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Empty Nest Syndrome and Foster Care

27th July, 2018

Empty Nest Syndrome is a real feeling of grief and loneliness that parents can feel when their children leave home for the first time.

This is a letter from Mary who became a Capstone foster carer, after she struggled with the effects her three children leaving home had on her and her husband. It’s written to her very first placement James.

Dear James,

How time flies. I am sitting here in the living room, which by the way is still cluttered with the books and magazines I like to surround myself with. Dad is on the computer doing a complicated word game. You know how he loves his puzzles.

Dad. I smiled when I wrote that. I still remember and yes, you know me, I still get weepy when I remember the day you called him Dad for the first time. That was nearly ten years ago.

After more than a year of calling him Mr. Elliot, you just said, “Pass me the sauce please Dad.”

He didn’t blink but I know he was as moved as I was. After months of him saying to you, please call me Peter, or anything but Mr. Elliot, you called him Dad. And you did from then on. He thought it was too formal, Mr. Elliot. And I think he wondered why you called me by my first name from day one but kept him at arm’s length. Then when you called me Mum, I could see how he wanted to have the same connection too.

It’s so quiet in the house and it’s nearly midnight. I had to finish my mystery novel. You know me; I’ve got to find out who did it. I guess it was just the quiet and an article in one of my magazines about the empty nest syndrome that reminded me of you. It seemed like the perfect motivation to write to you and tell you why we decided to become foster parents.

The whole experience began with you. I know we’ve talked about you coming to live with us and be part of our family, but I never told you what a difference it made in our lives, then and now.

Maybe I should be writing this in my diary but since it is about you and how we met, I wanted to share the story with you. It’s not so much a story, but a lot of memories about how our lives changed. We had our lives mapped out from the day Peter and I decided to get married. We would have children and build a life together.

We didn’t know how fast the whole thing would go. Suddenly, we were alone in this house again and it was just so quiet. There I go, rambling again. The point is, I want to tell you about how it was when we went looking for you in our lives.

After all, we knew about you before we met you. It’s only fair that you know about how it was for us before we met you. Don’t worry. I’m not “losing it.” Hahaha.

I know that you know the basic details of our lives, like we had three children and they grew up and left home and suddenly there we were, just the two of us again and a great echoing emptiness in the house.

I don’t think you knew about that emptiness. I am sure you never knew how I would wake up in the middle of the night and hear the creaking of the empty house and I would cry. I would cry quietly so I wouldn’t wake up Dad. (I can see you shaking your head and thinking, oh that’s Mum, weeping away. She cries at adverts on the telly. Well, I don’t care if you think I am overly sentimental. I am, and I am proud of it.)

At first, I thought I missed Becky after she moved out, my last little chick, gone to uni. Then I realised it was a deeper loneliness than that. It affected every part of my life. I was only fifty and the whole purpose of my life seemed to have disappeared. There was no point cooking a big Sunday dinner or making my famous pizza. By the way, it only became the “famous” pizza after you named it that. Before it was just plain old homemade pizza with lots of toppings.

I even went to see the doctor about my weepiness, and she said I was depressed. She said, these are your golden years and you should be enjoying this special time. I felt so empty. My golden years? Don’t make me laugh I wanted to say.

On the way home, I popped into the shops to get something for dinner and saw a magazine with an article on “empty nesters”. I bought it and read it before I made dinner.

It described me. At least I knew I was not alone in this hollow feeling.

I did a little research about what to do to fill my empty nest days. I never was much of a card player and the idea of joining a bridge club didn’t appeal to me. A couple of days later, there was an article in the newspaper about fostering. It said that there were nearly 9,000 children and young people in England who needed foster parents. There were many more than that who needed fostering but lots were already in foster homes. The 9,000 were the ones basically on a waiting list because there were no more foster homes. They were waiting for people like Peter and I to open up our doors.

We went to the foster care agency in town and talked to them about fostering and they were wonderful. We sat down with a social worker and told her all about us. You already know what we were like then. Middle aged (okay, some people, not mentioning any names James, might have thought we were older than middle aged) with Dad working in a busy job and me with no special training in education or social work.

