Life doesn’t come with instructions, nor does parenting. And even it parenting did come with instructions, would men be any better at it?
“Blokes are normally good at that, not reading instructions, and not asking for help. But I think it’s really important that you do ask for help,” says Todd.
Todd explains that when it comes to parenting, he has learnt to ask for help, and to always lean on his partner Rachel along the way.
“If you're in a relationship, if you're a couple, you need to make sure that you lean on the other person a lot. If you're not the sort of person that has a relationship where you can ask for help, you need to learn it really quickly, this is for the benefit of the child.
“You got another little person now, you got an extra part of your family, that's the most important and rewarding thing to keep in mind,” Todd continues.
Todd is no parenting or relationship guru. And he and Rachel are the first to admit they are far from perfect. This pair are foster carers of a little girl who now has long term orders in place, and they’re making a damn good go of creating loving family ties.
So, how did Todd and Rachel find themselves in the world of foster care - he a busy small business owner, and she a just as busy marketing manager and part time cake maker – and the bigger question, why?
“Because it's a fantastic thing to do to create a family. It's an alternative way to help somebody and I guess selfishly it was our way to start a family. Fostering was totally an alien concept until we sat down and we thought, 'what are our options to start a family?'. It's one of the hardest and one of most rewarding things we've ever done. I foster because I love it,” says Todd.
Rachel opens up about her reasons for fostering in what is obviously a very private, yet honest explanation from a mother’s perspective.
“We can't have our own kids. We tried IVF for many years and we looked at international adoption, we looked at lots different options. At the end of the day, foster care meant that we could return some love to kids in our community, and that's where we've landed and we love to foster,” said Rachel.
But is foster care extra tough if they’ve never had any kids of their own?
“Well the first time anyone becomes a parent, you've never had kids before. So it doesn't matter whether they turn up on day zero and they're born and you have to work it out from that day, or whether they turn up at four months or six years old or 15. You have to lean on everybody around you, you ask a lot of questions.
“We learn from our parents, learn from our grandparents, learn from the community.
“We don't do it alone, we've got lots of help. It's something that you don't know till you do it. Everyone does it in their own way and foster care doesn't mean you're any different than any other parent on the face of the earth,” Todd says.
What does set these two apart is that they are concurrency foster carers, something that predominantly only happens in the ACT. Rachel explains that as concurrency carers they are working towards two paths for any children that come into their care. The first path, and the most ideal, is to support the child through a period that is tough for their birth parents and to get them back to their birth family when the time is right.
“The second path though would be, if that is not able to happen, is that we will look after that child forever and they become our forever family,” Rachel explains.
“Sometimes that's hard to get your head around because obviously, we are taking a lot of the emotional risk, but that means the children have a very stable home life and stable family around them during this period.
“It also means that they don't need to move from a short-term placement to a long-term placement. They are just with one carer throughout that whole period, if they are restored they go back to their birth family and if they are not restored they stay with us,” she continues.
In Rachel and Todd’s case, their little one has become part of their forever family but that’s not to say the past few years have not been without their difficulties and stresses at times.
“I thought the parenting part would be the hard part, it wasn't, it definitely wasn't. It was understanding the processes, the systems, the court processes. But no, the parenting part, I think, has been the easiest component of our foster care journey,” says Rachel.
And were they ever concerned about becoming too attached?
“I think you also have to learn to let go. You have to open your heart, you have to ... you're the one taking the emotional risk. We don't know if the children are going to stay with us forever but the kids don't need to know that. They just need some love, they need attachment and you just have to take that risk.
“If they are with you for six months or if they are with you forever, they need that love. Yep, we will grieve if they have to leave, but they need as much love and attachment during that period as they can get,” says Rachel.
This is especially true for some foster children who may have had suffered some previous trauma. It must be noted, however, that kids in care aren’t always naughty, nor do they have lots of problems, like foster kids are often portrayed on TV or in the movies.
“Yes, yes, kids who come into care have suffered some form of trauma, no matter how little they are or how old they are, we need to work with that. And we need to build attachment with these children very quickly, but when we go to foster care events the kids are no different from any other event where children are around, or at school. So, no they don't stand out as naughty in comparison to all the other kids in any way,” says Rachel.
Rachel also says that if people are considering concurrency foster care as an option, they do have some choice about the children who come to live with them. She explains that you can set parameters to the types of children, or particular age groups, that you think would best match your family. When her and Todd began concurrency care, they requested care of children zero to two years old because they were interested in looking after babies and toddlers in that time of their lives.
“Because I just love pooey nappies, they’re just so good,” Todd laughs.
Pooey nappies are one of the reasons the pair had to adjust their lives when taking on their little girl, with Rachel initially scaling her work back to part time. As their daughter got older she could go back to work four days a week, with Todd working full time hours. Just like most other parents do. They are quick to say that what they do is just regular parenting.
“It’s not amazing, it’s just parenting. People think that foster carers are up there with fire fighters and some sort of everyday hero but it's not, you're are just parents, it's just an alternative way to create a family, you're no better or worse than anybody,” says Todd.
“It’s not a selfless act. We get as much back as we give in. We aren’t amazing,” Rachel adds.
So, is Todd still looking for those parenting instructions that he may or may not read? Instructions, no, but support yes.
“There’s heaps of help, you've just got to put your hand up and ask for it. Even when you don't ask for it, there's people ringing, there's people emailing you, there's meetings and there is a whole lot of help,” he says.
Rachel echoes Todd’s sentiments, praising the carers’ support they have received from ACT Together. She credits her carer support for helping to transition their daughter to them, and for teaching the pair a lot of things along the way.
Including how to deal with those countless pooey nappies.
“You're going to have your good times and you're going to have your bad times, but as long as you ask for help and as long as you lean on the community around you, they're all there for you,” concludes Todd.
If you have any questions or would like to enquire about becoming a foster carer call us on 1300 WEFOSTER or fill out our carer enquiry form.