WHEN Blue Sky asked me to become the new Secret Foster Carer, one of the things that worried me was that I’d say things that would come out wrong and that I’d end up making myself sound like a bad carer or parent.
THE thing I want to talk a bit about here could easily be misconstrued, because it’s in the news a lot, and is universally deemed a bad thing. It’s SNOOPING.
THE sneaky stuff that journalists do, or governments, might be right or might be wrong, they are trying to get stories or control. As parents, we just want to know our kids are okay.
AS a parent, you can never be sure exactly what your children are thinking. Well, I’m speaking for myself here, maybe some parents do. Or kid themselves they do. Children say things, behave a certain way, or go round with a look on their face.
SO you ask outright, what’s up?
IT'S hard to pick the right moment to ask what’s up. I have a friend who fosters who says she sets aside 15 minutes every day to sit her children down and have a chat one-to-one. She says that sometimes it’s a straightforward catch-up, occasionally it’s a heart to heart. It’s not something I do, or have tried, because it strikes me as being a bit forced and anyway I don’t think “meetings” have a place in families, except when there’s an actual crisis.
PLUS it could easily turn into a bit of a pressure for the children, having to report to the kitchen after school every day. I prefer to rely on my antenna. Stay on my toes to pick up clues. Watch and listen, without them knowing, so they don’t feel like they’re being scrutinised.
THEN there’s the simple fact that I’m not organised enough to have a schedule which is built around a daily face-to-face.
THERE’S no point asking “Are you okay?” or “Is there something on your mind?”. You might as well ask them what the weather will be like at the weekend or how much baking powder goes into an 8 inch chocolate cake. They don’t know.
I went to a useful training session which touched on emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is how good you are at understanding the different moods people have. Basically, we learned that a person gets some information, which may have come from outside or inside their brain, the information gives them a feeling, the feeling turns into an emotion which turns into behaviour.
SO for example, supposing you see a little old lady in the street with one of those whicker shopping baskets on wheels and it reminds you of your dead nan. Sometimes you consciously think to yourself “That reminds me of nan” Sometimes you don’t even know your brain has made the connection. What might happen next is that you get a feeling which might be really warm and lovely (if all or most of your memories of your nan are wonderful) or else the feeling might be uncomfortable or bleak (if nan was one of those people who couldn’t do affection, or maybe you feel a bit angry or negative that she died).
SUDDENLY you feel either happy or sad. Or a bit of both. Then when your child asks for some sweets, you find yourself either buying them more sweets than normal, or snapping that they shouldn’t always be asking for sweets.
THE main thing is that it’s hard to read ourselves, let alone someone else. If adults who have been trained in emotional intelligence can’t work out why they are feeling up or down, how can we expect children to? Hard enough with your own children, never mind about foster children, whose past is largely a mystery.
I find that if you stay on your toes they’ll give you information about themselves which helps you make a picture of what’s going on for them. I like to watch mine when they are playing, whether it’s on their own, with others in the house, or with friends in the playground or at parties.
IF they use a phone to speak to a friend or a family member, you hear a side to them that they never show you otherwise, and with foster children, if they are going through a rough time it’s more likely to be friends and family that’s upsetting them, but they don’t want you to interfere.
THEN sometimes, this happens, well to me anyway.
THEY are sitting in the back of the car, and they just open right up to each other. Or they are playing in the front room and you walk past the half open door. Your own child and your foster child start a conversation. So you are basically snooping, no two ways about it.
THERE are limits to snooping. As a foster carer you have to speak with your social worker if you have worries about what they are up to in private on their phone or laptop before you steam in and do a secret check on their history or their messaging. If they advise you to do what a responsible parent would do in order to protect a child in the home, then that’s what you do, but it’s not what I’m talking about.
I’M talking about picking up clues to how your child is getting on from moments when they’re not aware you’re switched on.
BILL has told me down our years together that he can always tell when I’m a bit stressy because I start humming a weird song called “The Raggle Taggle Gypsies”. I learned it at Primary School when we were taught it from a BBC radio programme called Singing Together with William Appleby.
BILL knows I’m on edge so he acts accordingly; he either keeps out of my way, gives me a cuddle or tells me to put a sock in it depending on how he feels.
WE all do a bit of snooping, or maybe it’s just staying alert, and if our heart’s in the right place it’s a good thing, and it works.