What’s in a name

I have had cause to ponder the significance of a name over the last few weeks and how names really affect our identity.

As foster parents we bring children into our homes who do not wear any part of us, they share no DNA, they have names that are not chosen by us and we are generally unaware of the meanings and origins of their names. Every name has some significance. Many surnames give connection to past generations and provide an indication of the family you descended from. My maiden name Thomson tells me that somewhere back in my past one of my ancestors was Toms son! As I think more about my own name I carry a middle name that is connected to both my mother and my grandmother. My first name was at one stage going to be something different as my parents considered options, I do sometimes wonder if my life would have been different if my first name was Fiona?

I have come across people in my life who have had their names changed as very young children without even knowing and then finding out in adult years that they had a different surname. I have had friends change their whole name due to safety reasons to protect themselves. I have a friend who was adopted and was given a completely different name. I often think through the implications of each of these stories and wonder the feelings and emotions that go along with this.

When carrying each of my children I spent many hours searching name lists for the perfect name and rolling names around to decide on the best fit. I remember whilst carrying our first son my hubby came home from a work trip and announced that he had met a grown up with the name we were considering and that ‘it worked’. The middle names of each of our children have significance and meaning and they have grown up with an understanding of how we chose their name, who they are named after and even the other names we were considering had they been the opposite sex. Twelve weeks ago I had the joy of welcoming my first grandchild and the honour of her wearing the same middle name as me, the name that will now span into another generation.

So, now put yourself in the shoes of a child who has lost everything from their family of origin. These little people who come into our lives via a social worker have very little identity, very few belongings and a whole lot of baggage. As Miss 9 has grown there have been conversations about the meaning of her name which is relatively easy to find with a google search. However, that is where it ends. We do not hold any of the history of her name, we don’t know if she is named after anybody in her family or any significance of her name, we cannot tell her the stories about how she was named or what her name may have been had she been a boy. As she has become more connected to our family she has asked to use our family name which she is allowed to do in many ‘unofficial’ situations. We learnt early this year just how important our name was to her as her teacher unknowingly used her birth name in many different contexts and over the course of 2 weeks she became increasingly agitated as she began to think that she must be leaving us because her name had been changed.

I find myself with an interesting dilemma. Our last name is incredibly significant to her and provides her with a level of safety and security that she belongs and that we are her family. Her birth name sadly, evokes many traumatic memories for her and she has said on several occasions that when she is old enough she wants to legally change it. Our job as her parents is to ensure that we provide her with safety, identity and security whilst also being respectful to the fact that her surname is part of where she has come from. We need to give her permission to gain her identity without wiping out her ancestry.


A lesson in anxiety

I have a confession to make.

I’m one of those people who really didn’t understand anxiety. I’m one of those people who would hear others talk of their anxiety and being crippled or stifled by it and I’d go to my default thinking of ‘seriously, how hard can this be? Just get on with it!’. I live with a little person who suffers anxiety but I didn’t REALLY get it.

That was until recently.

A few weeks ago I was faced with a situation where I faced anxiety head on and have now found myself with a new perspective.

For the last 5 months I have been in a situation where I have needed to work with someone who was having an affect on me. Initially I tried to build a good working relationship with this person and did what I could to remind myself that no one likes change and it takes time to settle into new things. However, I found any dealings with this person would set me on full alert. I became cautious and guarded, not really like me at all. One of my personality traits is intuition, I call it my ‘gut’ feeling. I have learnt over the years to listen to this intuition and when appropriate to act on it. So that is what I did. I took measures to begin a process of sorting this situation out. Things escalated and a time to meet was scheduled. I was told that I needed to continue to work with this person until this meeting. I thought that would be ok….but then I remembered we had a big meeting coming up.

