‘I Don’t Regret It’ – A Foster Mother’s Story

    JN Group

    Christine Stephens, interior designer and managing director of Decor Spaces, didn’t have second thoughts when she decided to become a foster mother to her gardener’s stepson, Lemar Cummings.

    Her gardener is a single parent of five, who would often take his three sons, including Lemar, along with him on Saturdays when working in the neighbourhood.

    “He was always caring for them and very diligent, very strict with them. I was intrigued with how he treated the children and I said to myself, I can see that he needs help,” she related.

    For Mrs Stephens, the bond between her and the boys developed instantaneously.

    “It was just a thrill to have the boys around. Lemar always tried to make sure I was happy.  We just connected that way,” said Mrs Stephens, who isn’t a biological mother.

    Two to three months after their encounter, she offered to foster Lemar, who was then nine years old.  It was a welcomed intervention for the youngster whose mother lives in rural Jamaica and whose biological father was unknown to him.

    “Eventually after about a year and a half, he started calling me mommy. I didn’t tell him to- I allowed him. He calls my husband Uncle and my family Uncle and Aunt.”

    She pointed out that Lemar did not live with her due to a lack of accommodation at her home.  She, however, arranged to have him live with her mother who resided nearby.

    “Although he wasn’t living with me, he was at the house all the time. He came to church with me, and I showed [him] that values are important. In terms of respect around my family, that was always there,” she said, giving credit to Lemar’s stepfather for instilling values in him.

    Lemar is now 26 years old and works with his foster mother in providing décor services. He also does building construction and drywall installation.  He previously worked in a smoothie bar and hopes to operate his own smoothie bar one day.

    Christine Stephens and Lemar Cummings

    Mrs Stephens hastened to point out that foster parenting is a learning experience and a win-win situation which has its ups and downs.

    “I wasn’t prepared for it but I grew into it and I don’t regret it.  I actually thought, ‘oh, it’s easy, because I just need to show my values and he would adopt to my values and the things that are important in life.’  He adopted probably 90 per cent of it,” she said.

    She shared that her biggest challenge as a parent was getting her foster son to take his school work seriously, as he was more focused on getting a job.

    “He didn’t see that it was important to be educated, so that’s where we had a tug of war. We did homework together, but the challenge was getting into [his] head that you have to do this.”

    Referring to the proverbial saying, ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink’, Mrs Stephens highlighted a lesson she has learnt being a parent.

    “You give them everything – all the attention [and explain the] importance of going to school. If they don’t want it, there is nothing you can do.”

    “The good thing is that he didn’t think of going into drugs; he didn’t think of going into gangs. That, he understood, but just the education part of it was a fight, but now he understands.”

    She related that now Lemar is employed, he is beginning to appreciate her advice about becoming educated.

    “Every now and again, he said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t listen to you, mommy’.”

    Lemar enrolled in the Human Employment and Resource Training (HEART) /National Service Training Agency (NSTA) where he completed a certificate programme in drywall installation.  He has indicated interest in doing the building construction programme and intends to resume classes in CSEC Mathematics and English.

    Mrs Stephens advised that foster mothers can achieve a meaningful relationship with their child by exercising patience.

    “It’s a learning experience for them. Speak to them a lot, be there for them a lot. Make sure they understand [that if] anything happens, you are there. Appreciate their difference and understand them.”

    She encourages persons who are contemplating foster parenting to have an open mind.

    “What you do for that child is to make them a better person. Look at it that you are helping somebody,” she said.

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