You may remember my blog from a few months ago, where I’d expressed my distaste for the way that many Fostering agencies advertise the initiative to become a foster carer. That blog focused on money. This blog focuses on resource.
More than one agency I’ve heard radio adverts for boasts claims along the lines of the fact that “all you need is a spare room and a place in your heart”. As a cynic and an English teacher, this line makes me cringe anyway, but it also annoys me because it’s incredibly misleading.
Of course you need a spare room; that should really go with saying. But what about the other things you need? I’m not talking about a kind heart and a listening ear and all that kind of stuff that’s a marketing department’s dream within a care-based organisation. I’m talking about the other elements that I never fully anticipated I’d need to be in possession of in this role.
I’m of course swayed more here to talking about life with teenagers, but this is my list of essentials you need as a foster parent – after you’ve cleared out the spare room:
1. Spare room in all your other rooms.
Going from ‘couple with kitten’ to ‘trio with turncoat tomcat’ overnight means that mess piles up quickly. Everyone’s stuff is everywhere, yet somehow, no-one can find anything. Clear out.
2. The strength to hold your tongue every time the birth parent or a relative of the child does something incredibly un-parent-like.
Smiling throughout, you know you have to battle the anger and the incredulity and hand out some sort of positive spin on the situation. Deep breaths.
3. A car (and the ability to drive it).
By now, I’ve lost count of how many situations have been sorted, dressing-downs have been dished out and much-needed advice has been administered whilst driving around in the car together. This is because in that situation, nobody has to make eye contact, nobody can escape, and if it gets really awkward, you can always just throw on the radio. Do NOT let the child choose the music.
4. The sense to know that all the things that have been broken and gone missing since the child moved in may not actually be their fault.
You’d be forgiven for thinking these occurrences are more than just a co-incidence with the sudden addition of a youngster, but experience has shown me that all damages, write-offs and losses are much more likely the fault of your other half, who hoped that the introduction of another person to the family home would take the heat off them when stuff goes wrong. It doesn’t.
5. The ability to ignore the person who mutters something along the lines of, “yeah, but they’re not really your kids, are they…”
6. A passion for interpretive arts.
Without doubt, you will need to hone your skills in mime in order to execute and understand a full-on argument with your partner about whatever it is that’s caused an issue, without once uttering a full audible sentence for the child to hear. They’ll learn eventually that you’re normal and you shout, but in the early stages…
7. The humility to be the person in need and ask for the child’s help.
I’m talking quite large scale here. I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to ask to borrow The Boy’s hairdryer after my husband had blown mine up drying his socks. The fact that he owns a hairdryer is another blog entirely, and don’t even ask about the socks.
8. An unfaltering resolve to fight any organisation, institution and establishment that claims to help kids and young people, yet somehow manages to further restrict and confine their life chances. Young person’s housing ‘schemes’ – I’m talking to you.
And finally, what you certainly need above all…
9. A grasp on reality.
Congratulations! You’ve just become a full-on parent to somebody else’s child. Therefore, it’s okay not to have a clue what you’re doing! I know I don’t, but I’ve kept us all alive so far…