By Glenn Bresci
Why does everyone keep saying that children don’t come with an instruction manual? Sure they do. I use one all the time.
I can never have children of my own, my lazy sperm made sure of that. However, since becoming a foster carer, I always read the instruction manual for each foster child that is placed in my care. The instructions help me with that which I have no previous experience in.
The first section of the instruction manual covers the basics: clean your teeth, clean your room, have a bath before bedtime etc. This is the easiest part. You can’t go wrong.
Much of the instruction manual’s focus is on open-mindedness. Achieving this requires plenty of field trips to festivals and cultural events. I don’t know why so much emphasis is placed on open-mindedness, but I do know that the children in my care rejoice in the weekend outings- and so do I.
The section on discipline is unusable. I am instructed to smack naughty children with a wooden spoon. I refuse to do this as it is common knowledge that most foster children are victims of abuse. The lessons taught by the sting of a wooden spoon would be lost on them.
Another concern with the instruction manual is section four: teaching children good manners. No matter how hard I try, I can never get good manners to stick. It doesn’t help either that the pages for this section are blank.
Hmm. This could be a problem. Technical Support may be the solution. I should phone them; their contact details will be somewhere inside the front cover. Yep, here it is. Only after I’ve dialled do I realize that Technical Support has the same phone number as my mom.
“Oh, hi Glenn.”
“I, um … need some advice mom.”
“I’m trying to teach my kids manners, but it’s not working mom. How did you do it? You know, with me.”
“But I raised you from a baby. Foster Care is a totally different situation. “
So, it seems the problem with the instruction manual goes far beyond the support provided by Technical Support.
Am I even using the right instruction manual? Is it an older version? Do I need to upgrade to a newer one? I should contact Head Office and ask. I’ll just find the company’s details- ah, here it is: Kiehna Incorporated. Kiehna? But … that’s my mom’s maiden name.
Shit! What was I thinking? Children don’t come with an instruction manual. They never have. That’s just silly.
When I’m raising a foster child, I’m not mentally flipping through the pages of a booklet. Oh-no. It’s much more grandiose than that. I’m accessing a file cabinet inside my head with thousands of memories filed away in each draw. Memories of a mother’s love and devotion directed at me. Memories of being reminded to clean my teeth, clean my room, have a bath before bedtime etc. All throughout my childhood, my mom asked me to do these chores more times than there are people in China.
Memories- I will cherish forever -of weekend outings with my mom. Festivals and cultural events, if it encouraged me to explore the world around me, my mom would take me there. Only as an adult, do I now understand my mom’s hidden agenda of teaching me tolerance and to value diversity.
I remember the fear of the wooden spoon more so than the smacks across my buttocks. I believe this was the whole point. The fear of being smacked forced me to stop and think of the consequences of my actions.
I have no memories of my mom nurturing my good manners. She would have taught me this valuable lesson as soon as I could walk and talk. No one has memories of their life under the age of four.
It amazes me, the more I consider it, that parenting skills don’t begin with the birth of a baby. Everyone has memories of being raised by their parents that they can use as a reference, should ever they find themselves raising a child. Plus what’s most exciting, I can gain new parenting tricks- or undo bad parenting habits –through learning and experience.
With the foster children in my care, my success or failure as a parent depends on how these children will one day parent children of their own.
Glenn is an Australian who is a factory worker by day and a writer by night. He and his partner have been caring for foster children for six years.