you will THINK there is clear cut direction only to find that things have changed. There will be all the practical things like feeding and nappy changes, washing and baths and special times where you watch sleepy eyes and have early morning cuddles. You will continue to love and nurture and allow this little person to crawl deep inside you and find their nestling spot! They will not only affect you and your immediate family but those you come into contact with. Then one day when you least expect it that phone will ring again and you will be told that they are moving on….again, usually with very little preparation time. You will spend what precious time you have letting the family know, packing up belongings, writing notes so that this child will receive a continuity of care, cherishing that last feed, snuggle and cuddle and wiping away tears…usually yours, not theirs. Then their ‘ride’ arrives and you carry them to the car, hold them close and give them one last squeeze and kiss and then buckle them in their seat. Wiping away tears you wave goodbye and retreat inside where usually for me, I let myself cry. Before long the tears are wiped away and you begin cleaning up and thinking about how long you might have before that next phone call.

We are not a spectacular family because we can do this. We’re vulnerable people who are  willing to love and give so that a small child may find a soft place to land for a time in their life when things for their family are not going particularly well.  We don’t get to see them grow up, we do get to see them develop and celebrate some milestones, first smiles, first teeth, first words etc. and maybe, just maybe, we might hear a name or read about someone in years to come and remember that we had a small part in the life of that person.

But here’s the part I love the most, we get to carry this person inside our hearts forever. We will have a memory and wonder what they’re doing now, we’ll be looking through photos and stumble on them and reflect, their name will come to mind and we’ll calculate how old they are now and we will pray….every time we think of them we will pray for those little hands and feet. We will pray that they are growing up strong with people around them who are nurturing, enjoying and loving them.

We are indeed the BLESSED ones, blessed beyond measure, because we get to hold these little ones inside our hearts forever and that makes my heart not broken but very very full!

Friends

There are times I sit to write and what is churning through my head makes complete sense. There are other times, like today when my brain is in overdrive(and has been for sometime) trying to sort through a collection of thoughts. There is always a fear that accompanies writing deep and vulnerable thoughts, there’s a fear that someone in my circle will think it’s personal and get upset and then there’s the fear that I will make absolutely no sense to anyone reading and you will all scratch your heads wondering what is going on! There is, however, a freedom in being vulnerable….oftentimes I write from a deep place and I am then humbled by those who make contact and mention that they get it, they’ve felt the same and they get it! So with these thoughts in mind…here goes.

I’ve been pondering over my life and reflecting on all the people that have been a part of it. I’m finding as I get older that the passage of time seems to be speeding up, I find myself thinking ‘that was yesterday’ only to discover that was 5 years ago. I was thinking about my earliest memories of friendship and although it’s not necessarily the earliest my strongest memories are of my first year at school when I buddied up with a gorgeous soul. One of my fondest memories was sharing my lunch with her. The way I remember the story (and maybe she’ll correct me if I’m wrong) is that her bread was often not the freshest and the spread was often lard!…yes lard….now I’m showing my age. I used to trade her one of mine because my bread was always fresh(we owned a shop and the bread arrived early) and I would have an assortment of fillings! This friendship lasted my entire school life. We had our ups and downs, people were added to the circle and some left but we pretty much supported each other through all the tough stuff. We then lost track for many years but have now reconnected through the wonder of Facebook.

As I continue to reflect through time there are some important friendships that have had a profound impact on the person I am today, there are others that have been born from a common stage of life or interest and then there are those that are just ‘there’, people that pop up from time to time, then disappear and then arrive again! My latest soul searching however, has been over the thoughts that what if I see this person as more important in my life than they see me in theirs! AND who are the people in my life who may be feeling this same thing. I guess to put this in context, I often feel like I am the one just outside the circle…you know that feeling….ooo maybe you don’t! You have a person who you spend time with, enjoy their company, you think they’re good friends but then when they gather with other friends you are never included….don’t get me wrong here, I’m not having a pity party…I’m just doing some thinking. What about the friends who never seem to need YOU, they are there if you need a hand but you never seem to be able to repay the favour, in fact, you often don’t even find out they were in need until after the event. There are friends who you only seem to catch up with when you take the time to organise something, and then there are those who just appear and take you by surprise, they drop by with flowers for no reason or they send an encouraging message just when you need it.

All this thinking about friends has lead me to a place of deep thankfulness and the desire to care for my friends regardless of where I sit in their friendship circle. I’m thankful that I have been blessed with friends, I’m thankful that my life has been full with so many and varied relationships. I need to be aware of the times when perhaps I have left others out and seek to make sure that I don’t repeat this pattern. I think too that in those moments when I feel really alone and ‘friendless’ that instead of feeling sorry for myself I should  search out others who may be struggling with similar feelings, and when I find myself in a season of a friendship ending  I need to grieve that loss and reflect on all that was rather than wishing it back. Most of all my greatest desire would be that I allow my friends to leave their mark whatever that may be and that I would be vulnerable with my friends allowing them to see the real me, and maybe, just maybe I might leave a small mark on their lives.