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Lucy writes about maintaining hope despite challenging times and a sense of inertia

Hope is the expectation of what is yet unseen. It’s my belief that hope can be nothing else – you either have certainty of that which you can see or you have hope for that which is not yet at all evident. In my experience it is this state of hope that foster carers inhabit most of the time.

There have been times as a foster carer that I have felt that dreaded sense of certainty that what we are trying to achieve with our foster son is yielding little or no fruit. It takes an inordinate amount of time for many children to trust, to feel safe, to recognise their worth and their potential. Instilling this sense of self-worth in children is at the heart of what all good foster carers seek to achieve.

We live in a culture that seeks results quickly. As humans, we have got used to sussing out the shortcut. We are assaulted by messages promising we can get rich quick, see instant results, bypass the struggle or our money back. In my experience, this is not how human healing operates. There are no guarantees, no hard and fast rules, no magic formula. When you foster, you take the long road, the one with the potholes that regularly leave you thigh deep in muck and head high in discouragement. What foster carers need is not a money-back-guarantee or some sort of clever life hack. What foster carers need is a good set of binoculars.

Eyes on the prize

We’ve been caring for our foster son for over two years now. During this time, we have faced many challenges. At times we have felt like a piece of frayed rope, pulled taut then left slack by the attachment style of our child. We’ve walked that pitted road fraught with hairpin bends and rough terrain without a map or compass. We’ve put one foot in front of another often with no strong sense that we were making any headway. What we have discovered is that it is the plodding along day after day that carries our foster son, making his path easier to navigate, but that for us, the encouragement has been found during those times we have stopped at the side of the road and lifted our eyes.

It’s easy to focus on all those aspects of a child’s well-being in which you feel you are making no progress. Foster carers can become wrapped up in what they are not achieving, in what they can’t see any glimmer of. It might seem that you are making little or no progress in many areas that you feel are important. My husband and I often feel this way and it’s easy to assume that you are failing or that you are in some way boxing yourself into that definition of madness, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

It’s a mad world

The truth is that there has to be an element of madness in fostering, because it goes against the principles of the world we live in. Fostering takes time. Fostering takes pain. Fostering does not seek the shortcut. Fostering often has to exist in the absence of concrete results. Fostering fails. Fostering tries. Fostering throws itself off a cliff. And not just the once. Over and over. Fostering exists for the other not the self. ‘Madness,’ the World says.

We took a recent stop at the side of our road. It was during a conversation with our foster son. The load we’d been carrying during our plodding was feeling a little on the heavy side and we had our eyes down and our teeth gritted. The conversation we had with him was not a conversation that would be remarkable in anyone else’s eyes. It was probably a conversation that parents have with their teens daily and think nothing of. For us, it was as if our child had handed us a pair of shiny new binoculars and afforded us a glimpse of the future. In that moment, we weren’t focused on the thousands of potholes that lie ahead but on what might be found at the end of it all. When our foster son had left the room, we turned to each other and said, ‘Wow!’ We were suddenly able to see how much he has grown in confidence. The boy he was when he arrived is still there, his problems are still evident but during that conversation we saw the tentative emergence of a new boy. A boy who might just have the confidence, the self-worth, the sense of security to take his own smoother path when he climbs down from our backs. In that moment, we got to “live in the certain”.

He is making progress. He is growing. He has healed a little. And that certainty lifted us up and dropped us squarely back in the sphere of hope. There will be fruit. He will make it. It is worth it.