By Anita Jones
At the age of 26, single, and successful in her career, Anita Jones decided that she would become a mother. She’s now 31 years old and still single. She’s had seven children, none of them biologically hers. She is a full time foster mother.
This is Anita’s story.
My parents became foster-parents when I was three years old, and I grew up with many foster siblings. It was traumatic at times to watch what my parents went through, and as a result of this, fostering was something that I openly admitted I could never do, and honestly didn’t want to. I didn’t want to relive their painful past experiences.
Refusing the call
After working for many years in the child care industry, I settled on being a full time nanny in New South Wales. I worked for wealthy families that treated me well, and had the time of my life travelling internationally as part of my job. At the same time though, I could never shake that inner feeling that there were other children out there, children who needed a quality of care that I could provide. Nannies are readily available for wealthy families, and at the end of the day, my employers could go and hire another nanny in a heartbeat, whereas I knew that children in need of protection didn’t have that luxury.
I struggled with this thought for a few years, those moments of feeling drawn to those children in desperate need, knowing I couldn’t ignore that need, and I finally accepted that this was more than just a thought, it was the call of God on my life: I had to be a mother to these children who needed one.
It was a big process, not only for me, but for my friends and my family to accept my decision. My parents and my siblings took a long time to cone round to the idea, and still struggle with my decision to be a foster carer. In their minds I’m doing things out of order, the ideal picture looks like getting married and having babies first and then looking at taking on other children.
After I first contacted the Department of Child and family Services about my decision I had to go through about six months of training, competency interviews, home inspections, and many discussions around why I wanted to be a carer. This was a fast-tracked process, given the fact that I had grown up with foster siblings and knew a lot about what to expect. Once I was approved it took a couple of months to be given my first placement. I was, at that time, at uni full time studying psychology, and requested one school-age child, with the assumption that I could drop them at school and then go on to uni myself.
Kazam! I’m a parent!
Even after all the training, and growing up with foster siblings, nothing could have prepared me for being a foster parent myself. Nothing. The typical assumption among foster carers is that you’re bound to get call at 5 o’clock on a Friday afternoon asking whether you can take on children that weekend. This is not just an assumption but a reality: I received my first placement call at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. I still remember where I was standing and what I was doing at the time. It is a memory that will never fade. The worker on the other end was explaining that they had a sibling group that they could not place and that they didn’t want to separate them. When I heard the ages (16 months, 3 years and 5 years) my heart may have momentarily stopped beating. I was shocked, I hadn’t expected this and I was completely and utterly terrified to say yes. I had about 30 minutes to make a decision and get back to them. 30 minutes to make one of the biggest decisions of my life. I rang my mum, I rang my best friend, and I knew what I’d do. I’d jump into the deep end, and accept the placement.
In the days and months that followed I learned to swim in that deep end, and I learned when to put on my life-vest and just float. I had to come to a point of realising that I didn’t have all the answers, that I couldn’t magic away the children’s problems, I learned to be still and rest even though the waves were crashing around me.
I was up all night with a crying baby for the first time in my life. I had the responsibility of three little people’s lives in my hands, to love them but also keep them safe and healthy. I had become a “parent” literally overnight. That responsibility felt like a very heavy weight on my shoulders for a long time. In those early months I found out a lot about childhood trauma.
Being a mother to the forgotten, the unloved, the unwanted and broken is tough. These children have seen a darkness that is imprinted on their souls, and sometimes they take me into that darkness with them. It is a terrifying place. Being awoken by screams coming from my son’s room, finding him in a pool of vomit and urine, sweating profusely and struggling to breathe rips your heart out. It is the darkest place, and something a child should never have to experience. My three year old harming himself to feel relief from the inner turmoil. My beautiful six year old with gorgeous brown eyes staring blankly into space, unaware of her present because she is so frozen in the past.
What makes it worth it? The tender moments every day, be it a smile, an “I love you mum”, a milestone achieved, or simply a happy child playing in the back yard seemingly free from pain. I treasure these fleeting but beautiful moments.
