I’m on the phone earlier talking to someone who needs to chat something through with me and ‘H’ is pacing back and forth in front of me. This is quite deliberate, she wants me to stop or look up from the conversation to give her what she wants. I quite deliberately don’t. The pacing increases and the occasional ‘pardon’ is loudly thrown in knowing full well that I was not addressing her but continuing with the phone. After three minutes the pacing increases further and a loud ‘Can I?’ is uttered before I place a finger in one ear.

She then gives up …. For one minute.

There she is again pacing up and down this time with some heavier breathing. My call comes to an end and she literally pukes out the words ‘Can I have screen time?’ whilst staring at the clock as she agonises over any seconds that even my answer will take on the overall loss between now and dinner. I enquire, in a rather annoyed state, as to why this request deserved the tension that she had provided as a performance in front of me. She stared and shrugged as she does. After a short talk about what were real priorities in life she sprinted into the front room where she enjoyed the nemesis of all parents, the Xbox.

There is no doubt that this one track mind is synonymous with ‘H’s disability but there is little difference between her obsession and our sons with screen, so I don’t think we can put it down to her autism entirely. That said the issue is not so much about her want of the TV but more the way that a one track mind can affect you as a parent. Screens come above days out, cycling, exercise, board games, socialising and conversation  – to name but a few. It can drive you wild where you see all the good things in life being put aside for the vacant stare that is associated to endless youtube videos.

We do of course limit this time and promote other activities which at times do produce interest from ‘H’ however it is amazing what a pull the internet and video world bring. It has been said that sugar is children’s equivalent of alcohol however screens must be the nicotine to accompany it. We have this battle and do not expect quick results, we are after all, fighting 11 previous years of this being a way of life. We even took her in to our home with an American accent such was her appetite for TV so it is going to be a slog and one in which I need to have better humour in.

I find it is sometimes difficult to model the appropriate amount of screen time myself. Even as you read this I’m staring at a laptop screen and to anyone (including my kids) it looks no different to when I watched Sherlock last night. It is a quandary and a challenge in our age to demonstrate healthy balance with this stuff in a modern age.

I am interested however as to whether this is a bridge that you have made it over? Apart from limiting time have you ever steered a child into better pursuits or lit their brain up in more creative ways. I guess I’m not the only one asking this question, so we would love to hear from you! In the meantime I will try and keep trying ideas because slowly but surely she is liking other fun, just not as fast as I’d like it!…….

James.

Therapeutic Foster carer


Recently I was chatting to a young lady at our Church who used to live with us. She comes most weeks and it is still great to continue to have dialogue and relationship. She went around from person to person and caught up with who she wanted to and showed off her new shoes. One of the couples that she adored are fostering themselves and had a newborn with them who almost everybody was cooing over.

That afternoon I had to work and had a missed call from the carer of the young lady. This carer is someone we as a family have known for years. We have loads of respect for her and she is a great placement choice for the needs of Alice. I called her back and she told me that Alice had gone walk about. She was picking fights when she came back and refused to eat. We discussed the reasons why she might have cleared off and whether anything had happened at Church.

As we chatted there was (obviously) a tension to the talk. We reflected that Alice was still reacting in the same way that she did when she was with us as a family. That she seemed to struggle with life in many of the same ways. There was a sense of helplessness in the longevity of someone who does not want any help with dealing with their feelings.

Through all of the chat it occurred to me that there can be few carers who were able to talk like we were. Between us we have journeyed with Alice for over 6 years and that pain in her carers voice took me right back to when Alice used to go into the dark lonely places where she refused to discuss or accept help. Alice’s carer used phrases like “I know that you know how this feels” and “I know she did the same to you”. Each time she reminded me I felt a visceral reaction as I took myself back there.

In all of this empathic pain I was in a place of strength compared to her. I was able to encourage her to keep going, to help frame what might have been the trigger at Church and to just be there! There is a levity when we share something hard with someone who knows exactly you are talking about. Louise often tells me that her work as a therapist is made so much more effective because she knows what it is to foster herself. I guess as carers we respect those who know what this life can entail.

My hope for you is that you have someone who knows what it is like to be a carer and can be a positive force in your life. Fostering, although it is about relationship, can be lonely. Maybe you need to call someone who knows what it feels like for an encouragement? Maybe you need to get the bigger picture of why you do what you do again. Maybe someone needs you to say “yes, I get it”. For someone struggling, it may be all they need in that moment.

James


For the tenth time this week Holly chose not to play with our youngest kid. She is always really happy to play with our older boy but when it comes to the other child excuses are made, effort drops off and our little girl is ignored and dismissed. It really, really winds us up.

Some of the reason it affects us badly is because it’s splitting our family. The rule in our house is that everyone is loved and accepted and all get to play. When someone decides against someone else it undermines that special cohesion that we have. Secondly, we know it is about laziness. Our youngest is not as funny or entertaining as our boy and so she is dismissed as irrelevant to Hollys need to be constantly entertained. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, it really hurts our little girl – she is confused by her brother being able to join in playing with her and she feels lonely and rejected. As parents, this is the outcome that really pushes our buttons!

When your buttons are pushed like this as carers it takes extra strength to step back and reflect. Of course there are ways that we can try to improve things, such as games which they both enjoy or deliberate times where we put them together and ask them to collaborate artistically or with Lego. What you realise at times like this however is how easy it is to really dislike some of the kids that come into your care. Let’s be honest the word ‘grateful’ is hardly synonymous with fostering but when one of you hurts it’s amazing how fast your brain goes to that place of judgement over a child in care.

A while back I wrote about where love fits into the fostering world and I revisited it today as I was reminded that if we only looked after the kids we liked there would be a far worse shortage in foster carers than there is currently. That feeling that is beyond ‘like’ has to give you enough strength to keep going, has to give you enough grit to see through another day when you are sneered at or one of your loved ones is hurt. It has to remind you of the fact that all children deserve more of us and a model of relational resilience which they have not necessarily experienced before.

Oddly enough, our youngest kicked off tonight about something completely unrelated to Holly. As she was shouting and screaming and accusing us of all kinds of stuff it occurred to me that in that moment there was nothing in me that liked what was in front of me. Despite this I had a real peace as I knew it would blow over and normal service would be resumed before long. Love, I suppose, is the rich fuel to keep going with whomever is around you. Maybe you can identify with this, maybe not but I do think love is what separates out good carers from others and it is those children who journey with those carers who are affected long term.

James


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