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.