It was only as I was writing this that Karen reminded me that when she first came, G seemed quite scared of men. I was a bit scared of her too. I had no real experience of looking after children as I had none of my own. Karen, my partner, has two older teenage children (20 and 17), but I had never played a large role in their lives. Suddenly I had a scared, uprooted 10 year old who was at least partially reliant on me. Thankfully, Karen is an experienced mum and has been fostering for well over ten years. Plus we had great support from our foster agency - the charity TACT (The Adolescent and Children's Trust).
G quickly settled in and slowly we built trust between us. I had lost my own father to cancer only about a year before G arrived, and I think this had made me reflect more on the role of a father and what my dad had given to me. He wasn't perfect, but he made sure I knew I was loved and he was always there for me if I needed him.
Fostering, of course, is not the same, but I try to offer G what I had from all my family - stability, love and support. G has a birth father and he had been a major part of her life for the first ten years. I'm not a replacement, but she has the need for that role model and what a father can offer her. I try to just be there and make time for her, to listen and to be involved with and interested in her life. It is a difficult balancing act - both being a father to her but not making her feel like I am trying to replace that special relationship that she has with her birth father. When Karen and I have discussed family with her, we always say that she has not lost anyone, but instead she now has two families who love her. She seems to like this.
We also try to promote her contact with family. She sees other siblings regularly, but currently doesn't have face-to-face contact with her parents. She recently contacted them online. This was a difficult situation, but we spoke to the social workers and all agree that she should be able to contact them as long as it is safe. We knew it could be a bit unsettling for her, but she has a need and a right to have that contact. It is important for her to know who she is and where she comes from. It is also important that she doesn't build up unrealistic dreams of her birth family. When she decides to seek them out (as she will one day), it could damage any future relationship she could have with them if she has unreasonably high expectations. At the same time, she needs to be reassured that we are OK with her having contact and are not jealous or resentful. We try to just support her and offer a stable home that she will know is always going to be there for her, no matter what.
Karen is a fantastic carer and mum and she really does most of the day-to-day caring as well as running the house. I get to do more of the fun stuff with G. I have lots of interests and G is the kind of person who seizes all opportunities offered to her. She is great fun to be around and we have formed a deep bond.
I think that as a man I have quite a different relationship with G than Karen does and I play a different role. She goes to us depending upon her differing needs. But, I think that one of my most important roles is to show her what a good relationship is like. She needs to see a strong and loving relationship between Karen and I so that she makes good decisions about her future partners.
We have now gone through permanency and G is settled and thriving. We call her our 'little ray of sunshine' as she brings such happiness and laughter to our household. We couldn't imagine our family without her and I'm the proudest dad in the world. I know that she cares about me too - the other day she said to my mum that she needn't worry about me when I'm old, as she'd take care of me and "put me in a really good home"!