Raising Children with So-Called Behavioral Issues - Why It's Worth It

The other day after a cold dip in the pool at night I asked my little boy if he wanted some hot and spicy food? "Yes. And warm hugs," was the reply. I heated up some homemade pumpkin Thai curry with rice noodles and he decided it was his favorite food. Ever. Afterwards he started singing "Mommy is the best, yum, yum."

A year and a half ago the same boy, in Afrikaans, called me a bitch, a whore and a cunt on a daily basis. There was one time he was standing in a glass bowl, on a table, screaming. My tactic (based on Dr. Kazdin's methods; he's the head of the Yale parenting unit) was to ignore him and praise good behavior and with that tactic, everything changed, but when he stood on the table that day I thought my life was going to hell just the same. At the time they stayed with me as their relatives were too tired to look after them.

Back then I had to put everything on top of the fridge. Anything that could be used as a weapon that is. My gemstone collection that used to decorate the table, any small item and so forth - anything that was the right size for being thrown at you in anger. Most things ended up on top of the fridge at some point or another.

One night when him and his sister got it into their heads there were ghosts in the shower, I jumped around in the shower singing "There are no ghosts in the shower, there are no ghosts in the shower." Dancing and singing proved a great distraction method for tantrums - one morning an impromptu performance of The Lady Is a Tramp (my repertoire is limited - I don't know any breakfast songs) steered off another tantrum. The night of the shower episode though, he eventually tried hitting me in the shower and I was literally so angry I was shaking as I was singing. I was close to a nervous breakdown after weeks of non-stop tantrums - it was impossible to take him anywhere as he might decide to run away in the store, throw stones at people in the park, steal something, or jump out of the car. As a result I had constant stomach aches and chest pains and his sister was miserable.

This was in combination with people at Little Angels losing near ones, people relapsing to drugs, people getting cancer, family being ill, me losing a big client and having previously had RSI in my hands that year, unable to make money. Everything was going to hell and we had no money for resources for anything. I knew my boy loved me. I knew he was working through years of abuse. I knew he wasn't used to living in a stabile environment. I knew all that, but all the same, I was a wreck.

People told me to give up on the children. I told them you don't do that. You don't give up on children. Faux pas.

Just now the twins sat snuggled up next to me watching Pan. Before that they were playing in the pool. Every day I have with them I know how blessed I am, because I know how far we've come. Every time they call me mommy I know I earned that title. When they smile at me, or hug me, I earned that. When I see them happily playing together, I know I contributed to that. When they do their beds, or eat properly, I know I taught them that. No one at home pays attention like that.


You can't see his face properly in this picture, but I am sure you can see his love.

Till I have permanent residency I have no legal rights. I can't adopt. I don't know what their family will do next, I never do. Ever so often they decide to give them away to relatives. The ones that aren't in and out of prison, mad, or high on tik (meth). I ended up in trouble the other week for taking a picture of a drug dealer's car outside their house. For a while a convicted murderer lived there, but it turned out he was more someone who took the law in his own hands to protect people (though killing is obviously not the solution) and I heard it through the grape wine he'd decided to protect myself and Liezl as he is certain we bring good change to the community.

Sometimes when I stand there, waiting for the twins, looking around, or talking to other neighbors and kids, I wonder how I ended up there? I'm Maria. The woman quite a few kids in Hangberg fantasize about having as their mother (and would no doubt take out all their frustrations on), but I'm just this Swedish girl who grew up in the countryside. I bake pancakes on Sundays. I wear clogs in my garden. Admittedly I also wear stilettos and leather pants, but still - there I stand, talking to drug dealers, gang members, mad people, high people and thieves like it was completely normal. That's usually when it strikes me how abnormal it is. Yet, it's part of this world. This world us humans have created. And if none of us stand up to change it, we'll lose the possibility of happiness.

I was emotionally abused as a child so I know what it feels like. I know self-hatred and loathing very well. I know what loneliness is. I know what praise, compliments and love mean for the same reason. And when I see a child change, when I see hope and love in their eyes, that's everything to me. That journey.

It's the same with adults - it doesn't matter what you've done, all that matters is where you are going. I care little about people's past, but all the more about their future. And love is the only bloody thing that's ever going to change it.

Raising other people's kids might not be your thing, but do me a favor - go love someone who "doesn't deserve it" and see what happens. Everyone has a heart, no matter how far removed they are from it. Love can take them back there, but they might have forgotten how to do it. So show them.

This post was originally posted on my blog, Confessions of a Dizzy Blonde (politically incorrect musings on life sprinkled with humor and sex).