She was so easy to talk to and asked if she could come to see the house. I was nervous because, well this might come as a surprise to you, I am not the tidiest person in the world. I mean, the house was clean. I like a good bottle of kitchen cleaner or disinfectant as much as anyone, but I like my magazines and books to be close at hand, and if that means on the dining table or my chair, then that is where I want them.

A couple of days later, she came to visit. I had made tea and those lemon squares that you love so much. The big thing she wanted to see was the bedrooms. Luckily, they were still tidy after Becky moved out. When Rob and Sarah moved out, Becky had to test out all the bedrooms to see if she really did like her pink room the best. She did.

I suppose you were glad of that, because I don’t think we could have ever got all the pink out of her room. I had to stop right here writing this because I just thought of how you looked when we took you to your bedroom. You stood there and looked at every inch of it and asked, “Whose room is this?”

I said, “Yours.”

You asked, “But who does it really belong to?”

It took us until Christmas when Rob came home to convince you that that was your bedroom. Rob slept in the spare room and Becky slept in the pink room. Sarah’s still in Canada but she came home last Christmas to visit and she and Becky shared the spare room and Rob slept in the pink room but said he had nightmares about a unicorn chasing him. Note to self: I have got to redecorate that room; the unicorns have had their day.

I will have to talk to Jenna (our latest placement) about that as she has the pink room now. I did wonder about that as we let her choose what room she wanted, and we never did that for you. We just said look James this is your bedroom. We did that because it was more of a boy’s room than the others, but we gave her the choice. I’ll let you know what she decides about the unicorn wallpaper.

I never told you this either, but we thought we would get a small child, even though we learned that most foster kids are older. The social worker came to tell us about you. A teenager.

Then the next day, we met you. Fourteen years old and taller than me, already. You were so quiet. The question about the bedroom was the first time I heard you speak and your voice had already changed. I am rambling on about unicorns and wallpaper because I am hesitating to answer your question. What did we know about you, or what your life had been like?

I am struggling to write this because we never wanted to remind you of the pain you had experienced. You flinched at sudden noises and shrank away from us if we reached out to hug you or hand you something. Since you were two, you had been in and out of foster care because you kept being returned to your parents. They would stop drinking and doing drugs and promise to take better care of you.

Every time, it ended the same way – in violence. When you came to us, there was no going back. We knew that your father had killed your dog and that he probably wouldn’t stop there. I have to stop writing about that. I am trembling with knowing what you had to endure. I just wanted you to know that we can and will talk about anything you want to talk about.

It was just as hard to see you leave home for uni, as it ever was with our other three. They tell us that once you are familiar with the cycle of loving and letting go, it gets easier. They’re wrong. It’s never easy. I’m so glad you’re coming to stay for a holiday this summer.

I’m hoping you like working in Wales but you know, if you ever want to move back to this area, well…. yes, yes, I know I’m nagging. But you know it’s just because we miss you.

Enough of that. Remember the twins? Annie and Ellie? They were with us for nearly six months until their adoption was finalised. I hear that they are happy, and Annie is becoming quite a little football player. They had the spare room and the pink room, but I know they used to swap around from day to day and they counted on me not being able to tell them apart. But I could.

Your Dad and I had a health check last month. It’s something we wrinklies do as part of our ongoing lifestyle. It’s good to have affirmation that we are still healthy. We are, although Dad thinks he should go for longer walks and lose that extra five pounds that he thinks spoils his youthful good looks. Yes, you can hear me laughing.

We are looking into having a parent and child placement. That’s what they call it when they have a mother with a new baby come to live with us. Apparently we’ll need to do some further training at the agency before our first placement. I know they say it could be a father and baby or even both parents and a baby, but I have a feeling that it will be a girl and a baby.

Either way, mother or father, it will be different for us, but I think this will come in handy when you come home with your wife and baby. I’ll have learned how to have fun with the grand baby without flooding you with too much advice. No, I am not hinting that you get married and settle down, but I want you to know, I am looking forward to the day.

I love you, Son,

Mum xx

Now you know a little bit more about fostering, the kind of people we are looking for: enthusiastic, energised and with a compassionate approach to providing a safe home. For children who have had their lives disrupted, are you ready to talk to a fostering agency about becoming a foster carer, just like Mary did?

If you are interested in learning more, please call us and speak to one of the team on 0800 012 4004, or fill out our contact form or live chat. We look forward to hearing from you.

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