Last few months have been hard, much harder than what I anticipated when with my husband Diego and I decided to become foster carers. These months have been stressful and tiring, they have put my good will to the test, and drained off all my energies. And if being empty, discouraged and hopeless wasn’t bad enough, I also get to feel guilty for not being able to show more empathy towards our little foster girl Holly.

Every day is a constant struggle to try to contain situations so that they are manageable. Anything can trigger a dysregulated reaction in Holly: telling her no can results in a full aggressive response, asking her a question can turn into her leaving the room and ignoring me, giving her instructions can resolve in her shouting or crying or spitting or rolling on the floor. There isn’t a formula that works every time, her responses are volatile, and she can react positively to something one day and crumble down in pieces the following day.

As an adoptive parent, I never realised what foster families go through. Every day. 24 hours a day. For months. For years. They are the ones opening up their homes and hearts without notice, without introduction, without prior assessments, without really pondering if they have a “good feeling” about that child.

Nevertheless, they are the ones that adoptive families are often talking bad about, the ones that will be asked to leave the child’s life as quickly as the child got into theirs. I lost count of the many times I read the foster family constantly feed her chocolate, or the foster carer just put him in front of the TV all day or again the foster family didn’t care about my girl. Fingers are always pointed to the foster carers, as if they were the baddies in the child’s life, the ones who didn’t care about the child, the ones that adoptive families often blame when problems arise. Some of these adoptive parents must be right in complaining, but I wonder if I will be judged as harshly.

As human beings, and as foster carers, we are all led by our emotions. I want to think I’m led by love and compassion. My guess is that Holly is led by fear and loss. Our hope as carers is that these children will eventually form a relationship with us and that through this bond we can help them to start working through their emotions and start to heal. Attachment is our strongest tool as carers and the biggest hope for our children.

But Holly doesn’t want to deal with me, she doesn’t even like me. She told me! One day my son asked her: I love my mummy. Holly, do you love my mum? She didn’t even have to think about it. In a strangely cheerful voice, she straight away answered no. The silver lining is that she said she loved Diego, so there is a safe person in her life to retreat to if she needs to.

My life today is unrecognisable, I feel 10 years older, tired as I’ve never been before, hollow and on the verge of bursting into tears most days. I’m emotionally drained, and I believe Holly senses that. The more I feel exhausted, the more my relationship with Holly deteriorates. She doesn’t do it on purpose. She probably feels my struggle but doesn’t understand it, and most likely this makes her feeling anxious around me. Anxiety triggers fear, fears triggers dysregulations, dysregulation triggers a range of bad behaviours.

My days are ruled by someone else’s emotions: our foster girl ones, my son’s, my husband’s. In the midst of all this, I struggle to find the time to process my own. Each day rolls into the next, all yesterday’s issues remain unsolved, and the guilt for my previous mistakes bottled up. That scares me, and I feel I’m losing control.

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