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 with it.
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 realise 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.
V. J. Beecham is an Australian who does foster care and works in community aged care. Fantasy and Sci-Fi are his favourite genres to read and write about. Yet, whenever he tries to write fantasy, he mostly ends up writing ‘Slice of Life’ fiction instead.