It was this event that taught me first hand about anxiety. The night before the meeting I felt terrible. I struggled to sleep well as my mind worked overtime. In the morning I felt sluggish due to lack of sleep. I felt nauseous. I forced myself to eat because I thought that would be sensible. I experienced heart palpatations and increased body temperature, my mind was pre-occupied and I was wondering how I was going to function well in the meeting….a meeting that needed my A game. I kept trying to talk myself through this – reminding myself that this was nothing to be stressing about. I had a general feeling of dread as I watched the meeting time get closer. I decided to go get a coffee…caffeine works right? And take a walk to try to calm my anxiety. It was at this point that I received a message letting me know this person would not be attending the meeting.
The relief was instant.
All of the physical symptoms I had been experiencing disappeared.

Later when reflecting, it occurred to me that this is something that my little poppet experiences daily. I saw her in a new light. I began to realise how hard her daily functioning can be. I went through some feelings of guilt when I realised that I had maybe never really understood what life can be like for her and had at times lacked compassion for how difficult some days could be. I can’t necessarily make things better for her, sadly I can’t always remove the source of her anxiety but what I can do is better understand what is going on for her, learn strategies to teach her and occasionally I might just hug her a little more tightly before I send her out into that world that can be very scary. I think I also have a deeper understanding of why sometimes she comes home from her day and just lets it all out…at me.

To my friends who suffer from anxiety, I’m sorry if I have been less than sympathetic in your time of need.
I’m hoping that my recent experience has taught me how to show you all a greater degree of understanding.


I had planned in my mind to write this before Christmas, but you know what it’s like. The hours and days just seem to roll on by and before you know it you’re sitting in a new year wondering how time passed so quickly.

It is early morning and my household is still asleep. I really do love this time of morning as there is very little distraction and nothing has started to clutter my brain for the day. So I’m going to dig back in my mind to what I wanted to write on December 17th 2017.

We have not long returned from church and my heart is full today. Today was the last day of Sunday School for 2017 and our poppet has graduated from one year level to the next. This morning she climbed up the steps to the stage and stood there with another group of 5-7yr olds and beamed. She sang her little heart out and had the most amazing smile on her face. The thing I noticed most about her was that as she was singing she was watching the crowd of faces and many times as her eyes locked mine or someone else’s in our family those gorgeous eyes lit up with a sparkle. As I was watching her I found my own eyes sparkling with a few tears.

My thoughts ran back into the week that had just finished, the school year that had ended and indeed the last 4 years. As a regular reader you will be well aware of the journey we have travelled as our door has been flung wide open to trauma. The week leading up to this Sunday had not been the greatest as I was reeling from hurtful words from someone who should have known better.

” J feeds on attention, controlling others and being in control of everything around her. Looking out for what she can do to get attention. I wish J all the best next year and hope she finds the courage to be the best she can be.”

I am happy that I did not let missy read these words because they cut deeply into me and I suspect for her they would have been just as painful. We then proudly flicked through her workbooks that had come home to be confronted with comments of a similar nature, “too busy attention seeking to finish this work” “didn’t do this, having a meltdown.”

My first instinct was to confront this person and “put them in their place” but then the rational part of my brain stepped in and felt sad. Firstly, I felt sad because they have clearly had many unkind words spoken to them in their past and perhaps the trauma responses in my child had triggered some memories for them which made this year hard and then I felt sad because they had truly missed the joy that is hiding behind all that trauma in this precious child.

The words we speak and the words we write have a lasting impact on those around us. I can still remember the words from my drama teacher at the end of year 7,”domineering and struggles to let others take the lead”. How is it that I can remember those words spoken more than 35 years ago? Those words made me angry at the time, as a teenager wanting to liked and approved of they are not great words, however, now I’ll happily wear those words because I am an excellent organiser and leader, I have learnt to allow others to take the lead and even have a turn…sometimes!!!

So, yes, the words attention seeking, feeding on attention and controlling DO fit this little person. But I like to think of her as attachment seeking, loving the fact that someone is finally taking notice of her and still not feeling safe enough to let others be in control because when she’s done that in the past it’s turned out really badly. And to the harshest of words “Finds the COURAGE” there can only be one response! If this person had taken the time to really know and understand her she would have been in AWE….that’s right…she would have been in awe at the courage that this little one has displayed. This is the child who has battled more battles than many will in their whole life, this little one has survived at the hands of abusers, this little one can get up every day and go out into this crazy, scary world and still function and this little one does it most days with a smile on her face.

