"They are all my own children"
Foster parents tell their truthful stories
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After the divorce, Valentina was left alone with an unfinished house and three children. It did not beat her to her knees though, the woman has become a foster parent. During the last 12 years, 31 children lived both at her home and in her heart. Svetlana first worked as a postwoman, then she was offered "a job for good mothers" at the social and pedagogical center. Natalia and her husband tried to get pregnant for 8 years. 4 years ago, they gave up on unsuccessful attempts and adopted two sisters, and then they also brought their brother from foster home. Nina became a foster mother at the age of 40. Her own grown-up children came to her and her husband and asked them for a brother or a sister.
Valentina, Svetlana, Natalia and Nina have honestly told us about all the difficulties of foster parenthood and how they cope with them.
About 6,000 boys and girls live in residential institutions in Belarus. About 500 of them are children under 4 who live in children's homes (2019 statistics, Belstat – ed.).
The most favorable period for a child's development is until the age of 3. Every day spent without warm hugs, caring hands and loving eyes of mom and dad, creates a 1-month-delay in the development of a child.
Since 2018, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Belarus, together with its partners, has been implementing the Family for Every Child project in Gomel oblast. Its main goal is to keep the child in their own family or find a foster family. In 2022, the project will be implemented also in Vitebsk oblast.
First of all, specialists try to restore contacts between a child and his/her biological parents. It is important to help them recover, lose their at-risk status and become reliable adults for their children. If it is not possible, then the specialists are looking for substitute families – adoptive parents, guardians, foster parents, foster care givers.
Why do we need foster parenting?
Svetlana Ovsyannikova's husband died 8 years ago. She was left alone with three children. When Svetlana got a job as a postwoman, she was very worried that her kids stayed alone at home: "I wanted to leave everything I was doing and run to them, but I also needed to earn money."
It was a lucky coincidence that Svetlana delivered letters also to a social and pedagogical center and a foster home. The employees heard her story and said: "We have a job for good mothers."
Natalia and her husband weren't able to get pregnant for 8 years. Doctors shrugged: there was no medical reason for that. Finally the couple decided to change their approach. First they adopted two sisters, then brought their brother from a foster home. And then a miracle happened: Natalia became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, her and Dmitry's son. Two years later they became mom and dad for another baby – another brother of their adopted children.
"When I was still pregnant, I was, of course, worried that I would have special feelings to my own son Maxim. But when he was born, I realized that for me there was no difference. I feel the same about all of them. They are all my own children", says Natalia.
Nina became a foster mother at the age of 40: "I wanted to help the kids who faced difficulties in their families and show them that there is a home where they are loved and wanted. Of course, my friends and relatives had different opinions, starting from 'It is great that you have decided to do it!' to 'Why, you are crazy! The parents of these children are usually drunkards or drug addicts!' But now they all see that there is nothing terrible about it, that these kids are just like the others, you just need to find the right approach to them."
Nina has already been a foster mom for 6 years.
About stereotypes and "scary stories"
It is no secret that many people do not even dare to think about adoption, because they are afraid of other people's genes and how unpredictable they can be.
"Our adopted children – Polina, Dasha, Misha and Matvey – are all relatives, meaning they have the same mother. But each child is a completely different person," says Dmitry, while his wife Natalia adds: "Sometimes biological children are even less predictable than adopted ones. Our own son is demonstrating his character in a way no one would expect, the other children are long out of the competition."
How do you know if it will work out or not?
"I have a criterion: if I can come up to a child and clean his/her nose, and I am not disgusted, then I can be his/her mother," adds Valentina. "There was a mother once who was getting ready to adopt. I jokingly shared my "method" with her. I didn't hear from her for a couple of weeks after that. And then she texted me: "I have realized that I can't do it." And it's not embarrassing at all."
"It is important to realize that a child is not only about fun and festive mood, there will also be everyday life and routine. We need to evaluate what we are ready for and capable of. You can begin with taking a child home for the weekend. Take them to a theater, a pizza place, an amusement park, spend time together, talk with them – and you will understand whether they are yours, whether you can give them what they really need," explains Svetlana.
"Once I had a girl whom different families didn't want to adopt," Valentina recalls. "But then a woman came. We were drinking tea as I told her: "Well, think carefully about it. It's such a big step." And she looked at me surprised and said: "There is nothing to think about! I can clearly see that it is my child!"
As an adoptive parent you need to understand that the adopted child might not shout out "mom, dad!" joyfully right away. The child has every right not to live up to your expectations, not to become what you want them to be. And that's why it is important for you as a parent to allow your son or daughter, be it your foster, adopted, or biological child, to follow their own path.
"At the age of 3, Sasha mumbled and could not talk," Nina recalls. "He ate from a bottle and didn’t know any other food but a formula. He was aggressive and wild. Before coming to our family he could throw something at the caregiver, break the glass. But as soon as he came to us, Sasha became quieter and calmer. Three months later, he said his first word – "mom".
"When my own children said "mom", I didn’t have such strong feelings as I had back then," tears appear in Nina’s eyes. "Mostly because the child who has a very big delay in development, said "mom". Miracles happen: the ice breaks, children get psychologically warmer and lively."
"At first it is difficult for foster children to adapt to the new reality, because they were often not needed in their family," says Nina. "You need to be psychologically prepared that the problems are likely to occur at school, at kindergarten. And it is normal that these kids can't sit in one place for a long time. It takes time, effort, jokes, games to make them more stable."
About the joy of foster parenting
Foster parents and adoptive parents with great warmth and tenderness recall how they first heard the long-awaited "mom" addressed to them, how the formal "uncle" was replaced by "dad".
"For me, a professional burnout means a situation when there are few children at my home or they all grow up," says Valentina, who is currently raising 14 children. "The more babies, the noisier they are, the busier I am, the more it fuels me. The stronger I get."
"I feel great happiness when we have a tea party with a delicious cake on a day off, when we sit on our huge sofa, the children read a book, and I knit. When we bake bread together and its smell spreads throughout the house," says Svetlana with a smile.
"When my eldest son got married, his fiancée said: 'I was always alone in the family. I had no one to come to, talk to, put my head on the shoulder, and now, when I come to you, there are so many of you – and I feel so good'," recalls Nina. "And I feel good when there is a lot going on around me, there are children's voices, laughter, fun. I rejoice in their first words and successes, their first teeth and steps. Their parents or adoptive parents won't see it – it is me who can witness it. And it will stay with me forever."
Valentina, Svetlana, Natalia and Nina have different paths to foster parenthood. And different experiences. But what they definitely have in common is a smile. A wide smile at the word "mom", "son", "daughter" and "family".
In 2021, 41 children found their families in Gomel oblast thanks to the Family for Every Child project and such people as Valentine, Svetlana, Natalia and Nina.
You can help children too. There are several ways to support the Families for Every Child project.
You can make a donation:
- by sending an SMS with any text to 2244 for MTS subscribers and 888 for A1 subscribers,
- as well as make a donation here.