So far, despite being a bit unwell, the Christmas break has been really enjoyable. In chatting with friends over the last few days, I realised that some, who know me less well, we’re unaware of how I grew up and what my mum and dad did, so I thought I’d post an edited version of an article I wrote for work (in a different context) earlier in the year. So here it is (and yes, this is a picture of me!)…
My parents have fostered over 20 children over the years, adopted two and I’ve an older long-term foster brother who has learning difficulties. I was the youngest of six for most of my childhood, and foster children came and went fairly regularly. In my younger years I didn’t know any different and assumed everyone had this sort of family set-up!
For most of the time I would have been the youngest, but we did have children coming to live with us who were younger. It’s only in adult life that people comment about how I felt about being displaced as the ‘baby of the family’. I knew no different, so it really didn’t bother me. Our house was pretty busy, as you can imagine, but mum and dad had us organised to military precision. The boys would set the breakfast table and the girls would clear up (unless my brother paid my sister to do his job!) and dinner was at about 6.15 – although mum always said it would be ready at six. This made me chuckle – dad was always early for everything.
Recently, when visiting mum and dad, we got into discussion about life as it was and life as it might have been. For the first time ever, my mum said that her time and energy was not shared out evenly. In my head I’m sure I always knew this, but had never really thought about it before. I’m sure I wasn’t aware of a fraction of the meetings, court cases and discussions with social workers that went on, and I think mum and dad tried to keep us ignorant of this as much as possible. Life was as it was, and I was happy.
Mum commented that I was very laid back and didn’t need much attention – and wasn’t given it if I didn’t demand it. If mum and dad hadn’t fostered all of those children, my life would have been very different! I would probably have gone to a private school and, academically, I would have done much, much better.
Being brought up in a Christian home, I’ve always had an absolute assurance and awareness that God is with me and loves me, despite my many shortcomings. I gave up feeling guilty about not doing things like a ‘good Christian’ many years ago which was quite liberating. Even through the toughest times (both in childhood and adult life) I’ve always had an absolute confidence that God is with me and loves me for who I am right now, regardless of who I might aspire to be – and God couldn’t love me any more even if, in my own eyes, I was a ‘better person’.
If, with the benefit of hindsight, you asked my mum and dad if they would have done anything differently I’m sure they would say ‘yes’ – like any other parent would. Would they, if they had their time again, have done all of the fostering is a more difficult question to answer. The decision mum and dad made to foster all of those children defines who they are now, and I have no doubt they made a huge difference to the lives of the children they took in.
If you asked me if I would have changed much about my childhood, the answer would be ‘no’. All of the experiences I’ve gone through have shaped the person I am today – and, generally, I’m pretty happy in my own skin!
I guess bringing up children will always be a balancing act, and in my view, ensuring that you build a good self-image and self-confidence in all children in your care, will go a long way to them growing up to be rounded adults.
Looking at what my brothers and sisters have achieved now, I think mum and dad did a pretty good job!Abbreviated from the full article “Not Neglecting ‘Natural Children'” – http://ccpas.co.uk/Documents/Caring%20Spring%202011.pdf