Sometimes we come to motherhood by chance.
For Neika*, she has had four children but they’ve all come to her out of a need for a safe place and a loving home. Neika is a foster mom, which she fell into unexpectedly.
“I have always been involved with kids from the time I came back from university,” she said. “I am a certified teacher, and I taught for a few years in the education system here on the island, and then after teaching for a couple of years I became involved in a youth organization, and I left teaching to go full time into the youth organization. Through that youth ministry I got my first foster child. She was 17.”
At the time Neika was 28 and thought that she would only be needed for 10 days.
“It turned into two years,” she said.
“For me, when it was going to be 10 days, I thought, yeah, I can do this. But when I realized it was going to be a long-term process, I got nervous. I was still a young person and I had thoughts of what my life was going to look like, and I didn’t know if I wanted to take on that kind of responsibility.”
However, being a foster mom has taught her so many things about herself as well as opened her eyes to the needs of some children on the island.
“Through teaching, I became very aware of kids that don’t stay with their family and that there are kids that are just looking for somewhere to be loved and to belong.
“My heart became burdened with these kids.”
As a Christian, Neika felt that becoming a refuge for children in need became her calling.
“It is part of the word of God that says we are called to look after those less fortunate,” she said.
Neika also credits her strong family ties with being able to provide a supportive environment for the children that have come into her care. She is currently caring for an eight-year-old, whom she has cared for since she was 23 months.
“When Child and Family Services called me and asked if I would take in a child at 23 months, I said no twice. But she didn’t let me go.
“That was a conversation I had to have with my family, and in particular my parents because I knew I would need help. She’s now eight and first and foremost I give by the grace of God but second through very supportive family, whether it’s my parents or my extended family. My family has embraced this child as if I had given birth to her.”
She credits her own mother for building a solid relationship and foundation for her that she’s been able to translate into her own relationship with the children who have come into her care.
“My teenage years were very challenging for me and I know my mom played a big part in me making it through a very rocky period in my life, and now I can give someone else back what I was given.”
With all of the children that she has cared for, Neika has been able to maintain a good relationship with the children’s family. She views it as a co-parenting situation, and she says that it is important that foster parents honour and respect those families.
“I never want her to think that I’m going to keep her from her mom or from her relatives.
“Children come into these situations for many different reasons and there are kids that for a season of their life might just need to stay with someone besides their family.”
Neika doesn’t have children of her own and while she’s open to having her own children if she were to get married, right now her focus is on giving a place to a child that needs that supportive environment.
“There’s a mothering element that I didn’t even know that I had,” she said. “I am a completely different person. They say that having children kills the selfishness in you, and so I have become more understanding and more patient, but I have a lot more to go on the patience level. I feel like I am more empathetic and more understanding and less judgmental because I realize there is a story behind each and every one of us that causes us to act the way we do.”
While there are challenging moments, she said that each of the girls has helped her grow as a person and she has been very grateful for the relationships she’s been able to have with them.
“I have her for a season of life, and I’m going to enjoy our time together. I’m going to see it as an opportunity to guide her and plant seeds in her life at a young age,” she said. “What she does in the end and she becomes an adult, she has that free will, but what a privilege it is to just love a young person and help them through one of the most challenging times of their lives.”
For Mother’s Day, Neika and her family celebrate by going out to brunch or to a family member’s home to spend time together and enjoy each other’s company. She also makes sure that her foster child has a gift to give to her mom, and that holidays are spent together in some form.
For those who have ever considered becoming a foster parent, Neika said that people need to recognize the difference between fostering and adoption.
“I have had many people say they couldn’t go into foster parenting because they don’t want to get attached,” she said. “You’re concerned about your attachment issues when there’s a kid out there that needs a safe space? I struggle with that because it’s a very selfish view. I know not everyone can foster because it does require a lot, but maybe there is another way to support the foster care system, and in that regard, more people need to step up.
“We need to think beyond ourselves and realize it’s going to be challenging, but don’t look at it as an opportunity to fix a kid, in the end, it should just be a safe space and place for children to be children.”
There are several ways to get involved with Foster Care. If you wish to begin the process of applying to be a Foster Parent, please contact the Foster Care Coordinator at 294-5871 / [email protected]. If your desire is to get involved on the charity side of things and you wish to make a donation, you should contact the President of the Foster Parents Association, Lindsay Simmons at 505-7764.
*Not her real name