To end as quickly as it began
My first placement (the three siblings) ended after almost two years. I had quit uni, turned down amazing job offers, moved back to Tassie and generally put my life on hold to focus on theirs. I had raised them to believe that they could do anything they put their minds to; I had sat up night after night comforting them and wiping away tears, I had been there on the first day of kindergarten. I was their mother.
If you can imagine for a moment what it is like knowing that a person is the worst of the worst type of abuser, and knowing that your precious, beautiful children were going back to live with that abuser, how would you feel? That was me, worried out of my mind, not sleeping at night, allowing my mind to run away with horrifying thoughts about what if? The day that I was sat down and given a timeline of the final stage of reunification (two weeks), I sat at the table and sobbed while workers looked on and my beautiful little three-year-old quietly played with blocks in the corner, unaware of everything. I went through all the stages of grief within a matter of minutes. I was angrier than I ever remembered feeling; I was devastated to my core, and I was in denial that this was going to happen. I didn’t accept it until six months after it had happened. Two weeks came and went like a whirlwind, we had a goodbye party and a birthday, and tried to pack in as many good memories as humanly possible.
I was beyond fragile when the day finally arrived. The knock at the door jolted through my body and my heart sank like a brick in my chest. My little 3 year old hid in the cupboard and didn’t want to leave, the other children were crying because, although they wanted to go home, they wanted to stay with mummy Neatsy (their name for me) too. They were torn between two worlds. I gave them what could have been my last cuddle and I told them that everything would be alright and I would always love them and be there for them, no matter how old they were, and that they would always have a home with me. As they were strapped into the van and driven away, I fell apart. My whole world as I knew it has been ripped away from me in an instant and all I could think in that moment was “you did this to yourself, you knew this could happen but it didn’t stop you Anita, this is your fault.” I grieved deeply in the days that followed, and struggled to get out of bed. I immersed myself in things that didn’t matter so that I didn’t have to worry about the things that did.
A time to heal
I found myself without a purpose, job, or any idea of where to go next. My life as I knew it had unravelled. I had been a full time mum for two years: my life had revolved around play-dates, appointments, meetings, therapy sessions, school, and parent visitations. That was all gone, and I didn’t know how to reset. The only faces I saw in my mind were my three beautiful babies. It took me four more months to begin to let go of the life I had had, and to consider children being part of a new life chapter. I made a decision to go away for a few months to visit family interstate, and to escape the memory of the life I’d once had. It was what I needed to start the healing process. During that time I decided that I would never foster again, that I couldn’t put myself through more of that grief and loss. This season of my life has been unequivocally the hardest. It still hurts to relive it in writing.
A new chapter
Parenting a child is hard work. Being a foster mum is not for the faint hearted, but parenting these precious and damaged children takes something else. It takes strength to look beyond the ‘naughty’ child, beyond the ‘disruptive’ child and the ‘sexualised’ child, it takes courage to stand in the face of adversity everyday and remain grounded for the sake of that child.
My heart truly breaks when I think about a generation of children that are motherless. My hearts cry is for an army of mothers who will stand up for these children and those that are their own. Women who are not timid and will not shrink back, women who will speak up and be a voice for the silent, women that can change history through loving just one child enough to make a difference for many to come, and women that know in the deepest part of them that biology does not trump love. That love stretches beyond DNA and genes, and it conquers all. Despite a child’s biology and history that healing through love and empathy can and will help a lost child find their way.
This is the bottom line, our children are our most precious treasure and all of us have a responsibility to make sure they grow up secure and safe.
Since that time I’ve had four extra children, two sets of placements. I currently have a sibling group of three, who will remain with me for the long term. It doesn’t get any easier to have children move on. I have remained in touch with my original three, who have been reunified with their biological family. I see them every holidays. It’s really lovely to see them, and to know I can still play an important part in their lives. They will always hold a very special place in my heart.
This hasn’t been an easy road, by any means. But if you feel this is something that God is calling you to do or if you feel like you could offer a home to a child in need, please, take the next step and look into it. The need is definitely big, but we can tackle it one child at a time.
To all the mothers out there in whatever parenting role you have, wherever you may be, I wish you a wonderful Mother’s Day. May your special day be full of treasured moments to remember for a lifetime.