Katie Walton - 3rd August 2022
That must be rewarding!
When people find out that you are a foster carer, they will often comment on how rewarding it must be. I’m never quite sure how to respond to that in an honest, authentic way. The truth is that a lot of the time, it is hard work. At times, you can feel like a vessel, pouring out and never quite being replenished. I think one of the things committed foster carers have to be able to do is to keep looking for the small encouragements. There are always plenty of them but you have to stop and look. Eyes up.
Sometimes, it will take someone else to notice a subtle change in your child or point out certain behaviours that no longer happen with the same frequency. Oftentimes you need reminding from your social worker that you are making a difference and that you’re on track even if it doesn’t feel like it.
These little encouragements keep you going and help you through the difficult patches and they can also cement your motivation and passion for fostering.
But I think the most honest thing I can say about fostering is that the real rewards often don’t make themselves known until years down the line. Fostering is a bit like the famous experiment on delayed gratification. There you are with a boiled sweet in front of you. You can eat it now, but if you wait for a period of time, you’ll be offered a whole bag to eat at your leisure. Foster carers need to have their eye on the whole bag whilst sneaking hungry peeks at the single, sugary treat in the here and now.
Delayed gratification brought home
This concept of delayed gratification for foster carers was brought home to me in a powerful way this week.
I met up with my foster son who now lives independently, locally to us. We see each other and talk regularly but this meeting was to be a particularly insightful one.
When our foster son came to us, he was the same age as my youngest birth son is now, almost 14. Seeing them greet each other the other day made me realise what our foster son had lost and how young he was when he lost it. He is now in his 20s. This week we talked in depth about his experiences, how he had felt and what his life had been like before he came to us. I knew his story, of course. I knew the terrible things he had been through. But when he came to us, he spoke no English at all. His story had therefore been filtered through interpreters of varying quality. Muted somewhat. Now, more than 6 years on, I heard his story, in his own words, in English. I have to admit, I hadn’t anticipated how emotional this would be. Neither had I expected to hear new details of a story that was so familiar to me. Equally, it was the first time that I had shared with him what things had been like for us. He hadn’t known he was our first foster child. He hadn’t realised that we were finding our way as much as he was.
He told me of the fear that had clung to him for so much of his life. I nodded and told him that when he came in through our front door flanked by social workers, I had never seen such naked fear in anyone’s eyes. It actually scared me to see it, something contagious.
These newly-revealed horrors that had happened to him in the lead-up to his arrival were familiar to him but shockingly new to me. I felt saddened that there were still things I didn’t, couldn’t know about him and how he had had to carry these deep inside himself. I felt my heart break for him all over again.
But then he spoke of his foster brothers, my sons. He said how they had lifted him, how they made him laugh and how as long as he lives they will be his brothers. He explained that whilst he was traumatised and deeply hurt by his experiences, he always felt safe with us. It was a reminder of the genuine attachment and affection he has for us, which was by no means evident much of the time he was with us.
He spoke of his schooling and the opportunities he had had and how he had always tried to make the most of these. This is something we have always praised and encouraged him in, so it was wonderful to hear how he values them still.
He then told me that whilst he still carries a lot of hurt and worry, he is genuinely happy with life. He loves his job, he has made a wonderful home for himself. He has a good group of friends and he knows he has us if ever he needs us. I always wondered if we would ever see him happy. It felt like there were just too many hurdles for him to overcome. But happy he is! I felt like he’d presented me with a whole sack of sweets, one that I can open from time to time as a reminder to keep going.
I have to admit there were some tough times with our foster son, as there always are with any child. There were times that we wondered if we could carry on, whether we were actually adding anything or making any difference at all. But we knew in our hearts that we needed to stick with him, and stick with him we did. This week, I can honestly say that I am so very glad we did. To see him doing so well, his life taking form from the rubble of what had gone before, to be able to tell him how proud we are of him and watch him beam. That is priceless. That is something truly worth waiting for.