Fran's story

Fran shares her beautiful and inspiring story.

My mother had me at 17.

She was an alcoholic and, as the oldest child, I felt responsible for my two younger sisters, so I stayed off school when mum was particularly bad. When I was eight, my dad left, and she had a string of difficult boyfriends. I learned not to experience emotions too strongly, as the strong emotions I witnessed in the home seemed dangerous.

It was many years before I realised quite what a disruptive home it had been. For example, I must have felt unloved, as in my teens I entered some pretty awful relationships – some abusive – looking for that love. And although I remember some very distressing situations from my childhood, I don't remember feeling distressed at the time. I guess I knew nothing different.

I was taken into foster care, settling eventually at 14 into what became a permanent placement when, three months later, my mother took her own life.

I initially thought my foster home was so boring, compared to the one I'd come from – there was predictable routine and structure. Only years later did I realise that this was actually normal, and that my family home had been extremely volatile.

While I still played truant and was disruptive in school, my new settled home life did help me to calm down. My foster parents were very firm; they kept in good touch with the school and made sure I did my homework. I managed to get five half-decent O Levels, although I should have done better.

I had questionable boyfriends and was not easy to look after. On one occasion, my foster dad bravely entered the pub where I was drinking and confronted the manager for serving under-age drinkers! Sometimes the relationship between me and my foster parents broke down, and we would communicate via notes. I think I must have been a real pain, but they didn't give up on me.

When I decided not to do A Levels, but to work in a factory instead, they agreed on condition that I take an evening course to gain some skills. I ended up doing a full-time two-year medical secretarial diploma instead – and came out with Distinction.

Just before I started college, I became fascinated by the Christian faith of my foster mother. She would pray for things, and sometimes they'd happen. I had no prior experience of Christianity, but its impact on her made me consider whether there was anything in it.

One night, after my boyfriend told me he was seeing another girl, I was distraught. My foster mother gave me a little Christian book that I took upstairs, read, and (rather rudely, if I remember!) I challenged God to take away my heartbreak - if He was really there. Within five minutes I'd stopped crying and felt peaceful and calm. I committed my life to Jesus!

At 18, I moved to London to take up a medical secretarial post. I'd been a Christian for a year and was reading the Bible and growing in my faith – but was still making unwise relationship choices. On one occasion, my friends had to rescue me from a relationship that threatened my safety. They packed up my room so that he couldn't find me, and I went to lodge with an older couple. At this point, I met my husband and we married when I was 19.

When we eventually had children, I really believe God helped me to raise them. Isaiah 40:11 says “He gently leads those that have young” and I held onto this, trusting that God would give me wisdom where I had not a clue, given I’d had no strong parent role models in my early life. We were also blessed by some older couples in our church who looked out for us.

However, in parenting my own children, I started to realise how much I'd been neglected as a child. This has surfaced again, more recently, since becoming a grandmother, and is something that continues to grieve me.

It also became clear that my mum must have known some of the dangerous and abusive situations I was in, but had not (or could not) put a stop to it; I'd previously excused her by assuming that she must have not been aware. I was starting to realise the hold that alcohol must have had over her.

I still have negative thought-patterns from childhood – mainly issues of identity, shunning intimacy and not wanting to appear needy. These things are so deep-rooted from childhood that they take years and years to conquer.

But God has done a great work in me, and it began with the gritted-teeth support, love and witness of my foster family. And, wouldn’t you know it, after all my trouble at school, I eventually became a teacher!

If you're fostering – and especially if it's difficult – please don't believe your child when they say they hate you or what you're doing to them. I gave my foster parents a huge amount of grief, and I'm sure they regularly felt like they were failing. But resistance is all part of the process – your child is testing you to see if you will stick with them. In some ways, it's actually an honour: they'll test the ones they want to trust.

Also, be honest. Open up to those around you who can give you support. You're not the only ones who want to send your child back or worry that your marriage might be collapsing under the strain. If we were more honest, we wouldn't feel so alone when we struggle.

Please pray regularly for the foster parents you know – and let them know this. They're most likely feeling exhausted and helpless to bring about any change.

If there are foster children in your church, thank you for being a safe and welcoming place for them. Thank you for not asking questions, and for not raising eyebrows at their behaviour or dress code. Thank you for accepting them as they are, for not making a fuss of them, and for understanding if they don't want to talk with you. They're not being rude – they may well appreciate your effort, but not know how to show it.

My foster family changed my life. While it hasn't been an easy journey, I am so grateful for what they invested in me all those years ago.

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