Biographical Non-Fiction posted February 20, 2024 Chapters:  ...13 14 -15- 16... 

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Looking backward and forward

A chapter in the book Jonathan's Story


by Wendy G

How nice it would have been if Jonathan’s story could end here.

How wonderful if it had been a “lived happily ever after” ending at this point.

Jonathan has successfully, and despite many odds, reached adulthood. A lovely new home has been found, and the transition has been relatively smooth after an initially bumpy period.

He is to be cared for by people who understand the needs of clients with complex disabilities; he will enjoy an interesting and challenging Day Program to meet his social and mental needs, as well as his physical requirements.

Our family can take him home for visits, as can Sheryl, his birth mother.

Life should surely be smooth for all of us, from now on ….

My life can return to normal, and normal for me is looking after my family, and secondary school teaching, which by now is becoming full-time again as the school grows and my role develops.

My role as a foster mother is officially over. I can let go of my fostering responsibilities. The fostering allowance has ceased, maybe at his eighteenth birthday, or perhaps a couple of months earlier when he moved into his new home. I don’t really know. Fostering for me was never about the money.

But fostering a person such as Jonathan for ten years presupposes that a bond has developed. One would hope so. In fact, I doubt anyone could continue for this length of time without developing an emotional attachment. The strange thing is – I had never really given any thought as to how one disengages from an emotional bond. Nothing is mentioned in the training for foster carers about that aspect! How to let go?

What happens to this bond? Does it just fade and disappear, or simply weaken? It is not the same as for one’s own birth children. With one’s own children the relationships change as they mature, and we come to relate with them as adults. The bond never disappears, but its focus and scope change.

 My goal in mothering was to bring my three to responsible independence. I wanted them to live a rich and full life, and I wanted them to make wise choices and decisions at every stage of their adulthood. The apron strings would be gradually loosened and then untied.

They would be fledgelings, leaving the nest, and they would learn to fly, even to soar.

But this was not possible for Jonathan. He could never be independent. Whether he lived a full and rich life would always depend on others who would make all his decisions for him at every stage and for every detail of his life.

Without a voice, he remained vulnerable, as vulnerable as the day he was born. The bond with him has been established, yes, but unlike for one’s own offspring, it never develops into the next stage where he can be released and set free to live, to fly, to soar.

This brought its own grief and anxiety. Could I trust others? Fear for his well-being and awareness of his need for protection from “the system” remained ever-present.

For ten years I knew, and so did he, that he was loved and cared for to the best of my capabilities. Our capabilities, all of us.

Yes, I had failed him many times; failed to appreciate how he felt within a body that would not and could not function normally. Many times I had become impatient, embarrassed, or frustrated, and I admit this with regret and remorse. Equally, I was far from a perfect mother to my other three. Yet I, like all parents, tried my best, and I was not always the mother I wanted to be. 

Despite my failings, I believe he knew we cared. I believe, without his ever being able to verbalise it, that he cared for each of us too. His expressive face would at times light up with happiness, and these times were our reward. Communication doesn’t always need words.

The sense of loss of control was greater than I had anticipated. I had cared for Jonathan for longer than any other person, even his birth mother, and I knew him very well. I could anticipate his needs, and I could read his facial expressions. These insights would not be transmitted to other carers by virtue of explanations, verbal or written. They were the product of hard-earned experience.

I’d had full control of my decisions for his welfare and for implementing them in my own home, but now all these controls for his care and well-being were out of my reach.

Would these feelings of anxiety subside with the passage of time? Was this initial “honeymoon” period going to be the start of a happy new life for him? Could we all relax now everything was sorted?


My husband had never experienced the same intensity of bond as I had, as his days had always been fully occupied with work, home maintenance, other commitments, and all the general things fathers do, so the sense of separation was less intense too.

The three children were by now young adults – Anna and Bella were both at university, and working part-time, Joe was in his final year of secondary school. On the weekends Jonathan did not visit us, the house felt … quite empty.

However, because we were all busy, it helped to fill the void that we all felt. We were all trying to look on the bright side: we’d offered him love for almost ten years and completed what we set out to do – to make a difference for one person.


Jonathan’s arrival at adulthood heralds the next stage of his life … and as I pause to reflect, I now wonder if all that has happened in the past ten years has merely been a preparation for what is to follow.


If his life were a theatre production, then the stage was set when he was born ... and the curtain rose; the first act was his first eight years with Sheryl his birth mother, which was followed by the second act, his nearly ten years within the care of our family. These have both been completed. The audience reflects on what has been played out, and a sigh of relief is quietly breathed.

But it’s only intermission. The curtain will rise again for the third act.


This reflective interlude indicates that more is yet to come. Much more.

I myself must take a breath before continuing. I need courage and strength to proceed with his story. Who could ever have foreseen what the ensuing years would bring? Certainly, it is as well not to know what our future may hold.

From our initial days of fostering Jonathan, with all the confusion and difficulties which we had already navigated, I had become a stronger person, less idealistic perhaps … and I had become a person who would never again blindly accept in good faith what people told me, without considering first where their vested interests lay. Older and wiser ….

I was still to learn that the compassion others claim to have can be merely a cloak for achieving their own ends and purposes, and that the louder people speak of their sincerity in caring for the disabled, the more I should be wary.

Self-righteousness too is often a sign that people are very determined to get their own way, for they not only “know” their way is right, but it is of necessity the only way, in their eyes.

Smiling, caring suggestions sometimes obscure manipulation and bullying, and abuse in all its many forms. It is easy to speak the “right” words. If the motives have questionable integrity, however, the actions will soon reveal the thoughts of the heart and expose them.

Another lesson I quickly learned was that “experts” are not necessarily attuned to what is best for each individual – they have simply achieved well in an academic area, which may or may not be relevant to everyday life.

Experts are quick to point out remedies for other people’s problems – but have they ever walked in their shoes? Is this not so for society at all levels? Those who sit and govern in ivory towers far too often have little empathy for those whose lives they regulate.


So, what happens next?

The curtain is about to rise for Act Three ….


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