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Meet the foster moms who are opening their hearts and homes

Neha Bhayana / TNN / May 12, 2024, 04:00 IST

It is one thing to love a child you have given birth to or adopted, and quite another to love and care for someone who may be with you for only a few months or years. This Mother’s Day, three foster carers talk to Neha Bhayana about why it’s important to take in children who would otherwise languish in a shelter or orphanage

‘His parents are missing but till then I get the joy of raising him’

Leela Jedia| Has one foster child

This Mother’s Day is special for Leela Jedia.

The Chittorgarh-based government school teacher had yearned  to be a mother for years. Her wish came true on January 10 when she got six-year-old Rihaan* home from a local institution through a foster-care scheme. Rihaan’s biological parents have gone missing, so the district authorities had decided to place him with a foster family. States are slowly trying to deinstitutionalize care for children who are not eligible for adoption as it is considered better for  the child’s development to live in a family set-up.

Leela knows Rihaan may be taken away from her someday, but she is happy to be his mom till then. “If he is reunited with his parents, it will be good. But till then, I feel blessed to experience the joy of raising a child. He has completed our family. Hear him say ‘mamma’ is a beautiful feeling,” says the 55-year-old, adding that they will be happy to have him forever if his parents are not found.

The Jedias had applied to adopt a child but they have been on the wait-list for years. When they learnt about kids who spend years in shelters because they are not eligible for adoption or are not  eligible for adoption or are not getting adopted, they approached the Foster Care Society, Udaipur, for support.

Now, when Leela returns from work every evening, Rihaan runs to open the door and the duo then spends the evening playing and doing homework. Rihaan knew very little compared to most six-year-olds, so Leela has been teaching him colours, the names of fruits and vegetables as well as basic manners like not making noise while chewing food. “I cook different subzis daily as I want him to develop a taste for all vegetables. He is not fond of sweets though, unless we get his favourite gulaab jamun,” she says.

They have enrolled Rihaan in a reputed English-medium school and engaged a tuition teacher as well to help him reach on par with other kids in his class.

Leela hopes to bring home one more child, ideally a girl, via adoption or foster care. “All couples who are financially stable should foster a child, even if they have biological children. Children who stay in orphanages have to move out when they turn 18. At that point, they have to suddenly face the world outside. When  they are with a family, we educate them, teach them good values, and make them competent enough to live in the world,” she says. “Hum ek bache ki life bana sakte hai and khud bhi maa baap hone ka sukh pa sakte hai (we can make a child’s life better and also experience the joy of being parents.)”

‘I can never forget the day when my younger foster son called me aai’

Jyoti Patwardhan | Has two foster kids

Jyoti Patwardhan was nervous when she brought two boys, aged seven and nine years, to her home in 2020 via Maharashtra’s foster care programme. The consumer court judge, who is single, had always wanted a girl, so she didn’t know if she would feel love for the brothers who were offered to her and she was also concerned about the adjustment issues they may face. But all her doubts vanished on the first night itself. “While Vihaan* slept peacefully, the younger one Ved* tiptoed into my room and asked if he could sleep next to me. When I nodded, he crept into the bed, looked up with innocent eyes and asked if he could call me ‘aai’. I can never forget that moment. I was so touched. All my worries melted away and I knew I had made the right decision,” says the 50-year-old Akola resident.

When Jyoti met the official handling their foster care arrangement a few weeks later, she got to know that while other kids at the shelter used to demand chocolates or toys, Ved always said “mujhe mummy chahiye” (I want a mother). The brothers had been put in the institution by their biological mother as she was unable to look after them.

They recently became ‘legally free’ for adoption so Jyoti has applied to adopt them — a foster parent can seek to adopt the child after two years together. “My world is complete with my sons and my only aim is to raise them to be good men,” says Jyoti who has no plans to get married. She revealed that Vihaan hopes to join the military when he grows up — he is inspired by the photographs he has seen of Jyoti’s father who was a captain in the army and grandfather who was the first flight lieutenant of India.

Jyoti is certain her sons will have a grand surprise planned for her on Mother’s Day. “They go out of their way to celebrate my birthday and Mother’s Day. They decorate the house, get a cake and buy me clips and earrings from the money collected in their piggy bank,” she says.

*Names changed to protect identity.

‘We have raised five children. We can love one more’

Liji Thomas | Has 5 biological children and 1 foster child

Most couples feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of even one or two children. But Kozhikode residents Liji and Bijo Thomas felt blessed to have five kids. In fact, when their eldest daughter — she is 25 and their youngest is 13 — got married and moved to Kanpur last year, Liji felt a void. Since  they are not eligible to adopt as they already have biological children, they applied for foster care via the District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) and brought a 12-year-old boy home in January after due procedures. Seventeen children have been placed in long-term foster care in Kozhikode so far.

Sahil’s* parents were unable to care for him due to confidential reasons and had voluntarily put him in a government-run children’s home four years ago. They gave consent for placing him in foster care too. Liji is happy they got the opportunity to look after Sahil. “We have the experience and the resources which come from parenting five children so we thought why not take in one more child and let him also benefit from what we had learned over the years. A child growing up in  an institution has very little chance of understanding how society or family functions. If you do not experience love when you are growing up, you will never be able to give love,” she says.

While Liji works as a medical writer, Bijo is a software developer. They both work from home. When Sahil joined the family, they realised he did not know how to read or write and did not even understand basic concepts like right  or left, front or back. Liji and Bijo started teaching him from scratch. Within three months, Sahil started to read Malayalam and has memorised four long poems and several songs. “Sahil’s papers had stated that he has an intellectual disability but I don't feel that’s the case. I feel he’s just been neglected,” says Liji. She is also training Sahil to conduct himself appropriately and encouraging him to participate in household chores like all their kids. “He is 12 but did not  even know how to wear a belt, so we taught him. Now he can dress himself independently. He is learning something new every day and feels so proud of himself,” says Liji.

Though the family does not celebrate Mother’s Day, Liji says she feels special daily, thanks to the love and hugs she receives  from her children. “My kids are very affectionate. Sahil tends to be a little distant in comparison but whenever I praise him, he smiles widely. He loves it when I put my arm around him or give him a hug; he hugs back immediately and I can sense that he is happy,” she says.

Liji wishes more families would volunteer to foster. “We see a lot of children who are neglected and sadly, we call them anti-social elements but it is not their fault. They have not been given the right direction. I feel if we all raise children to be people who are good and who do good, the world will be a richer place.  That’s a small contribution we can make,” she says.

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