Maria's story (Supported Lodgings fostering)
I had thought for some time that I would like to do something with teenagers – I like young adults and don’t really have a connection with small children. I am successful in my job and when the opportunity came up for a bigger job and more responsibility, I thought about what would be more rewarding for me. I think that when you are single and haven’t had a career break to look after children, people expect you to be a high flier – but I felt there was more to life than that.
I knew it didn’t matter that I haven’t had my own children and it hasn’t been an issue at all – I have always got on well with my nieces and nephews. I was worried about getting used to sharing my home as I had lived on my own for a long time. But it has been fine – sometimes I have had to bite my tongue and remember that the house will never be as tidy as when it was just me in the house. I might get frustrated as to why a new bottle of shower gel has been opened when the old one isn’t finished but then I remember it really doesn’t matter.
The challenges I have faced have all been small things – I have been used to doing things my own way and have to remember that my way isn’t necessarily the right or only way to do things. I have had to learn not to be bossy, but to find the right time to have a constructive conversation instead.
With the young woman who is living with me at the moment, there are lots of rewarding moments. I love it when she is getting ready to go out and she comes downstairs to ask if she looks alright – it is great that she trusts my opinion. I enjoy seeing her become more confident. I enjoy seeing her work things out for herself – when she was told she couldn’t do a course at college, she was in tears and I thought she might not go into college the next day, but she went in to see the head of year and challenged their decision and took a test to show her ability and got on the course – having the confidence to do this was a massive thing.
We have little arguments but then laugh about it. I am learning about picking the right moment to raise things. I have realised that if I challenge things directly at the wrong time, she will shout and go off in a huff, so I learnt that a conversation when she is in a receptive mood is more successful.
I found it more difficult with another young person who lived with me, as she wouldn’t accept help and we didn’t really gel so it was harder. She was only here temporarily so we didn’t get time to work things out.
It has been trial and error learning what works with each young person. My family have been supportive, so that gives me confidence to try different approaches. I also have good support from my supervising worker. I have learnt that nothing is surmountable and that is good to role model that belief to young people who often have ‘learned helplessness’.
Being a Supported Lodgings carer has brought more fun in life – I have things to think about and I don’t want to grow older just thinking about myself. But don’t expect to put in 100% and get 100% back – you may only get a little back. It is probably harder to get used to this as not having had children myself, I’m not used to putting in more than I get back. I have learnt to target my efforts in the right way and realise that although they may be young adults, it isn’t really an 2 adult relationship but it is also not an adult : child relationship – it is about finding the balance.
I come from a family of strong women, so have been set a good example that if you try you can do anything. The things that I have found useful are communications skills and thinking about using the right words; negotiation skills; being able to laugh at yourself; patience; thinking about what I would have done when I was 18; putting myself in their shoes; resilience – having the ability to bounce back and just because you’ve had a failure doesn’t mean that you can’t try again. If you’ve had your own children you would have had the opportunity to practice these things, but the fact that I haven’t means that I’m not stuck in an existing way of parenting and I can work things out with the young person and I’m not comparing them to my own children. I have had three young people live with me and I have had to relate to them completely differently.
At the moment, I get up and go to work in the morning and then she gets up and goes to college. She is usually home when I get home from work, she cooks for herself. I clear up the kitchen and make my dinner, then we chat, catch up on the day. At around 9 she goes up stairs and chats to her friends on the phone.
During the week I might help out with driving licence forms or help with income support claims – my young person finds it hard to make phone calls to officials but will do it if I’m there to support –I will dial the number and start off and then hand the phone to her. I like listening to my young person talk and I’m ready to offer advice or opinion if needed. We have quite a mundane routine and we text each other occasionally during the day.
At weekends I might give her a lift to see friends. The time in the car is good to opportunity to chat and listen. We have breakfast together at weekends. I cook for her once a week and we eat together then and watch a bit of TV. There is no pressure to do thing s together, and it is good to have time to recharge your batteries and not be in each other’s pockets.
It took time to make the decision to apply to be a Supported Lodgings carer, but I made the right decision.