For the past 14 years I have been a foster mother to a total of 13 children as well as a mother to my own 3 biological children. There have been many many great times and many many challenging times, as a family and for the individuals within the family, for various different reasons.
I had wanted to be a foster mum since my eldest child was 2, so that is, dare I say it, 27 yeas ago. When my wish finally became a reality it was both exciting and scary, for me, my family and for the child. It was our first time and indeed her first time. Questions like, would she like us, would we like her, would she be pleasant, difficult, fussy, destructive, assertive, shy, withdrawn, plus many many more curiosities were pondered about how this ‘placement’ would be.
It’s a similar feeling when you are starting a new job and you can’t wait to get the first week over and done with as you know by week 2, you will feel more settled. The thing with starting a new job, is that you get to go home at the end of the day. With fostering, there is no ‘going home’ at the end of the day, because it is a 24 hour ‘job’. Also this ‘placement’ was to be only for 2 weeks, so I really wanted it to work, for all concerned. I wanted to pass the’test’ and be a good foster mum, for my family to be a good foster family. I wanted it to be a success. I wanted her to enjoy her time with us and feel welcomed and at home with us.
As we were new foster carers and it was only to be a short term placement we thought it would be a good introduction to the area of fostering. The 2 weeks, however, turned in to 6 months and for the most part they were a very good 6 months. When I look back on it, I look back on it with great fondness. I feel we learned a lot as a family, during this time. We learned to adjust to our new ‘child’ and all that came with her, her own unique ways and behaviours, her own biological family and of course social workers. That is the package you take on as a foster carer.
There were a few times of conflict and even jealousy from my biological children because they had to share their home, their parents, their school, their friends, their everything. That had to be acknowledged and dealt with in a way that they were not feeling left out or devalued in any way. It also had to be dealt with in a way that I would try to help them understand the importance of what we were trying to do as a family, in providing a home, for a time, to someone who really needed it. Sometimes they would blame me, saying it was me who wanted to foster, not them. They were right, it was me that wanted to foster, but not without their approval, and not to their detriment in any way. So before she came to live with us, we had a meeting and all decided we would ‘give it a try’.
I would acknowledge that I understood, for them, it was a sacrifice and must be hard to have to share everything all of the time. The only time they could ‘escape’ the new arrangement is if they were in their own bedroom. In reality, that is all that they really needed, to be acknowledged and have their feelings validated. It wasn’t that they didn’t want her there, it was that they just wanted to be able to say, that sometimes, it was all a bit too much. For the most part, they all got on like a house on fire.
She and my eldest daughter were studying for their junior certificate exam. Being teenagers, they also wanted to get out to the village to see their friends. The only restriction or conditions I put on them regarding their exams was that they should study for at least 4 hours per day – 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. They could take a break and see their friends in between the two sessions. So long as they did their ‘best’ in the exams, so long as they put in what ever extra study was needed above the 4 hours I had suggested, in order to do their best, that was about the size of the instruction I gave them. I wasn’t testing them, I merely felt it was their responsibility to put in whatever time was required, to get the result that they wanted. It was after all, their life, right?
Fast forward 14 years and my now youngest foster child has just sat her mock junior cert exams. Without being disparaging to all the others that have gone before her, including my own biological children, she is the smartest, in that she is extremely academic, or shall I put it another way, is potentially extremely academic, and is in all the high classes, doing the high level in her subjects. She has had some results back and they are not what she hoped they would be. They were not what I was expecting (of her) either, so i was a little surprised, no, shocked but I didn’t show it.
My response was not to worry too much as they are just the mocks. It is just her junior certificate and not her Leaving Certificate (which is 2 years away)! Think of it as a trial run for the real thing in 2 years time I told her. She was a little emotional about it all. I thought I was doing the right thing in my approach in not making a big deal out of it.
I then remembered when one of my biological children didn’t quite get the results she had hoped for either. She blamed me. For not making her study! What a cop out! I thought about it, but at the time she was 17 and in my opinion, it was her responsibility. You reap what you sow, sort of scenario. I am all for empowering, and as far as I am concerned you can only do that if you set certain guidelines and then leave the rest of the responsibility to the person involved to do the rest.
I told her (the youngest) again, not to worry and get upset, but what she must do is find out where she went wrong. I acknowledged her disappointment, as I knew she would be disappointed as she really liked to come out on top. However, I reassured her that with finding the cause would be more beneficial in being able to rectify it for the real exams and get a better outcome, the outcome she was hoping for.
Her initial response would be to blame her teachers for marking her hard or there not being enough time to complete it and that it was stupid that there was only 2 hours, when you really needed 3! Yes frustrating, but none the less, to get the desired outcome, blaming other factors wouldn’t cut the mustard. Setting realistic goals, practicing time management, honing in on quality not quantity, setting up a strategic study plan and limiting distractions. Taking proper breaks when the mind starts to wander and do a pleasurable activity before returning to the dreaded study. These, in my opinion would be more helpful than just looking for something or someone to blame.
‘How did you study’ she finally asked, ‘when you were doing your junior cert’. I sipped my tea, smiled and told her honestly, ‘I crammed, the night before and got up early, around 5.00 a.m. to cram some more so it was nice and fresh’ I laughed. I was out some nights before an exam with my boyfriend then went home and crammed. Not ideal, but it got me enough to pass. Was I motivated to be top of the class? no, I just wanted to pass. Could I blame my parents, teachers, time, if all I did was ‘cram’ and only got ‘C’ ‘s instead of ‘A’ s ? No, absolutely not. If I wanted ‘A’ s then I should have studied more. I should have taken that responsibility, so I am the one to blame if I did not get what I wanted. In my case, I was happy with ‘C’ s. I knew I could do better, but felt I didn’t need ‘A’s to prove my worth or be a measure of my ability.
At the end of the day, it is all about what you want, and not only that, what you are prepared to do in order to get it. Will a reduced mark in an exam, that will have no bearing on your future prospects, really worth getting so upset about? I don’t think so. Am I saying people shouldn’t study, no of course not. I am saying put it in perspective, but also take responsibility. If you want more, do more.
When I look back at the first two, that had to do the junior cert, with their (at least) 4 hour study plan, I remember the laughter, the relaxed atmosphere, the giggling as they came back from the village after seeing their friends and happily got on with opening their books to ‘study’, but often, there was more laughter and chit chat going on, than study……… They both came out with 9 honours and 2 passes……. Results to be proud of in anyone’s eyes!
The moral of the story, put things in perspective, check your own internal motivation and your own sense of responsibility. Be realistic and don’t play the blame game, it can become a habit that is hard to break.