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It really grieves me to see so much antisocial behaviour, manifesting itself, usually through, but not always by, alcohol or drug abuse. Sometimes it is just a lifestyle choice, beginning perhaps as a dare, to seek a thrill, to feed a habit, to be cool or to fit in. Sometimes it’s learned behaviour, if a child grows up in that type of environment and knows no better. Sometimes a child will ‘act out’ because of the environment that he/she comes from. Whatever the reason, there is often a ‘child’ involved, affected or impacted, somewhere along the line.
Often these children find themselves in the foster care system, either because they are out of control or they have been neglected, due to various different circumstances or that their parents, simply cannot cope. It is not an easy job being a parent. I would say it can be one of they most difficult and demanding jobs ever. I speak from experience. It is a job that requires 100 percent commitment. There is no day off. It really is a 24 hours per day for 365 days per year, for at least 18 years, but in reality, beyond the 18 year old thresh hold. Being a parent means, to a certain extent, you put your own life on hold. Your children come first, meeting their needs, come first. They depend on you to be a good role model, they depend on you to keep them safe, they depend on you to reel them in, when they go too far. The need that, even when they think ‘they know best’. They depend on you to guide them, they depend on you for everything!
Throughout the ‘children years’ there are different stages of challenges, between the sleepless nights, the teething, the terrible two tantrums, the stamping of the feet, and of course, the ‘piece de resistance’, the teenage years. None of it is easy, but we do it, we do it the best way that we can. Along this path of parenthood, there are other challenges we have to deal with, such as if our children have friends, if they are good friends, if they are kind and caring individuals, if they are easily led, if they have any health issues, if they have any special needs, if they are prone to being bullied, if they are a bully. The list goes on and on and on. Still, as parents, we do the best that we can, to love, protect, advise and keep them safe. It can get pretty messy at times, it is not all plain sailing. There will be arguments, tug of war, a battle of the wills and an outright hatred (particularly during the teenage years). Parents are supposed to be hated during this time, right? Parents are supposed to hate the back chat, the disrespect, the laziness, the moods etc etc. Still we carry on. We plough through the sea of emotions, we battle on and mould and shape our off spring to be good responsible people, to set them free into the world, and hope we have done a good job, prepared them well and have them ready for adulthood.
Being a ‘foster parent’ requires all that listed above, plus you have many other tunes to dance to. The children are not wrapped up in a blanket delivered by the stork. They often come in the shape of a 2 year old or 10 year old or 15 year old. Full of fears. I would too, if I had to go live with a bunch of strangers. They come with uncertainty. They come with behaviours. They come with attitudes. They come with attachment issues. They come with all sorts of challenges. They come with social workers. They come with family of origin, somewhere in the picture. They come with spite. They come with attitude. They come with someone else’s genetic makeup.
Taking a child into your home, into the heart of your family is not always easy, for anyone. Your own biological children may not want to share their home, their parents, their siblings. their toys, their friends, their everything. There may be a reason the child doesn’t like you or your children or your home, your pet, your food. You may not particularly like them after a while, a behaviour they are displaying or something deeper that you cannot put your finger on. This is all within the realm of taking care of a child that is not biologically yours. What do you do?
Thankfully, in my own case I have ‘liked’ all of the children I have looked after. Thirteen in total. I have even loved them. Don’t get me wrong, there were challenges, there were sleepless nights, there were clashes with my biological children, there were attitudes. There were scary moments of self harm and mental health issues. There were flight risks, as in running away. There were schooling issues, there were issues of dishonesty, there were issues of spitefulness. There were times I feared I could not continue to do this any more, it was all too much to deal with. So what did I do. I prayed. I prayed to God to give me strength to carry on. To find a way to manage everyone. To manage behaviours. To help me to continue to support all the children. To help me to mind myself in amongst the madness that it could often be. At the end of the day, they needed to be loved and supported. Some children come for just a short time, a few months, a year or two and then they get to go home. I consider that a success. I am happy for them, even though they take a piece of my heart with them. They are where they belong.
Others stay longer, sometimes forever. They can never go home. They are the ones that you hope you can mould more, support more, because you have more time with them. More time to help unravel them, soothe them lead them, love them, advise them, show them. Be a role model for them. There have been times, that it was very difficult, but here I am, still doing it, still loving, protecting, supporting, advising, hoping above hope, that I, and the rest of the family, have helped to make a difference.
The children become part of the family, bit by bit, challenge by challenge, pulling and tugging, laughing and loving, they fit in, they belong. Some people wouldn’t do it ‘for love nor money’. Why did I do it? I didn’t do it for love nor money either. I did it because I felt someone needs to help look after the children that need taking care of. I guess it feels a little like asking a priest or a nun or a doctor or nurse, why they do it. It is kind of like a vocation. I think if people did do it for money, they would soon give it up, because, well, there is no money to be made that could compensate for the time, the effort, the highs and the lows that go with being a foster carer. If you think you would like to do it for the money, think again, become a child minder instead. Those children go home at the end of the day. You don’t have to deal with their families, their worries, their behaviour, social workers, police, doctors, teachers or other such challenges. Being a foster carer should be considered because you are committed to genuinely helping and supporting a child during a very difficult time and help transition them, either back home, or into adult hood, a much stronger person, than when they first arrived on your door step.
There are some children that are lucky enough to be in foster care with their extended families, this makes it less terrifying for them. Unfortunately, not all families will do it for love nor money. I can tell you it is challenging, but it is rewarding and if you feel you have the time, the commitment and the determination to see it through, to help make a child’s life better, to help steer them from anti social behaviour, to help get them onto a good path, so that they can have a good and reasonable life, full of hope, responsibility and dreams, then go for it. Do it, and if you are doing it, but finding it a struggle, pray. Pray to your God, to help give you the strength to carry on. The children need YOU.