"We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same."- Carlos Casteneda
To put these thoughts into context, my husband and I have two sons, and became the guardians of our two nieces from Romania, almost three years ago. Describing our experience so far as challenging, would be an understatement...but it has also been incredibly rewarding, which is the part I always strive to focus on.
I'm writing this blog with thoughts of other carers who may be in similar situations. I know how undervalued, and pre-judged you must sometimes feel. I know how frustrating it can be, to be taking responsibility for other people's failings, and trying your best to un-do any damage, neglect or hurt that has been suffered. I know how much you sacrafice for other people, without looking for sympathy or gratitude, but hoping for love and respect in return...
I also know how much you have enriched a person's life, how they would be lost without you, the physical/emotional scars you may have helped to heal, and the huge sense of achievement you feel for bringing much needed happiness to someone you've grown to care greatly about. I know personally at times I regret that I have not had a successful career (unless my books suddenly become best sellers), but on the other hand, I doubt there is a job out there for me which would give me the same amount of satisfaction I get from knowing I have given two little girls such a better life.
I'm hoping it will prove therapeutic, to share with you some of our success stories from the past three years:
I've written before about how amazing it has been to listen to my nieces not only learn English very quickly, but also to learn it with a perfect Glaswegian accent. I could not be more proud!
The younger of the two girls arrived on my doorstep as a timid, terrified little mouse. I am delighted by the change in her, she is a lovely natured girl, always smiling, happy and much more confident than she was.
The older sister's difficult early background has given her tremendous ambition and drive, she is an intelligent girl, and I'm sure she will do very well in life with our continued encouragement.
Family and friends have welcomed the girls into their lives with open arms, and it is heartwarming to hear them call my sister and her husband "aunt and uncle", my parents "gran and grandpa". They have a loving, supportive extended family which they never had in Romania.
My boys and their cousins have many arguments, but they can also be extremely close friends, more like siblings than cousins. My elder son is getting over the resentment he felt for having to share his mummy and daddy, and it has made him more competitive and independent, which I see as positive traits which will help him in life.
I have perfected the art of time management, and have grown used to my role as referee. (However, I think I could do well to keep the following in mind):
I am proud of the example we have set our children, that it is a good thing to help others, and I think we are all more appreciative of the things we have, and realise more fully, the hardships many people suffer on a daily basis.
I take pleasure in small achievements, like all four children having matching socks (which doesn't happen often), taking away clean plates, after succeeding in the seemingly impossible task of cooking a meal that every one of them liked, and more recently, inventing a game called Tickle Times Tables, which has them unbelievably excited about learning maths (in case you're wondering, they have a limited time to give me the right answer before the tickles begin).
I have become more financially astute since our family income now has to stretch to six. A few lighthearted tips for the larger family:
Consider buying a cow - cut down on trips to Tesco for milk, and doubles up as an eco-lawnmower.
Live in Scotland? Continuous bad weather combined with energetic kids means endless trips to expensive soft play areas. It may be financially sound to simply build your own.
Birthdays not close together? Bad planning! You could have had combined birthday parties.
Looking to invest in stocks and shares? Moshi monsters, girls tights (ripped on a near daily basis) and hair accessories (always lost) would seem a safe bet for the foreseeable future.
Take out a second mortgage to pay for after school clubs and activities.
When all else fails, I find watching a film the likes of "Cheaper by the Dozen" can be extremely helpful. My chaotic, messy home seems positively serene after watching the antics of other, even larger families than ours.