Fostering a child comes with its own unique set of challenges, and when a child starts exploring their sexuality, it can be a tricky and sensitive issue for both the child and the foster family. In this blog post, we share the story of “J”, who had been living with AFA foster parents Liz and Jason since he was nine years old and was now exploring his sexuality. Here’s what Liz and Jason shared with us…
“J was a child who came into our lives at the age of nine, and we had developed a close relationship with him over the years. He was a bright, ambitious, and curious child who was always asking questions and wanting to learn more about the world around him. He was interested in politics, and we had many discussions about current affairs and world events. It was no surprise to us that he went on to study politics at university!
When J left a note in the fridge for us to talk about his sexuality, we were a little surprised at his method but also proud of him for being able to express his feelings. He had always been a child who was open and honest with us, and we had developed a relationship built on trust and mutual respect. The fact that he was exploring his sexuality was something that we expected and had prepared for, and we were glad that he felt comfortable enough to talk to us about it.
The note that J left in the fridge was a significant moment for our family. It was a moment where we realised that our foster son was growing up, and we needed to adjust our approach to parenting him. It was a moment of pride because we knew that J was trusting us with something so personal and sensitive, and we were glad that he felt safe enough to do so.
In the note, J mentioned that he wasn’t sure if he was identifying as a transgender person, but he wanted to let us know that he was exploring his feelings. He also left a cake in the fridge with his note, so we all had a slice while we talked about how J was feeling. We were aware that J was trying to explore his feelings and understand his sexuality, and we wanted to support him in any way we could.
Supporting J: Navigating New Terrain
When we discussed J’s sexuality, we talked about what it looked like, how it felt for him, and how he was feeling about the situation. We were honest and upfront and had some conversations about what that looked like for J. One of the things that I think we did right was that we had some really involved discussions about politics. We were able to debate things quite well in the house, and I think that gave us a vehicle to be able to debate J’s sexuality a little bit and to talk about how that felt for him.
However, we were also aware that discussing the subject of sexuality could be a sensitive issue, and we needed to tread carefully. If we said something that was inadvertently inappropriate, we could come across as disrespectful, and make the situation worse for J. It was new ground for all of us, and it was something that we were learning about as we went along. We needed to be sensitive, supportive, and non-judgmental to help J on his journey of self-discovery.
The most important thing for us was to let J know that we loved him unconditionally, and our relationship with him would not change based on his sexuality or gender. It was important to us that he knew that he would always be held, no matter what decision he made. We wanted him to feel safe, secure, and loved, and we hoped that he would trust us to support him in any way we could.
Living in J’s Shoes: Empathising with J’s Experience
I can imagine just being in J’s shoes for a while. It’s a scary thought, dropping a bombshell as far as you’re concerned, and not knowing how others will react to it. J was taking a big risk in sharing his feelings about his sexuality with us, and we wanted to make sure that he felt heard, understood, and supported.
In J’s case, we took an hour-by-hour and day-by-day approach to his journey of self-discovery. We knew that his feelings about his sexuality could be fluid, and that he could change his mind about his identity, and we wanted to be flexible and supportive of him, no matter what he decided.
When J left the note in the fridge, Liz and I felt pride and gratitude for his trust in us. It was also a moment of reflection and adjustment. We needed to change our approach to parenting him, and be more attuned to his needs, feelings, and emotions. We also needed to be aware of the language we used and make sure that we were sensitive and supportive of him.
One of the things that helped us on this journey was our sense of humour. We used humour to make things feel easier for everyone, and to bring some lightness to a sensitive and emotional topic. One time, while I was watching TV, Alex, our son, was helping J explore his feminine side. He did an excellent job of styling J’s hair, putting him in a dress, and doing their nails. J then did a mock catwalk in front of us all, and we all had a good laugh. Alex really enjoyed working with J on this new endeavour. Alex and J have a great rapport, and they often tease each other in a friendly way. It was a light-hearted moment that brought us all closer together as a family.
The Generational Gap: Understanding and Adjusting
There is a generational gap that foster parents should be aware of. It’s easy to unintentionally say things that are inappropriate when trying to process new ideas and concepts. This is especially true when discussing sensitive topics such as gender identity. Sometimes, even when we have the best intentions, we might say things that can come across as transphobic or offensive. As a foster parent, it’s essential to have an open dialogue and be willing to listen to different perspectives.
J’s journey has taught us that we need to be sensitive to different perspectives and ideas. As foster parents, we come from diverse backgrounds, and our experiences have shaped our views on the world. We need to understand that our upbringing might be different from the modern world, and we might not have all the answers.
When discussing J’s gender identity, we had to be careful with our words and make sure that we were not causing any harm. It was important to us that J felt comfortable talking about his feelings with us and that we could support him on his journey. We also got support from our fostering social worker, Babs, and Darren at AFA Fostering while we were working through this. They gave us guidance and advice on how to approach the situation and were there for us when we needed them.
Supporting J Today: An Ongoing Journey
Today, J is doing really well, and we are very proud of him for the person he is becoming. He has gone on to university, exploring his identity and his place in the world. He is happy, confident, and secure in the knowledge that we love him unconditionally. We still have conversations about his sexuality, and we listen and support him in any way we can. We are a family that is growing and evolving together, and we are grateful for the experience of fostering J. We hope that his story can be an inspiration to other foster families who may be going through a similar experience.”
💚 Big Issue: “Pride Month 2023: Everything there is to know”
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