'I have a lot of love to give': Foster mum on opening her home, and heart, to children who need a safe space

'I have a lot of love to give': Foster mum on opening her home, and heart, to children who need a safe space
Foster mother Nur Ameera Senen, and drawings done by Ameera's foster children.
PHOTO: Nur Ameera Senen

Foster mother Nur Ameera Senen remembered the early days when her first foster child, Sarah*, moved into her home in early 2018. There was a challenging period of adjustment as the then five-year-old girl was initially hesitant around Ameera.

"She took a while to get close to me," the 32-year-old shared with AsiaOne. Ameera didn't only have to care for a child who needed more time to warm up to her, but one who also had a traumatic past that needed to be handled delicately.

"She would have nightmares in the middle of the night, and I would have to comfort her," Ameera recalled, though she was unable to reveal details of Sarah's past to protect the child's privacy.

"When we took her in, it was during the Hari Raya period, and she didn't want to go to other people's houses because she was afraid that I would leave her there. It was very difficult."

Despite the challenges in making her foster child feel comfortable in her new home, Ameera powered through with patience and empathy, giving Sarah the time and space to get used to her new family.

Eventually, things began to look up — so much so that Ameera and her husband, 35-year-old Syed Faris, decided to foster Sarah's younger sister one year later. And most recently, the couple took in another little girl, and so their family of four has since grown to five.

How it all began

To understand Ameera's motivation to become a foster parent, one only needs to see her passion and dedication towards working with and helping children — from her job as a preschool teacher to volunteering her own time with children from low-income groups on back-to-school projects such as excursions, as part of an initiative called Project Goodwill Aid. 

"I know I have a lot of love to give," Ameera said. "My husband is also very good with children; he has his niece and nephews, and I see how he interacts with them. So we thought, why not [consider foster parenting]?" 

Thus, in late 2017 the couple – who do not have children of their own yet – decided to apply to be foster parents via the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF)'s fostering scheme. As part of a thorough application process, Ameera and Faris underwent interviews, background checks and even home assessments.

"They assessed our house [to see] whether it is suitable to cater for younger children," Ameera explained, adding that this included ensuring a child-safe home, proper sleeping arrangements and sufficient space.

A few months later, they were officially foster parents, with Sarah moving into their home almost a month afterwards.

Raising your own children has its own set of challenges, but having to care for those who are not biologically your own and who may have difficult personal histories can make matters more complex.

Though Ameera admitted that the initial days when Sarah first moved in were tough, Ameera knew it was important to allow her time to settle in.

"I didn't push her. I allowed her to take her own time to get to know me, to understand why I'm here," she said.

And so over the past five years, Ameera would take the time to send Sarah to school every day, as a way of showing that "every morning, it'll be [just] me and her".

Understanding the importance of family bonding, she would also bring Sarah out for late-night drives now and then. "She loves to sing. I love to sing. So we would be belting out songs in the car," Ameera shared.

"These pockets of time [spent together] actually helped us develop a very close relationship."

Not always a happy ending 

While Ameera's patience and commitment to foster parenting allowed for her relationship with Sarah and her two other children to bloom, it wasn't always a happy ending.

Ameera recalled how it didn't work out with one child that she had taken in. "She was an older child. So there were challenges [such as] academic demands [and] behavioural demands which I personally felt were too much for me [at the time]," Ameera explained, adding that they had since parted ways.

Determined not to let this deter her, Ameera chose instead to take it as a learning point. "Of course, it was very difficult to say goodbye [to the child]," she said. "I told myself [to] reflect on where I went wrong. How can I be a better mother?

"I'll always remind myself why I choose to foster [children], to remember that it's not [about having] the child with me forever. I will then be ready to open up my home and my heart to these children who need a safe space to call home."

Caring through a 'trauma lens'

By taking in and caring for a child with a traumatic past like Sarah, Ameera has had to learn to see certain aspects of childcare differently, especially when it comes to understanding the child's behaviour.

Ameera said: "Because I go for trauma-informed training, I think I have more empathy in general … to look at things differently, to look at things from a 'trauma lens'."

This, she explained, means to first understand the child's point of view and to be conscious of what the child has been through.

For example, when one of her foster children has a tantrum, Ameera is mindful not to react by telling her child to stop, taking into consideration that the child's behaviour could potentially be trauma-induced. "It could be something from her past. It could be something I said that [unintentionally] reminded her of her past. I'm more mindful of [this] when I care for my girls.

"[It's] not just [what you see on] the surface. [You have to] go into why the child is behaving a certain way."

Needless to say, a strong support network is crucial to navigating such challenging moments. And fortunately for Ameera and her husband, they do not have to walk this foster-parenting journey completely on their own. Ameera noted that she would often seek advice and guidance from her assigned foster care worker from the MSF, and would also frequently check in with them.

Ameera recounted the time when she was facing setbacks with Sarah. "I had my foster care officers working very closely with me, so they supported me a lot. And I could always text them to ask for suggestions on how I can manage her behaviour. They supported me in doing the right thing and also providing the right strategies for my child at that point in time."

In addition, the couple attend compulsory training sessions, organised by the Social Service Institute, that are available to foster parents, and have access to other specialised or elective sessions on parenting, such as how to handle certain behaviours, so they would be better equipped to face the complexities of foster parenting. 

What matters most

With all the effort, love and care that Ameera has, and continues, to put into ensuring a home for these children, it would be understandable to believe that eventually having to part ways with them would make the foster-parenting experience too painful to bear.

But Ameera has chosen to look beyond her own feelings, no matter how limited her time with any of her foster children may be. To her, what matters is that the children are cared for.

"If I were selfish, and I only thought about my feelings, then who would care about the children's feelings?" she pointed out. "Who's going to care for the children?"

In fact, her belief in the cause has spurred her to participate in sharing sessions with MSF, where she would open up about her experiences and help create more awareness about foster parenting in Singapore.

So what advice would she offer those who are thinking of taking that step to being foster parents?

"Just do it," Ameera put it simply. "[But] you must always remember why you want to foster [children]. It's for you [to open] your heart, your home to these children in need.

"It's not going to be easy. But it's truly something that I will never trade, or that I regret."

Urging more parents to consider opening their homes to foster children, she noted: "It's a life-changing experience."

Ameera's admirable selflessness and compassion can perhaps be encapsulated in her ideals about what motherhood means to her. "It means giving unconditional love. So it can be your own children, it can be your stepchildren, it can be foster children. So any child under your care.

"It is one of the toughest jobs I have ever done. But it's also one of the most rewarding."

*A pseudonym has been used to protect the child's identity.

ALSO READ: 'Wah, your case is very special': Woman opens up about journey to becoming a mother via IVF


No part of this story or photos can be reproduced without permission from AsiaOne.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.