Jean Wilson - 9th September 2022
We all look forward to a holiday! Holiday is a time when you’re happy, the whole family is in a good mood and you are able to relax and get lost in the novelty of a foreign country, its language, its food, its pace of life.
The first time we took our foster child away on holiday with us, we assumed that the same rules would apply: everyday life would be left behind and we would all be refreshed by a much needed holiday. And it was refreshing. And it was a happy time. But it was soon apparent that we were not going to be able to leave our metaphorical baggage behind. The challenges of fostering followed us across the ocean and forced us to reframe what this holiday would mean.
A shaky start
Our child had never been on holiday before. He had on one occasion been left behind by his parents while they went away. He had never been abroad and had no reference point to help him understand what to expect. I think, in a way, the very act of taking our child away with us raised complex emotions in him which we hadn’t anticipated. Anger resurfaced, centred on his previous life experiences. A strange sort of guilt also seemed to play at him, meaning he almost wanted the trip to be rubbish, a way to stay loyal to his parents perhaps. So we had a fair bit to help him grapple with before we even set foot on foreign soil.
I think we understood we needed to keep expectations low or at least realistic. An expectation that everyone was to be happy and on their best behaviour while we were away (however much WE yearned for that) would add a layer of pressure that would surely backfire.
He did cope really well with the journey and was unable to hide his excitement and wonder as the plane took off, I still have the nail marks where he grabbed hold of my hand! I think he so desperately wanted to enjoy himself, was genuinely excited but also out of his comfort zone. So many conflicting emotions.
This conflict was most often forgotten and overridden when he was splashing around in the pool with our children. He lived in that pool that holiday. We made sure we had plenty of time round the pool each day and always communicated how long we’d be there and what we would be doing for the rest of the day. Despite this, he would often try and sabotage days out so that we would return home. I think he felt safe at the villa and exposed and uncertain when visiting strange towns, with strange people who spoke strangely and looked different. All understandable once we put ourselves in his shoes. But we held firm. We made sure we chose activities with everyone in mind and exposed our foster son, gently and sensitively to new experiences. We encouraged him to say please and thank you in the local language. One waiter remarked on how good his language skills were and he positively beamed! It was great to see this pride start to emerge.
Usually on holiday, we ban phones. Controversial, but we have always felt the holiday is about reconnecting as a family. However, we knew that our foster son attached a huge importance to friendships and to his family who he managed his own contact with. Often his interactions with family could be problematic and cause upset to him. And of course there was no exception on holiday. Yet, we knew it would be unrealistic, unfair and unethical to expect him to forgo this contact. Instead we allotted a period of time each day for phone usage. Yet again the pool came to the rescue. As soon as phone time was over, pool time began. It genuinely seemed therapeutic for him and swimming would become something we continued with him long after the holiday was over.
There were so many incidents on the holiday that could have easily ruined our trip had we allowed them to BUT there were more wonderful moments. There was good side-by-side time, new experiences, a newly found confidence and pride.
We all learned something from that first fostering holiday. Holidays are not an escape from your problems. But they are an opportunity to consolidate therapeutic care and to develop new skills, strategies and perspectives.
And what’s more, our foster son, who has long since left us, still talks about that holiday, that swimming pool, and the memories we made together.