What is your impression of foster children

"Being foster parents is like the Asian wisdom of jumping in a bowl"

The Zehnder * family lives in a beautiful, large house with a garden and a dog. Marianne * and Reto * Zehnder have three grown sons and recently became proud grandparents. The 18-year-old foster son Luca * and the 13-year-old foster daughter Michelle * still live with them. In this interview from Bulletin 2013, you give us an insight into everyday family life.

Why and how long do you live with your foster family?
Michelle: "I've lived here since I was four months old because the authorities were deprived of custody."
Marianne Zehnder: “Luca says he's with us because his parents weren't able to look after him. They were always drunk and there was never enough to eat. He came to us at the age of five and was malnourished. He was unaware that his late mother was depressed. Often he had to accompany her home drunk. These experiences shape him to this day. To this day, Luca is hoarding food out of fear that he will starve again. "

What are your hobbies, Michelle?
Michelle: "I am in the yodel club, play Schwyzerörgeli and I am in the theater club, where children up to 15 years of age rehearse and perform a play once a year."

What is your greatest wish?
Michelle: “I want to go on a trip around the world, later on have lots of children and become a farmer. I like the country life with lots of animals. What I want most, or better, what I want most, is to be called like my foster parents. It annoys me to always have to explain why my name is different from her. "
Marianne Zehnder: “We are checking with all responsible departments whether this wish can be fulfilled. But that is not the same as adoption. It's just about a name change. "

Is the upbringing of your own children different from that of your foster children?
Marianne Zehnder: “Yes, there are differences, because our foster children both bring a backpack with stressful experiences from their home environment. Both children attend or have attended therapies in order to process the traumatizing experiences. That alone demands a different, more intensive attention and care in the upbringing than with our own children. As foster parents, you feel particularly responsible for giving your foster children the best chance in life and making them as versatile as possible
possible to promote. Michelle has been taking Ritalin until recently and doing psychotherapy at the same time. By the way, Luca used to have the same therapy. Michelle has great confidence in her therapist, who has special trauma training. "
Michelle: "Actually, I don't have to go to the therapist anymore, but I like to talk to her about everything, for example about my mother, that's why I continue to visit her."

Is there contact with the family of origin?
Marianne Zehnder: “That turns out to be difficult. Michelle's father is unknown. Michelle's mother used to have escorted visits to Michelle, but most of the time she canceled shortly before the visit or did not show up, so the social services and Espoir have lifted this visit rule. Since Michelle has lived with us, her mother has seen her 29 times, which is not much in around 13 years. We invited her over to our place very often, but she just didn't manage to come. It has to do with their drug addiction and their living conditions. She is currently back in prison for drug offenses. Then she has a lot of time and writes more letters to Michelle, but these contacts only happen very sporadically and are then not so beneficial for the relationship with Michelle. Nevertheless, the mother is always welcome with us, but Michelle has to want it too. As soon as that is the case, we will invite them to us again. At the moment Michelle does not want any contact and that is also supported by the supporter and Espoir. We have regular contact with Luca's parents and father, his mother died two years ago. "
Michelle: “When I was little, I used to meet my mother. At the moment I don't want to see her anymore. She gambled away with me. She never looked after me and now she wants contact again. But now I don't want to. "

What challenges you most when looking after your foster children?
Marianne Zehnder: «Michelle's puberty. At times she is very aggressive, both verbally and physically, in that she sometimes lashes out. I have the impression that Michelle vented her anger about her mother on me in these situations, because I am also a wife and mother. She certainly doesn't do this consciously. These outbursts from her are very "steep" and exhausting. Here our sons are a relief. The youngest son in particular mediates in escalating situations. For example, when Michelle's closest friends punished her with disrespect after Michelle confided in one of them that she had stolen something. You could call it bullying, which hit Michelle very hard. On the advice of the therapist, our son then had a clarifying conversation with the friends and defused the situation again. Michelle had a similar experience when she confided to friends that her mother was in prison. The reaction was a wave of rejection. "

What is your biggest fear in relation to your foster children?
Marianne Zehnder: “At the moment I'm not afraid for Michelle, she will go her own way. She has a big arithmetic weakness. But that's why she goes to dyscalculia therapy. When Michelle was little, I was vaguely afraid that her father would show up and kidnap her. Since we don't know anything concrete about its existence, it is like a phantom. "

What was your worst moment as a foster parent?
Marianne Zehnder: “When Luca almost burned down our house two years ago. We wanted to go away for a weekend and Luca should clean up his extreme mess in his room. He was quite irritated before we left. He had emptied all the drawers in his cupboards and chests of drawers in the middle of the room. We had no peace and just checked again to be on the safe side. When I opened the front door, there were two explosions, the pane of the fireplace flew out, the wooden floor in the living room was on fire. He had started a big fire with fondue kindling paste. He went nuts, it was a split in his personality. Then he disappeared very quickly and left a letter saying that he wanted to kill himself. That was red alert for us. Luca also has depression, just like his manic-depressive mother had. We got the situation under control together with his father. Luca also described this experience as the worst moment in his life. "

What was your best moment as a foster parent?
Marianne Zehnder: “It's nice to receive an appreciative, nine-page letter from Michelle's mother in prison. We are currently in correspondence because I sensed her fear that we would try to take the child away from her. She values ​​our care for her daughter very much, but emphasizes that she is and will remain Michelle's mother. I hope that she will agree to the name change and that we can all together make Michelle's wish come true. "

What conclusions do you draw from being foster parents?
Marianne Zehnder: «No child is better able to hold up a mirror to you than a foster child. Foster children have a keen sense of confronting you with your own behavior, in both a positive and a negative sense. This is a particular challenge in foster parenting. My husband and I find foster parenting, including contact with the biological parents of our foster children, to be a great enrichment. We accept them as they are - with their strengths and weaknesses. The Asian wisdom about jumping in the bowl is a fitting symbol for foster parenting: An old Chinese woman carried two bowls of water home every day. One bowl was cracked while the other was pristine. At the end of the hike, the bowl with the jump always only contained half the portion of water. This happened every day for two years. The cracked bowl was ashamed of its flaw and saddened that it could only do half of what it was made to do. She spoke to the woman about her endless failure. She just smiled and said: Didn't you notice that flowers were blooming on your side of the path and not on the side with the other bowl? I planted flower seeds on your side of the path because I was aware of your specificity. Now you water it every day. For two years I was able to pick these beautiful flowers and decorate the table with them. If you weren't exactly who you are, this beauty would not exist and grace our house. "
* all names changed