Fun with second family

My life is never dull. I’ve given up trying to explain to friends
how it is that my family manages to have fun and enjoy ourselves.
However, not everything we do is shared with others. Three of my
family members have histories that defy belief, which are shared
only on a need-to-know basis. Only last week one of my three sons
and I had an interview at school, after which we returned some
stolen goods. We talk among ourselves about the damage that lying
and stealing causes. When the boys were younger, I stressed that if
they told me the truth I could make things better. Now they are
older, they are answerable for their behaviour and I can’t always
put things right.

So what is life like in a family put together with five non-related
people, three of whom have been neglected, hurt and abused? In
short, life is good and I would change nothing. I could wish for
social workers who are kind and sympathetic. Most are or have been,
although several have not and the behaviour of one almost destroyed
the family.

My new family began when my marriage ended. My three birth children
were in their late teens and I was at a crossroads in life. As a
Christian, I prayed about my future, and in time I applied to the
adoption agency Parents for Children. A year later I adopted a
beautiful little girl aged two with cerebral palsy, and two years
after that I adopted a boy of 15 with a learning difficulty. He
celebrated his 10th anniversary with us a few days ago.

The next boy to join the family lived a few minutes away from us. I
had watched in horror the daily beatings he endured, and when
social workers told me to “mind my own business” I befriended his
mum so I could help her toddler son. Now aged 13, he is a
much-loved member of the family. At this stage it wasn’t such a big
step to take on another of Parents for Children’s boys. He was 11
and, I was told, “totally institutionalised”. Was I worried? Not at
all. I was doing an Open University course and knew the views of
Erving Goffman [an American sociologist who graphically described
the variety and power of institutionalisation] very well.

Now my boys are 13, 15 and 25. Despite varying in age, they are
filling in the missing parts of their childhoods. We all enjoy
running in the sand dunes, having picnics and going to fetes and
dog shows. One of the boys is an excellent dancer and appears in
pantomime at Christmas, and all the boys excel at riding. Last
year, a high for us was when the youngest boys won the Pride of the
Borough civic award for their love of, and care for, their
14-year-old disabled sister. We all enjoyed the prize of four days
in Paris.

All too soon my boys will stand on their own feet, no longer
misfits and unwanted. They are charming, caring boys and their
pasts are still firmly part of them. I only hope and pray that what
they have gained from me will be enough to sustain them.

Margaret Boutell is a foster carer of children with
learning difficulties.

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