At the moment she tells me that when she grows up she wants to be a teacher and follow in the footsteps of her big sister and brother, I don’t know if this is where she will end up but I know if she does she will have a deep compassion and understanding for her students because of the battles she has faced and with COURAGE has overcome.

As I looked into the face of that child standing on that stage on that Sunday morning I felt a deep sense of AWE for who she is becoming in spite of everything going on around her.


Cracks and Putty

I’ve been somewhat busy these last few months, not that crazy busy where you’re constantly running, just that productive busy. I set myself a goal to get some painting done and a little bit of maintenance and upkeep on the downstairs area of our house.

We moved into this house almost 23 years ago. Originally built in the 60’s it has served our family well. Every time I do work on it though I find my mind being transported back to the life it had before us. Who actually built it? How many people have lived here since? What are the stories of the lives of those people? How many secrets are held in these walls? What if these walls could talk…imagine the stories they could tell.

Surprisingly, for me, these walls do tend to talk to me every time I have cause to spend some time giving them attention. I like painting. Painting transports my mind into a reflective place. A place where I am alone in my thoughts. The room I am working on has often been stripped of necessary furniture, the children are generally not around and the calm cleanliness of freshly painted walls allows my mind time to think. I take dirty shabby marked walls and cover them creating clean fresh spaces.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the way that renovating is really what we’re doing with our children affected by trauma. This time around, my work has been aesthetic, my plan was to wash the walls and apply a fresh coat of paint to freshen things up. I was not changing colours, just painting white on white and in most cases the walls just needed 1 coat. A few small cracks were easily patched and covered…some in fact didn’t really need patching, they were the small kind that the fresh paint just covers over. It has not always been this easy though. In this house we have had times of massive work, there have been major cracks and flaws that have needed attention, we have had to scrape back peeling paint and sand and prepare walls before applying several coats of new paint, we have filled in doorways and created new ones and we have even removed the roof and added a second storey.

Our little poppet is a bit the same. When working with children from trauma many people think that applying a coat of paint will fix everything. Find this child a new home, one that has clean walls, dress them in new clothes, give them a ‘cleaner’ life and everything will be ok….a fresh coat of paint fixes everything right?? Unfortunately it really isn’t that easy. Deep down hiding under that exterior we discover structural problems that need addressing. We find work that wasn’t done in the early years, walls that are ready to crumble and can’t be easily fixed with putty and paint , there are even  some walls that need removing.

We have recently engaged the services of an Occupational Therapist and assessment has shown us where we need to do some work. There have been many times with our little one that we have indeed just slapped on a coat of paint for now…because we have been dealing with more pressing issues closer to the surface. But now we need to strip back that paint and deal with the cracks. By filling in these cracks, doing some filling and smoothing and sanding we will then be creating a stronger foundation. Sometimes those cracks will start to open again but by doing the foundational work we are hopefully preventing the crack from opening so much that the wall will fall down.

For her, there have been some issues showing on the surface. Issues that affect her functioning at school and general day to day living. What our OT has helped us discover is some areas where the building has been incomplete or poorly done, areas where the incorrect materials have been used in her early years or in fact the building work was completely missed and that is now having an impact. We can keep trying to apply coats of paint but things will not improve for her until we go back to those deep foundations and do some structural work. So that is what we are doing.

Our children from trauma are really like our houses in so many ways, deeply held within their walls are so many stories, stories we may never really understand or even hear. A past that involves other people and lives. The way they respond and the cracks we see remind us that we actually need to dig deeper, scrape back the paint, find the gaping hole and then use the necessary skills to fill and correct the hole. Sometimes, the first attempt doesn’t quite fix the problem and we need to do something else but my hope is that we will eventually find ourselves in a place where the foundations will be strong and the cracks will just need a small amount of work!

Happy renovating!





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.





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.