I met with another foster parent this week. I’ll call her Sharon. The two children she is caring for have multiple needs relating to early trauma and attachment. One of the children needs high levels of supervision and has little sense of danger. It can be exhausting looking after these children. As I was helping Sharon get one of the children into her car, I chatted away to him (it’s really helpful to know a bit of sign language now and again!). I don’t even remember what we said to one another but it made him smile. He really smiled. Sharon said, right in the middle of the faff and negotiation “He’s got the most amazing smile, hasn’t he?” “Yes”, I said, because she was absolutely right. It was so beautiful I wanted to capture it and keep it with me.
Being a foster parent is tough. Sharon spends so much of her time having to stay close to the children just to ensure their basic safety. She endures endless hours of the children calling to her, even when they are in the same room, because they need to believe she still exists – that she is still there and that they exist within the context of her care. She often needs to apologise to friends and strangers alike for her children’s bizarre or distressed behaviours. Then she has to manage other people’s (often well meaning but) unhelpful responses.
At bedtime Sharon and her husband each spend time with one of the children, talking with them and answering their many questions. They have an advanced baby monitor with mod-cons I didn’t even know existed to ensure that they can still watch over the children while they are sleeping. One of the children required play schemes suited to children with special needs so even finding the right kind of daytime respite during the holidays is tricky.
Why does Sharon do it? I don’t know. I haven’t asked her. But I think I can guess. She does it because of that little boy’s incredible smile. She does it because the other child never used to cuddle and now she does. She does it because, like all foster parents, she believes there is a jewel, no, many jewels inside her children that can be found and enjoyed. When you are training to become a foster parent, nothing prepares you for how hard you will work or how much emotional energy it will cost you. But once you find those jewels in children, they rarely get lost again and it makes it worth it. Even when children move on, you can feel ok about the work you have done with that child and it negates any sense of regret you might have had for loving a child who could not fully love you back.