Tahirah Lajim, Foster parent

Assalamualaikum! Tell me more about yourself.

I’m a mom of two lovely boys, Hasan and Haneef, who are aged 11 and 13 years old. I believe that children grow and develop differently based on the exposure given to them and the environment that they are in. I love children. They are so pure and innocent, especially when expressing their thoughts and feelings. I have been working in the early childhood sector for the past 16 years. I love writing, scrapbooking, baking, cooking and most of all, spending my time with my family.

What interested you in becoming a foster parent? How has your journey been?

As a couple, we have always been inspired by my cousin. She has been taking care of foster children for many years. We do hear her facing some challenges but she has a very supportive family. My husband suggested fostering because he felt that our boys were already mature enough to understand. However, I was reluctant. I told him that I was afraid that I would get attached to the child. I didn’t know if I could handle the separation if we have to return the child. My other concern was my sons. They are lovable boys who easily connect with others. I knew that they would go through emotional struggles if the foster child leaves our home. This makes me think over and over again about opening our home and our hearts for foster children. We ended up burying the idea.

In early 2015, we got to know that I was pregnant. As a family, we were ecstatic and very hopeful. However, the happiness that I felt was temporary. I had a miscarriage in April. I was extremely disappointed. I felt the pain in my heart to know that the fetus that I carried in my womb is not there anymore. I spent two weeks at home where I grieved and reflected. I wanted to understand this challenge that Allah had given to me. That experience made me think that maybe, just maybe, this is how it feels when you love someone and had to let her go unwillingly. Life has to go on whether you like it or not. Throughout my grieving period, my family and friends were there for me. I felt totally blessed and loved, Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah).

Eventually, I gathered all my courage to tell my husband that I was ready to be a foster mom. If I could go through a miscarriage and bounce back, I was confident that I can handle it if my foster child has to leave. I knew that Allah is always there for me. He is the best Planner and will give me what I need, not what I want. The procedure was lengthy. We went through many interviews, face-to-face and over the phone. A representative from an agency approved by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) came to our house to ensure that our home environment is conducive for children. He advised us on what to change or add to make sure that our home is safe for the child. A basic medical screening was done to ensure that we are physically fit to care for a child. Once we had been approved by MSF to be foster parents, we had to go through 2 compulsory training sessions. Other than learning fostering skills, we were able to ask the professionals questions about fostering and its challenges.

Then, our fostering journey began. My children and I live at one end of Singapore while we go to school and work at the other end. I wake up at 5 am to ensure that all the necessary items are ready. I will prepare a very simple breakfast while Hasan and Haneef shower and perform their Subuh (morning) prayers. Then, they will eat. As for my foster son, either Hasan or Haneef will prepare his morning milk. My husband will get him ready before he leaves home separately from us.  I will drive Hasan and Haneef to school and my foster son to childcare. Since the car that I drive is an Off-Peak Car, I will park it at the carpark near the childcare center and travel to work via train. After school, my brother will fetch Hasan and Haneef to my mom’s place. Once work is over, I will fetch my foster son from childcare and my sons then drive back home. Usually, we will reach home by 7.30 pm. Hasan and Haneef will perform Maghrib prayers (prayers after sunset) while I feed my foster child. We take turns to pray so that there’s always someone attending to him. Before tucking our foster child in, we will take turns to talk to him about his day or read storybooks to him. When he’s asleep, we will have our dinner. My husband and I will look through our sons’ homework or revision. The boys will have their Quranic reading with me. After Isya’ prayers (night prayers) at around 10 pm, they will sleep. My husband and I will spend the night watching TV and catching up with each other. I will sleep around 12 or 1 am once all the housework is done.

That is quite a schedule! What is the greatest challenge you faced while fostering? How did you overcome it?

The greatest challenge for us was to get the child to feel comfortable with our family. He was only 2 and a half years old when we took him in. We knew that it was important for him to know that he can trust us to love him and take care of him without judgment. It was not easy for him to trust us especially when we were total strangers to him. For two to four weeks, it was a struggle. He refused to talk and eat and would cry most of the time. It was utterly heartbreaking. We knew it was not easy for him so we persevered. We gave him time to accept us. We were glad that Hasan and Haneef were able to engage and bond with him, even with minimal communication. Thankfully, his time spent in childcare helped him gain his confidence and trust other people such as his teachers and friends. After 7 months, we witnessed many positive changes in him. He would sing, dance and pretend to be a lion or tiger. Today, it has been exactly a year since he became part of our family. He is such a sweetheart and is more talkative now. He loves fruits, spicy food and playing basketball with his brothers. It really does take a village to raise a child. Fostering is a team effort! I’m grateful that we are going through this together as a family. It touches my heart to know that we have gained his trust for us to love him.

What’s the most beautiful moment you’ve experienced during fostering?

There are a lot of beautiful moments. For example, we taught him how to recite several du’as (supplications) and he was able to memorize them after just a couple of weeks! Knowing that he rarely talked when we first took him, it’s a joy to see how friendly and chatty he is. He will cheerfully greet all the teachers and call his friends by name when he sees them. He has a good sense of humor and will always tease my mom and parents-in-law whenever they meet.He is so adorable! Everyone loves him so much. He has also acquired a lot of skills like putting on his own shirt and helping to put the clothes into the dryer.  These skills boost his confidence to try new things.

My foster son has changed our family. Although we did spend time together during a lot of outings, late night movies and trips, the time spent was not as meaningful as now. We feel so much closer to each other than before. We have come to realize how blessed we are to be able to live as a family. We know that when we are heartbroken or hurt, there will always be someone there to protect us, defend us or at least, lend a listening ear. We feel that it’s okay to be sad because, at the end of the day, we know that someone will be there to hug and comfort us. We know that if we fall along the way, someone will still pull us up and walk with us. This realisation is priceless.

What do you want to say to people who are considering foster care?

Fostering is a decision that should not be made on your own. Taking in foster children is not an individual commitment; it’s a collective commitment by your whole family. Since you will be opening your home to these children, you need to ensure that your family, especially your spouse and children, agrees to accept that there will be someone else living and sharing the same space with them. Fostering is also not a solution for couples who are looking to adopt. This is because the goal is to reunite the child with their natural parents. There will be a time that the child may be returned back to their biological family, and there is what you and family need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for. One of the ways to know if someone is ready to foster a child is when they answer ‘Yes’ to all questions below.

o Are my family members and I ready to accept a foster child into our family and commit to love him/her as our own child?
o Am I willing to work with MSF and other professionals for the child’s best interest?
o Am I mentally prepared for the child’s return to his/her natural family in time to come?

If you answered ‘No’ to even for 1 of the questions, you may have to reconsider fostering.

What do you want to say to people who encounter foster children in their daily lives?

Most of us see or talk to foster children without knowing so. These children are just like any other children – they attend school, and go through the same phases of life. They need love, food, education, shelter, security and healthy interaction. The only difference is their life story. Most of us think that all foster children are unwanted children but they are wrong. Children may be in foster care for the following reasons:
• They have been abused, neglected or abandoned.
• Their parents are unable to care for them due to:
– Severe financial difficulties or addictions
– Imprisonment
– Physical or mental illness
– Death of one or both parents

Living in a diverse community, I do hope that we treat these children with respect and dignity, no matter what their life story is. The last thing we want is for others to judge us. Children may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel.

To find out more about fostering in Singapore, call 6354-8799 or visit to www.msf.gov.sg/fostering

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